NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Moments like this cold, raw, rainy afternoon here, with the baseball world gathered under one convention center roof, are exactly why the Boston Red Sox hired Dave Dombrowski two summers ago.

Chris Sale was up for auction, the Chicago White Sox having decided on a major remodel rather than a simple rearranging of their furniture. The Washington Nationals were hot in pursuit—so hot that several reports late Monday night had them nearing a deal. The Houston Astros were in on the chase. So, too, were others.

Chris Sale? A game-changer, the biggest on the market.

Dave Dombrowski? He commands moments like these the way a shark controls a beach.

So score a big one for the Red Sox, who snapped up Sale on Tuesday for a four-player package, highlighted by Cuban slugger Yoan Moncada and flamethrowing young pitcher Michael Kopech. The deal also included two players from the Class-A level, right-hander Victor Diaz and outfielder Luis Alexander Basabe.

The move immediately established the Red Sox as strong World Series contenders.

It also re-established Dombrowski’s already soaring reputation as a dealmaker.

“Hey, that’s Dave,” one National League executive said as word of the deal ricocheted through the lobby of the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center. “He’s a gunslinger.”

“You knew that was going to happen,” Jim Leyland, the former Tigers manager who has teamed with Dombrowski in both Florida and Detroit, said. “I know Dave.”

Leyland declined further comment, for obvious reasons. Tigers owner Mike Ilitch, frustrated that his club could not win that elusive World Series, canned Dombrowski after 14 seasons, five playoff appearances, four American League Championship Series appearances and two AL pennants.

It took Boston all of, oh, about five minutes two Augusts ago after Dombrowski was sent packing to offer him an attractive place for his suitcase to land.

Ilitch’s frustrations notwithstanding, hang a “For Sale” sign on one of the game’s forces of nature, and Dombrowski will deliver.

He did it in Detroit with Miguel Cabrera (acquired from the Marlins), David Price (acquired from the Rays), Max Scherzer (acquired from the Diamondbacks), Doug Fister (acquired from the Mariners) and Prince Fielder (free agent).

He did it with Boston last November, acquiring closer Craig Kimbrel (from the Padres), and again in December (Price again, signed as a free agent).

And, now, Sale.

“I had a feeling it would be Dave,” one AL executive said. “He’s aggressive, and he has always paid the price to get the guy he wants.”

No, the Red Sox didn’t add Dombrowski as president of baseball operations to nurture the farm system and to simply stay competitive. No, when you hire Dombrowski, you are in win-now mode today, tomorrow, next year and the year beyond that.

“Any time you have a chance to win, short of a total giveaway of your system or making deals that you don’t think are smart, I think you go for it,” Dombrowski said at the late afternoon press conference held to announce the deal. “For us, almost all of these guys are under contract for at least three years. In baseball, four years down the road is like an eternity in many ways. So you need to try to take advantage of that opportunity. Nothing is guaranteed in life.”

You never know what tomorrow will bring. Injuries. Underperformance. Regression. Age-induced erosion.

“If you don’t make these moves, it doesn’t mean that you’re going to win finally,” Dombrowski continued. “But I think if you take a chance and you go for it as much as you possibly can, hopefully it works for you some day.”

Sale has been selected to five consecutive All-Star Games and will team with Price and AL Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello. Add knuckleballer Steven Wright, who was having a terrific 2016 season before a shoulder injury sidelined him. They still have Clay Buchholz. And Drew Pomeranz and Eduardo Rodriguez, who, along with Sale and Price, are left-handed.

“That rotation is going to be unbelievable,” one player agent said. “This makes them the team, to me, in the American League. And they’ve still got pieces for big-time upgrades.”

Before trading for Sale on Tuesday, Dombrowski made a less noticeable deal, to acquire right-handed reliever Tyler Thornburg from the Milwaukee Brewers for third baseman Travis Shaw, two minor leaguers and a player to be named later or cash.

The Red Sox had engaged the White Sox in talks for Sale as far back as a year ago, according to Chicago general manager Rick Hahn, and again at this summer’s July trade deadline. Though, at that point, the White Sox were locked in on a couple of other players:

In the past frantic 48 hours, however, it came together. Just as it usually does for Dombrowski, who once dogged Fister so aggressively, in July 2011, that he phoned then-Seattle GM Jack Zduriencik 25 times or more in the final week leading up to the deal.

The man will not take no for an answer.

Other teams and executives eventually will, and that’s why the Nationals are with the Miss Congeniality trophy and the rest of the NL East is pouring Christmas eggnog in celebration.

“We dodged a bullet,” New York Mets manager Terry Collins said.

They did, without a doubt. As long as the Red Sox don’t try to pull any funny business with alternate uniforms—which in the past has sent the temperamental Sale into an Edward Scissorhands-like cutting spree—all they need to do is tell him which day to pitch and point him to the mound. After Boston signed Price for seven years and $217 million last year, this was the deal that brought the closest guarantee to an ace there is to town:

“He pitches with an edge,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said. “There’s a persona that he projects, certainly across the field. That’s what you feel. That’s what the team will reflect or take with them when he’s on the mound. And that edge or competitive nature that he has, I think any time you can add those types of personalities to go along with the abilities, you’re getting the premium type of player that you want on your roster.”

And, compared to guys like Price and Clayton Kershaw ($215 million over seven years), the Red Sox got Sale for essentially pennies on the dollar. He’s set to make $12 million in 2017, with a $12.5 million club option for 2018 and a $13.5 million club option for 2019. Each of the option years includes a $1 million buyout.

So while Sale is signed, sealed and now delivered to Boston almost certainly through the end of the 2019 season, the Red Sox sent away Moncada, to whom they had committed $63 million last February, and Kopech. Maybe Moncada will turn into that superstar that so many scouts dreamed, but clearly Boston decided it didn’t have time to wait. He’s built like an NFL linebacker, but in eight games with the Red Sox in September, he swung like it, too, striking out in 12 of 19 at-bats. At Double-A Portland this summer, Moncada whiffed 64 times in 177 at-bats.

As for Kopech, his fastball has hit 105 mph, but he also broke his hand slugging a teammate/roommate and has a 50-game suspension in his past for using a banned stimulant. He’s also dating the daughter of a Real Housewives of Atlanta reality TV star and an NFL player. A future star or simply a fascinating flake? The White Sox are about to find out.

As for Boston, Dombrowski will keep wheeling and dealing, surely, for the rest of his five-year deal (he’s got four left), future trade deadlines be warned.

“He’s not afraid to gamble,” Jack McKeon, special assistant to Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria, said.

Once a couple of decades ago, it was McKeon who stalked these winter meetings as a GM, earning the nickname of “Trader Jack,” as flashy an executive as there was. Among many other deals, he engineered the blockbuster in 1989 that sent slugger Joe Carter from the Indians to the Padres for catcher Sandy Alomar Jr., infielder Carlos Baerga and outfielder Chris James.

“You’ve got to gamble,” McKeon said. “Plus, you’ve got to know what you want. I came into those winter meetings knowing I wanted to get Joe Carter. I knew I might have to overpay. I wanted Carter, and people were like, ‘You’re not going to get him.’ And I was like, ‘The hell I’m not.'”

Dombrowski would have fit in with the old-timers as surely as he fits in now.

“I’ve always liked him,” McKeon said. “He wheels and deals.”

Dombrowski saw plenty of Sale in Tigers-White Sox AL Central duels over the past several years and brought that up when the two men spoke on the phone Tuesday afternoon.

“I think that Chris Sale is a premium pitcher who’s pitched in big games. He’s won big games,” Dombrowski said. “When I talked to him on the phone, I told him that it will be nice to have him win games for our club rather than sticking it to us on a consistent basis.”

The Red Sox’s gain is the now-rebuilding White Sox’s loss. And once and for all, let’s clear this up: Chicago did not dump Sale because of his temper. Hahn noted that his son has a picture of himself with Sale on his bedroom wall, “right next to a picture of him and Mark Buehrle.”

Hahn spoke of the club’s decision not to take half-measures, to instead take the “longer-term, broader view.” It is painful, he said, but necessary.

Then, on Dombrowski’s way out of the room, he stopped to say a quiet hello to the White Sox owner.

Jerry Reinsdorf leaned in as they shook hands and promised, “You’ll win with this kid.”


Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow Scott on Twitter and talk baseball.

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