Making a splash tends to be Dave Dombrowski’s preferred method of operation in the winter time.
Now in his fourth offseason as the Red Sox president of baseball operations, Dombrowski has three previous offseason templates to study when trying to anticipate his moves this time around. And he’s 3-for-3 in sweeping the carpet from underneath the baseball world.
How might he strike this time, and when?
Here’s a look back at the Red Sox three previous offseasons:
Dombrowski’s first winter
The 2015 season was mostly a disaster, as the “He’s-the-Ace” Red Sox rotation finished 24th in baseball with a 4.39 ERA. An injury-shortened season from 40-year-old Koji Uehara wasn’t enough to save the bullpen of misfits, which finished 26th with a 4.07 ERA.
The highlight of the season came in the final months, when Torey Lovullo filled in for an ill John Farrell and played all the young guys. Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts and Travis Shaw showed tremendous promise at the plate as the Red Sox finished fourth with 4.62 runs per game.
The offseason plan was obviously centered around upgrading the pitching staff. But rather than putting an emphasis on filling the roster with depth, the Red Sox targeted only the best arms available. Here’s how it went down:
Nov. 13, 2015
Traded prospects Logan Allen, Carlos Asuaje, Javy Guerra and Manuel Margot to the San Diego Padres for closer Craig Kimbrel.
Dec. 2, 2015
Signed free agent outfielder Chris Young.
Dec. 4, 2015
Signed free agent left-hander David Price.
Dec. 7, 2015
Traded right-hander Jonathan Aro and left-hander Wade Miley to the Seattle Mariners for left-hander Roenis Elias and right-hander Carson Smith.
And just like that, the Red Sox had revamped their pitching staff to include a Cy Young winner, one of the best closers of all-time and another young closer from the Mariners.
There was $13 million committed to Young and $217 million to Price, plus the $37.5 million owed to Kimbrel to finish out his contract.
Dombrowski’s first winter was over before the second week of December. He filled his major holes with huge arms, but left other minor areas of need untouched. With continued development from the young players, the Red Sox improved their win total from 78 to 93 but fell flat in the postseason.
Actually, he’s the ace
It seemed like Dombrowski waited too long in 2016-17.
David Ortiz was never better than mid-season, when the White Sox were considering trading Chris Sale. But the Red Sox didn’t want to pay the price. And the White Sox, it was later revealed, became a lot more serious about trading him in the offseason.
On the second day of the Winter Meetings, the Red Sox struck a deal to acquire Sale that would change the direction of the franchise. For the first time since Jon Lester departed, they had an ace.
But Ortiz was retiring and the Red Sox appeared over-confident in their offense, which finished first in scoring in 2016. They never looked like serious players to acquire a big bat. Instead, they traded one of their best to Milwaukee:
Dec. 6, 2016
Traded prospects Luis Alexander Basabe, Victor Diaz, Michael Kopech and Yoan Moncada to the White Sox for Sale.
Traded third baseman Travis Shaw, a player to be named later and prospects Mauricio Dubon and Josh Pennington to the Brewers for right-hander Tyler Thornburg.
Dec. 8, 2016
Drafted Josh Rutledge from the Rockies in the Rule 5 draft and signed first baseman Mitch Moreland.
Dec. 20, 2016
Traded Clay Buchholz to the Phillies for prospect Josh Tobias.
Feb. 18, 2017
Signed right-hander Hector Velazquez.
Dombrowski’s best trade with the Red Sox and his worst happened to be on the same day. The Shaw trade is still difficult to think about. The Red Sox thought they bettered their team for a deeper run in 2017, but won 93 games yet again, and again lost in the first round of the playoffs.
There wasn’t enough thump in the offense without Ortiz.
Leadership changes only?
It was the offseason that wasn’t in 2017-18. The Sox fired Farrell and hired Alex Cora pretty quickly to get things going, but they insisted that changes to the coaching staff were all they needed to negate an offense that finished in the middle of the American League.
It was clear as day the Red Sox needed a big bat to DH, and while they wisely passed on Eric Hosmer, they arguably whiffed in the Giancarlo Stanton sweepstakes when Dombrowski didn’t even bother talking to the Marlins, taking Stanton at his word that he didn’t want to play in Boston.
The Red Sox insisted they were fine. The team didn’t need improving. But after Stanton went to the Yankees, the Sox’ offseason wasn’t going to be a success unless they found a big bat. It looked like a thud until spring training:
Dec. 18, 2017
Feb. 18, 2018
Re-signed Eduardo Nunez.
Feb. 26, 2018
Signed free agent J.D. Martinez.
March 4, 2018
Signed minor league free agent Ryan Brasier.
This time Dombrowski’s patience paid off. The market never expanded for Martinez and the Red Sox landed one of the best hitters in the game at a five-year deal worth $110 million. The offense became an unstoppable force, the pitching staff was just good enough and the Red Sox captured a World Series title with a wire-to-wire run that’ll go down as one of the most impressive seasons in baseball history.
Now what to do they need? Not much. Fill the holes. Replace Kimbrel. Find a second baseman.
The priorities this winter shouldn’t be on free agency, but locking up their own players. Sale and Bogaerts are gone after 2019. It’s time for the Red Sox to think ahead.
But if Dombrowski follows in his own footsteps, another big splash could be on its way.