BOSTON -- The timing of the two announcements Thursday was coincidental, but impossible to ignore.
Mike Hazen is the new Red Sox general manager.
Hanley Ramirez, who has little competition across the major leagues as the worst free-agent signing of last winter, a colossal $88 million failure -- unless it is his $95 million teammate, Pablo Sandoval -- is being shut down for the last days of this misbegotten season.
Hazen doesn’t have his promotion unless predecessor Ben Cherington loses his job. Cherington in all likelihood would still have his job -- remember back in June, when the team’s owner pledged Cherington would be here “a very long time”? -- if he had not been conned into believing Ramirez could switch to the outfield and stay healthy, then giving him tens of millions of dollars beyond any market for him.
For good measure, the Sox also announced Thursday that Sandoval, an across-the-board flop both offensively and defensively, was diagnosed with pneumonia, and there’s no guarantee he’ll play again this season, either.
The reason the Red Sox decided they needed a president of baseball operations -- and David Dombrowski was hired to fill that role -- is because John W. Henry decided that Cherington would have to take the fall for those signings (the $82.5 million Rick Porcello contract extension is another one, although there’s still hope for the pitcher, given the way he’s thrown since coming off the DL).
No one ever put it in quite those terms. Henry reminded one and all that Cherington didn’t make those decisions in a vacuum, and if you wanted to blame someone, blame the owner. But owners aren’t in the habit of firing themselves.
It’s not just Cherington who has been subtracted from the decision-making table. Outgoing president and CEO Larry Lucchino still has an office, but his voice, too, has been permanently muted. Henry owned the Marlins when Dombrowski was GM there. He has said he wouldn’t have bought the team if Dombrowski hadn’t stayed. He trusts him.
Dombrowski, with his pick of GM/president vacancies after being let go by the Tigers, would not have so quickly signed on with the Sox if he had not been given iron-clad assurances that he would wield immense authority. Yes, Henry still signs the checks, but Dombrowski did not come to Boston to hear the word “no.” Not from Henry, not from chairman Tom Werner, not from Henry’s mild-mannered Rasputin, the secretive Mike Gordon.
But just as Cherington paid the price for Boston’s blunders, Hazen is the beneficiary of all the things the baseball operations staff has done right in recent years -- the drafting, signing and development of a raft of young players who for the nearly five weeks since Dombrowski was hired have offered great hope for the future. A team that still has veterans David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia at its core but has mined such gems as Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Blake Swihart, Jackie Bradley Jr., Eduardo Rodriguez and Henry Owens doesn’t need to hand out pink slips in bulk.
Dombrowski showed he understood that when he quickly promoted Gus Quattlebaum to be his pro scouting director after Jared Porter left to join Theo Epstein in Chicago. The promotion of Hazen, whose strength is in player development, reinforced that message exponentially. Hazen can inform Dombrowski of what he has within the system. Dombrowski will decide the big plays the Sox will make on the outside this winter, whether it’s signing a free agent such as David Price or putting together a package to trade for a Sonny Gray.
But even someone as experienced as Dombrowski will have a hard time finding another landing spot for Ramirez. Ramirez has been telling people for days that he was physically ready to try his new position, first base, but instead will be doing the same thing he has been doing since Aug. 26, watching his teammates play.
The Red Sox say his right shoulder still isn’t right. You do this job long enough, you learn not to question whether a player is hurt or not. But what is baffling is that no one, including Ramirez, has been able to pinpoint exactly how he hurt his shoulder, or why he couldn’t at least pinch hit or DH when Ortiz needs a breather, given his daily power shows in batting practice.
In the end, of course, it doesn’t matter. The Red Sox had abundant evidence before they signed him that Ramirez would be a health risk, and so he has been. Dombrowski on Thursday paid lip service to the idea that Ramirez would be the team’s first baseman next spring. Maybe best not to pencil him onto your fantasy team just yet.
But in Dombrowski and Hazen, the Sox hope to have formed a more perfect union, blending the best of what the Sox have proved very good at with a new strong voice at the top. Dombrowski will not bat 1.000. No one ever has. But eliminating the big whiffs will help.