BOSTON -- Throughout his career as a baseball executive, David Dombrowski has valued continuity. Each time he has made a significant move, going from Montreal to Florida to become general manager of the Marlins in 1991, then from the Marlins to Detroit in 2002, Dombrowski has taken many of his key lieutenants with him.
Frank Wren was Dombrowski’s scouting director in Montreal and his assistant GM in Florida before getting a chance to be GM in Baltimore and later worked 16 years in Atlanta. Jim Leyland managed for Dombrowski in both Florida and Detroit. Dombrowski’s “wise men” in talent evaluation, Scott Reid and Dick Egan, followed from Florida to Detroit. David Chadd was Dombrowski’s scouting director in Miami and after a detour to Boston for three seasons, rejoined Dombrowski in Detroit.
Dombrowski so valued his assistant, Al Avila, in Detroit that he essentially bought out Avila’s right to interview for other GM jobs, steadily increasing Avila’s pay and responsibilities to keep him in Detroit. When Tigers owner Mike Ilitch fired Dombrowski on Aug. 4, he promoted Dombrowski’s protégé to be his successor.
There are numerous other examples, much as was the case when former CEO Larry Lucchino brought such rising stars as Theo Epstein and Sam Kennedy with him from San Diego, along with such loyalists as Dr. Charles Steinberg.
Thus it makes sense to look at past connections when assembling a list of GM candidates Dombrowski may consider in Boston. Indeed, there is already a strong assumption, in baseball circles as well as media speculation, that Wren is the leading candidate for the job. That speculation was fueled in part when Wren showed up at Tropicana Field when Dombrowski and the Tigers were in town, was in the clubhouse and invited to sit in on a staff meeting.
But that may have been as much about Dombrowski extending a courtesy to an old friend as setting the stage for a reunion. Wren crashed and burned at the end in Atlanta, and had few allies within the Braves’ organization by the time he was fired by John Schuerholz last September. Wren may indeed be on Dombrowski’s list, but there are some other former Dombrowski associates who can make a compelling case for the job.
Beyond Wren, here is our list of potential candidates:
1. Jim Hendry. The former Cubs GM, now a special assistant to Brian Cashman with the Yankees, has a long association with Dombrowski, beginning in Florida, where he was hired out of Creighton University by Marlins scouting director Gary Hughes (now with the Red Sox) to be a scout and quickly became a Dombrowski favorite.
From the outset, Dombrowski groomed Hendry for bigger things, exposing him to a variety of roles; scout, minor league manager, front-office duties. By 1995, Hendry had moved on to the Cubs, hired as director of player development and in 2002, promoted to GM. Hendry hired Dusty Baker as manager and took the Cubs to within five outs of the World Series in 2003 (the Bartman year), and was the first Cubs GM to have teams make the postseason three times, the Cubs returning in 2007 and ’08. Hendry’s later years in Chicago were marred by the turmoil surrounding the sale of the Chicago Tribune, which was in a win-now mode that led to Alfonso Soriano signing an eight-year, $136 million deal, then turned 180 degrees under Sam Zell, who severely restricted Hendry’s capacity to make moves. Hendry was eventually fired by new Cubs owner Tom Ricketts, but was such a good soldier that he acceded to Ricketts’ request to assist with signing the team’s draft choices before stepping down.
Hendry has great communication skills, is known for hiring top talent evaluators and trusting their judgment, and taking care of his people, inspiring loyalty. At 60 years old, he is certainly young enough for a second crack at GM and clearly would have Dombrowski’s trust.
2. DeJon Watson. No one on this list has a cooler background than Watson, the son of Johnny “Guitar” Watson, the famous rhythm and blues singer-songwriter, who later crossed over into disco and funk and was the subject of a 2009 song recorded by Pearl Jam, “Johnny Guitar.’’
Watson, who played in the Royals’ system, began his scouting career with the Marlins (another Hughes find) and was an area scout when they won the World Series in 1997. Since then, he has checked off most of the boxes required of a GM in training: scouting director (Reds), pro scouting director (Indians), assistant GM and later VP player development (Dodgers), and now his current position as Arizona’s senior vice president, baseball operations, in which he oversees all of the team’s scouting departments and also oversees all of the hiring of the team’s minor league managers and staff.
Watson, 49, is young, polished, accomplished, well-liked in the business and would satisfy MLB’s requirement that clubs prioritize diversity in its employment. Whether he would be willing to leave Arizona remains to be seen, although becoming Sox GM is an obviously attractive enticement.
3. David Chadd. Chadd, like Dombrowski, was highly regarded by John Henry, who saw Chadd draft such stars as Josh Beckett and Adrian Gonzalez in Florida and prioritized his hiring in Boston after buying the team in 2002. Chadd was not, however, a favorite of Theo Epstein, even though he drafted Jon Lester and Jonathan Papelbon before yielding his position to Jason McLeod.
Chadd recently was promoted to Detroit’s assistant GM by Avila, with whom he is very close, so it would seem unlikely he would leave.
4. Mike Hazen. One of Ben Cherington’s top aides with the Red Sox, Hazen is the in-house candidate most deserving of consideration by Dombrowski, especially if he decides that having someone on board who knows the organization extensively is a real asset. If Dombrowski was sincere about wanting to keep Ben Cherington, it would figure that he’d give Hazen, a finalist for the Padres' job, a look.
5. Ned Colletti. Like Hazen, Colletti has no previous experience working with Dombrowski, although both have Chicago roots and are well known to each other, Colletti having spent the previous nine years as Dodgers GM and before that was one of Brian Sabean’s most trusted assistants in San Francisco. The Dodgers went to the postseason five times under Colletti, three times to the NLCS, and he was on the other end of two of the most notable trades in recent Sox annals: the three-way deal in which Manny Ramirez went to the Dodgers and briefly turned Dodger Stadium into Mannywood, and the megadeal in which the Sox shed the contracts of Beckett, Carl Crawford and Gonzalez for Dodger minor leaguers no longer with the Sox. Gonzalez is a star for the Dodgers, Crawford a part-time player and Beckett is retired.
Colletti took his share of hits in L.A., but like Hendry, he also worked under some trying circumstances with owner Frank McCourt. Colletti would bring a street edge to Dombrowski’s boardroom polish, and despite serving as pin cushion for the analytics crowd that had a field day with some of his moves, his bottom line holds up extremely well. Perhaps a long shot here, but worth keeping an eye on.