Dombrowski made more moves for 2018, signing J.D. Martinez in February and trading for Steve Pearce, Nathan Eovaldi and Ian Kinsler during the season. He did it with a staff he could have revamped upon his hiring, but instead kept intact. The group was still stocked with officials who had helped build three World Series winners, most recently in 2013, and Dombrowski wanted to retain their expertise.
Having two children in college, Dombrowski said, helps keep him attuned to the younger generation and open to new ideas. He supports the analytically savvy staffers he inherited, while bringing a veteran sensibility to the masthead. Some modern general managers can be frustrating trade partners, hoarding top prospects and fearing any move not perceived as a lopsided victory. Dombrowski is different.
“He’s assertive, decisive; he knows what he’s looking for and he isn’t trying to rip you off,” said Jim Duquette, a former general manager of the Mets and the Baltimore Orioles. “He understands that it’s a relationship business and that the deal needs to work for both sides.”
Dombrowski demonstrated this in his dealings with the Mets as the Marlins purged veterans after the 1997 title. The Mets traded for Leiter, reliever Dennis Cook and the future Hall of Fame catcher Mike Piazza, who played briefly for the Marlins after a trade from Los Angeles. But they gave solid value in those deals, parting with the future All-Stars A.J. Burnett and Preston Wilson, among others.
Steve Phillips, the Mets’ general manager then, called Dombrowski a skilled communicator who was always clear about what he wanted. Those convictions, Wren said, come from the quaint method Dombrowski prefers for gathering information: actual conversations, on the phone and in person. Dombrowski is the rare top baseball executive who still travels with his team on nearly every road trip.
“When I started, all the G.M.’s traveled, so it was part of how you were taught to do things,” said Dombrowski, who learned under Roland Hemond in Chicago. “And for me, you observe a lot of different things, you have a better pulse of what’s taking place, and I personally find that just as much stuff happens on the road as it does at home. So why not be on top of it with your manager and your coaches and discuss what’s going on?”
Dombrowski does not force lineups or strategy on Alex Cora, the manager he hired last fall to replace John Farrell after another first-round playoff loss. Dombrowski often watches games with the Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa, his friend from their White Sox years and now a Red Sox vice president and special assistant. Dombrowski is invested in every pitch, La Russa said — emotional and competitive, but under control.