Today’s news of the Red Sox firing their President of baseball operations (Jeff Luhnow equivalent) Dave Dombrowski was a bit of a shocker considering he put together the best team in the majors that won the World Championship less than 11 months ago. As the Red Sox have struggled to a winning season in 2019 that likely will not include a playoff run, there have been rumblings about both Dombrowski and manager Alex Cora being on the hot seat.
Now, the Red Sox under their current ownership group have been a quick trigger group. Despite winning 4 World Series in the 2000s (starting in 2004), they have brought in 4 managers since firing Grady Little after the inexcusable sin of leaving his ace in the game during the 2003 ALCS against the Yanks. Terry Francona managed from 2004 to 2011 and led the team to their first two World Series championships since the team sold off Babe Ruth a little after the War to end all Wars. Bobby “we hardly knew ye” Valentine came in for one disastrous season – 2012. John Farrell won another World Series in his time in Boston (2013 – 2017) as has Alex Cora (2018 – 2019). Perhaps the ownership impatience paid off as three of the four managers (Francona, Farrell and Cora) won the World Series in their very first season with the team. At the higher level, along with Dombrowski being fired less than 1 year after winning it all, he was the same man who replaced Ben Cherington in 2015, who had put together the 2013 champions.
So, the question for today is what would it take (other than an off the field scandal) for the Astros to fire and replace Jeff Luhnow and/or A.J. Hinch?
If Jim Crane had the patience and foresight to stick through the franchise nadir (2012-2013) with Jeff Luhnow it is hard to see that anything short of an unexpected collapse over multiple years would undermine his trust in the man. Luhnow has run the team exactly as agreed with his boss. He completed the teardown and cut the payroll to the bone just as agreed. He then built a fine minor league foundation for the team, grabbed some top players through the draft, through the waiver process, through a big investment in the international market and through trades and finally free agency.
Luhnow has fairly quickly worked out a relationship with his boss, where he has his support to spend money for the right reasons but has limited the long term investment in huge contracts. Along with this of course has been the gathering of complex and deep player data, and more importantly the application of the data for player improvement. The Astros are headed for their 5th winning record in a row, 4th playoff run in 5 seasons and 3rd 100 win season in a row. The team is not only very good, it looks sustainable. Behind the core they have signed for a number of years, there appears to be a pipeline of good minor league players to move to the majors or to move for major leaguers.
It would appear that if the team hits a speed bump of underperformance over a number of years that Luhnow may be safe and the finger pointed at A.J. Hinch. After all this is what happened earlier on when Luhnow hand-picked Bo Porter as manager and then sent him packing less than two seasons later.
However…..if Hinch continues to listen to the input the wonks send his way, continues to tightrope walk between being a player’s manager and a disciplinarian and continues to show a cerebral approach to the game there is a good chance he would survive a win drought of a few seasons. This is especially true if there are good reasons for it, such as age or injury.
It is a gut feeling that this owner will listen reasonably to his baseball people and not knee jerk between GM and manager pairings. This may or may not result in the short term success the Red Sox have enjoyed, but it certainly has resulted in more sustained success here than any other era in Astros’ history.