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Sources: Phillies finalizing deal with Dombrowski

Dave Dombrowski is finalizing a deal to take over as president of baseball operations for the Philadelphia Phillies, ending their search for a top executive with one of the most accomplished of his generation, sources confirmed to ESPN.

While Dombrowski had indicated he planned on spearheading the initiative for a group of investors to bring a major league team to Nashville, the Phillies, after struggling to find a top baseball operations official, redoubled efforts to recruit Dombrowski and in recent days convinced him to take over the foundering franchise, sources said.

Following a five-year rebuild, the Phillies signed outfielder Bryce Harper and traded for catcher J.T. Realmuto before the 2019 season to be the fulcrums for a new era. In the two seasons since, the Phillies have finished fourth and third in the National League East.

With Realmuto a free agent, the Phillies’ farm system considered among the bottom third in baseball and questions about ownership’s willingness to spend after claiming it lost nearly $150 million in 2020, something will have to give with the hiring of Dombrowski, whose swashbuckling, big-spending ways have exemplified his success.

The Athletic first reported that the hiring was imminent.

Dombrowski, 64, won a championship as architect of Boston‘s 2018 World Series championship team but was fired just a year later amid a disappointing 2019. After beginning his career with the Chicago White Sox in 1978, Dombrowski spent time as general manager of the Montreal Expos, Florida Marlins and Detroit Tigers.

He won a World Series ring with the Marlins in 1997 and helped assemble their 2003 championship team, although he left the franchise in 2001 for Detroit. There he helped take the Tigers from a 43-win disaster in 2003 to two World Series appearances within a decade.

Dombrowski, who was hired by Boston in August 2015, had embraced the Red Sox’s championship-or-bust mandate and used the team’s ample farm system to acquire star players and build a go-for-broke major league roster. His hiring of Alex Cora, trades for pitchers Chris Sale and Craig Kimbrel, and signings of J.D. Martinez and David Price supplemented a homegrown core to deliver the team’s fourth championship in 15 seasons.

It was not enough to keep his job. Despite returning almost all of the vital contributors to 2018’s championship, Boston stumbled through the 2019 season and was in a tenuous position going forward because of financial commitments made under Dombrowski.

Philadelphia finds itself in not quite the same financial straits. Harper is signed through 2031, and Zack Wheeler — whom the Phillies had told teams they might consider trading until owner John Middleton explicitly said they wouldn’t following a report from ESPN’s Buster Olney — is entering the second season of a big-money, five-year deal.

Any deal for Realmuto, who is considered the best catcher in baseball, would exceed $100 million in total. Philadelphia could conceivably pivot to free agent James McCann, whom Dombrowski drafted while in Detroit.

Dombrowski also must cobble together a bullpen out of the ruins left behind from 2020, when Phillies relievers posted a 7.06 ERA over 186 innings. Just how much leeway Middleton gives Dombrowski financially is likely to alter the trajectory of a team that, talentwise, has clearly fallen behind division champion Atlanta — and, arguably, the Marlins, New York Mets and Washington Nationals, too.

The Phillies’ best prospect, Alec Bohm, starred as a rookie last season and, alongside Harper and Rhys Hoskins, is part of a representative core. Their next-best prospect, Spencer Howard, is likely to join their rotation. Leveraging a farm system, as Dombrowski is wont to do, could be a goal for the future more than the present.

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