During the few moments Dave Dombrowski took to reflect on Mitch Moreland's time with the Red Sox he couldn't let one key piece of the equation slip by.
"In 2018 if he doesn’t hit that three-run homer against the Dodgers who knows what happens?"
The former Red Sox President of Baseball Operations continued, "We had a great year of course and we were up two games to one but we were down 4-0 after losing a tough game the day before. We really were struggling scoring runs all of a sudden and he stepped up and hit that pinch-hit three-run homer and all of a sudden the momentum changed in our regard. Of course, a lot of people produced, but who knows if he doesn’t come up with that what ends up happening?"
Dombrowski was right to surface that seventh-inning pinch-hit homer, drawing the Sox to within a run of the Dodgers before ultimately going on to win that Game 4 of the 2018 World Series.
This was the defining moment for a journey set out on by the executive and the player nearly two years before when Dombrowski identified the then-31-year-old to be the Red Sox' first baseman. It was a partnership that proved so important in so many ways, ending with Morelabnd's trade to San Diego Sunday.
"I can’t say I was surprised to the extent that I had been told so much about him as a person from my times when I was in Detroit," recalled Dombrowski when looking back at Moreland's tenure with the Sox during a phone conversation with WEEI.com Sunday evening. "One of our scouts there at that point was Dick Egan and he watched them play all the time with the Rangers. Now, I’m going back to 2011, 2012, that time period where he would just say, ‘Dave, I know have a lot of good players, but this guy is a championship player. He’s a quality player. He knows how to play the game. He always played hard. He gives his effort. He may not be as talented all-around as some of those guys, but just keep him in mind if you can ever get him he should be a guy you should try and get.’ Now, when you get a guy and he’s as solid as advertised sometimes you’re surprised. He was as advertised.
"I guess the one thing that surprised was that he continued to play. We signed him to a one-year contract and then a two-year contract. But he just kept playing and playing well. He really didn’t slip at all. He ended up being good player all-around."
The importance of acquiring Moreland when the Red Sox did for what they did stretches well beyond that moment in Dodger Stadium.
He was the guy who Dombrowski re-upped with prior to the 2018 season instead of the big-ticket-item at the time, free-agent first baseman Eric Hosmer. The final tally prior to the two ultimately becoming teammates in San Diego is Moreland totaling a .806 OPS with 65 home runs to go along with that World Series title during his three-plus seasons in Boston, with Hosmer managing a .741 OPS since signing that eight-year, $144 million contract with the Padres.
The one-year, $5.7 million signed with the Red Sox prior to the 2017 season had worked out just fine. But now, heading into the 2018 campaign, there was every expectation Dombrowski was going to make a big slash for power hitter either for first base or designated hitter, and Hosmer seemed to fit the bill. As it turned out the correct answer was already right in front of the then-Sox executive.
"I think you explore a lot of different things, which we were doing at that point," Dombrowski said. "Of course, we inquired on Hosmer at that point, as we were inquiring about all the players who fit for us at that time. But we were looking for a first baseman/DH in particular. In Mitch’s case, we liked him a lot. And once it became apparent we weren’t going to sign Hosmer we turned the page very quickly because we really liked him as a player, we liked his all-around abilities offensively and defensively. Quality make-up. Our people with the Red Sox liked him a great deal. We just felt he was a really good fit for our ballclub based upon him being an all-around player. We thought he would play well at Fenway. We thought one of the things he could play well at times in his career. We talked about how he always hit well in Fenway. He just ended up playing very well for us, being steady and being a leader just as we had hoped.
"We were looking at a lot of different things at that point, but when we went to the winter meetings I remember coming back and we conversed with (Hosmer's agent) Scott (Boras) about what he was looking for in regards to Hosmer and we just knew it wasn’t going to be a fit for us as that point. We felt that rather than play that on and go on through the wintertime we liked Mitch so we felt, ‘OK, let’s make this move quickly.’ We don’t mean to say he was Hosmer because Hosmer was younger and was coming off a world championship and been an All-Star type player at times, but we thought Mitch was comparable in many regards. So we weren’t going to wait and sit on the Hosmer situation and extend that. We thought, ‘Let’s go sign Mitch,’ because liked him."
There was another important part of the equation when choosing Moreland over Hosmer: It ultimately led the Red Sox to J.D. Martinez.
"We thought it was a possibility," said Dombrowski regarding the idea of ultimately ending up with Martinez after saving money with Moreland. "You never knew what was going to go on at that point. I remember the numbers they were looking for at that point with J.D., we weren’t in that ballpark either because that was right after the winter meetings when we first heard numbers. We figured we would just play it out. We waited a long time on that one and played with the market and fortunately, it worked out that he fell down to us where we could afford him. We knew it would set us up potentially to have some finances to spend. But we also wanted to solidify our club because we had a good ballclub and we wanted to add that left-handed bat if we could and that ended up being Mitch."
The commitments to Moreland throughout the years (he would sign three free agent contracts with Boston) proved to be key elements in so many bits of success for the organization, all the way up to Sunday's deal with San Diego that brought back two minor-leaguers who may be part of the Red Sox next solution.
When it was all said and done, the Red Sox paid just about $20 million for almost four seasons of Moreland, one of which included pictures of the first baseman hoisting a World Series trophy. It is the same price tag Hosmer reels in each of his first five years with San Diego.
Looking back, the Moreland decision seems like it was ultimately a pretty big deal.
"He was such a clutch player for us," Dombrowski said. "Just superb."