Inside the Clubhouse: How did the Phillies pull Dave Dombrowski back in?

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports /

Inside the Clubhouse this week explores how the Phillies landed Dave Dombrowski, the Angels’ hunt for pitching and more offseason news.

Shocked. Stunned. Surprised.

Those were the most common reactions from executives and agents after Jayson Stark of The Athletic reported that the Philadelphia Phillies were close to hiring Dave Dombrowski as president of baseball operations.

A month ago, Dombrowski took his name out of the running for any high-ranking executive position. He signed a four-year contract to work with a group trying to bring a major-league expansion team to Nashville, declaratively telling Ken Rosenthal, “I’m staying in Nashville.”

But after the Dodgers’ Josh Byrnes and Twins’ Thad Levine turned them down, Phillies owner John Middleton reached out to Dombrowski to make one last attempt at convincing him to come to Philadelphia. Dombrowski had a change of heart, and the two sides quickly made significant progress toward a deal. There is optimism that an agreement will be reached by Friday.

The Phillies, by all accounts, appear primed to shed payroll in 2021. J.T. Realmuto is likely to play elsewhere and the roster around Bryce Harper will look much different. But when you hire Dombrowski, the architect of World Series teams with three different franchises, it is a clear sign that the team intends to win.

Yet, the Phillies have communicated to Dombrowski that they do not believe this is a simple fix. The team reportedly lost $145 million last year and he will be tasked with resetting the organization and cleaning up the mess the previous regime left him with on all levels.

At the same time, Dombrowski views this as an opportunity to win. He now oversees a team with a strong core (Harper, Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola) that is signed long-term. His manager, Joe Girardi, has been one of the most successful managers in the last decade and won a World Series with the New York Yankees. And Middleton has proven he is willing to spend in order to compete for championships.

It is why the Phillies opening was viewed as the most desirable this winter, but the challenge for Dombrowski now is getting up to speed. He takes over a team in need of a massive overhaul just after the other 29 teams finished laying the groundwork for their offseasons at the virtual Winter Meetings.

The process took much longer than the Phillies would have preferred. But the team coveted a veteran to head their baseball operations department, and after a few twists and turns, eventually landed on the man they wanted all along.

Los Angeles Angels looking for starting pitching

The theme of the Los Angeles Angels’ offseason, according to agents and rival executives, is “pitching, pitching and more pitching.”

The Angels received decent production from Dylan Bundy, Griffin Canning and Andrew Heaney. But Shohei Ohtani floundered and Julio Teheran, in the words of a rival team executive, “was one of the worst pitchers in baseball.”

The Angels are likely to add one or two starting pitchers this winter, and Jon Heyman of MLB Network notes rival executives are “convinced” they will add a top-of-the-rotation arm.

Trevor Bauer, the consensus top free-agent starting pitcher available, is from Los Angeles and went to school at nearby UCLA. Sonny Gray, Blake Snell and Joe Musgrove can all be had via trade. Free-agent left-hander Jon Lester is a name to watch, though early indications are he may not sign until later in the offseason.

Angels owner Arte Moreno has spent $911.5 million locking up Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Anthony Rendon. The team has not invested in a prominent starting pitcher since signing Jared Weaver to an extension and adding C.J. Wilson in back-to-back years in 2011-12. That, combined with the Angels’ recent woes in the rotation, once prompted a prominent agent to ask former general manager Billy Eppler, “You realize you need guys who can throw from 60 feet, 6 inches, right?”

Now, the Angels appear destined to revamp the rotation under new general manager Perry Minasian. Considering Moreno’s history of spending and his comments that payroll will not go down in 2021, perhaps he does it in a big way.

White Sox turn to Hendriks; bullpen market otherwise stagnant.

The Chicago White Sox are serious about upgrading the roster under new manager Tony La Russa, and now have free-agent reliever Liam Hendriks on their radar, as first reported by Bob Nightengale of USA Today.

Hendriks, 31, is the top available reliever and widely expected to command a lucrative multi-year deal. And after the White Sox passed on Michael Brantley to sign Adam Eaton to a one-year, $8 million deal, they are believed to have enough money left over to sign Hendriks.

“We feel the window to win championships,’’ White Sox general manager Rick Hahn told reporters Tuesday, “is open.’’

Hendriks headlines a market saturated with relievers and would address the White Sox’s need for a ninth-inning arm in a big way. But teams may be inclined to wait out the rest of the market so they can, in the words of one agent, “sign them for pennies on the dollar.”

“This month historically in baseball has been when teams are really ramping up and you’re starting to see clubs finalize what their team’s going to look like,” Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak told reporters this week. “I really feel like January is the new December as we move forward.”

The top options outside of Hendriks include Brad Hand, Alex Colomé, Blake Treinen and Trevor Rosenthal. Among the teams pursuing relievers, sources said, are the Angels, Toronto Blue Jays, Philadelphia Phillies, New York Mets, Boston Red Sox, Houston Astros, Chicago White Sox, Pittsburgh Pirates, Los Angeles Dodgers, Arizona Diamondbacks and Chicago Cubs.

What is going on with James McCann?

The New York Mets and free-agent catcher James McCann have been engaged in serious talks since last week, according to league sources, with one source saying the two sides entered last Friday at the “goal line” and only had a few hurdles remaining before completing a deal.

A week later, McCann is still in negotiations with the Mets and Angels, and the expectation remains that he will command a four-year deal.

The Mets continue to keep tabs on J.T. Realmuto, though they likely prefer McCann since signing him would maintain their flexibility to sign one of George Springer or Trevor Bauer.

Realmuto and McCann have been comparable offensively the last two seasons, but Realmuto comes with fewer question marks. He has established himself as the best catcher in baseball since entering the league in 2014, slashing .273/.333/.492 with 36 home runs and after his trade to the Phillies, and is expected to receive a contract well north of the four-year, $72 million deal that Yasmani Grandal signed in 2019.

McCann, meanwhile, is a lesser-known commodity. In the first half of his breakout 2019 season, he slashed .316/.371/.502. In the second half, those numbers plummeted to .226/.281/.413. But the underlying numbers have intrigued teams, with some executives pointing to an increased hard-hit rate (47.8 in 2020; 44.2 in 2019) and five Defensive Runs Saved in 30 games in 2020.

Around the Horn:

  • The Pittsburgh Pirates are receiving trade interest in their starting pitchers, according to a source. Joe Musgrove is someone who was involved in trade talks at the trade deadline, and Heyman reports he is once again drawing interest.
  • I asked a National League general manager about how active the virtual Winter Meetings were. “If there were Winter Meetings,” he said, “nobody told me.”
  • Among the teams looking for starting pitchers, according to sources, include the Los Angeles Angels, Toronto Blue Jays, San Francisco Giants, San Diego Padres, Tampa Bay Rays, Boston Red Sox and Chicago White Sox.
  • Free-agent outfielder Jose Siri is drawing strong interest as a minor-league free agent, according to a source.

light. Inside the Clubhouse. Kyle Schwarber and the non-tender bloodbath