Dodgers offseason off to a wild start

stan-kasten-media-right.jpgDodgers president Stan Kasten meets the media in LAO file photo.

Yesterday was a busy day for the Dodgers. First, Don Mattingly claimed he might not be back next year. Then, the team signed Cuban second baseman Alexander Guerrero, fired trainer Sue Falsone, and announced Matt Kemp underwent ankle surgery.

Beyond these announcements, we learned quite a bit more about the Dodgers under Guggenheim's leadership. Here is what I took away:

1) Ned Colletti is not in charge anymore

Colletti may oversee the top line of baseball operations. He might be the guy who aggressively trades for every recognizable veteran name he can possibly acquire. But his power has been greatly diminished over the past year or so.

Dodgers CEO Stan Kasten has brought in many of his own people in baseball operations, including guys like Gerry Hunsicker, Bob Engle, Pat Corrales, and others. Kasten has essentially commandeered scouting and player development away from Colletti. As a result, I read bizarre statements like this in the LA Times, regarding the signing of Alexander Guerrero:

Colletti said he wanted Guerrero to play winter ball in Latin America, which would give the Dodgers a gauge of how far he is from being ready for the major leagues.

The article makes it seem like Colletti has no idea if Guerrero is a major leaguer or not, and he's being forced to take international scouting director Bob Engle's word for it. But Guerrero signed a 4-year $28 million deal. He can't be sent to the minors without his approval after the first year. His signing effectively takes them out of the running for Robinson Cano. He better be ready for the majors or else the Dodgers have committed a huge blunder.

Still, Colletti's newfound lack of authority was most felt at the press conference yesterday, when he said he wanted to keep Mattingly as the manager.

"I hired Donnie," Colletti said. "I've been supportive of Donnie all the way through. I have a lot of respect for this guy. He kept it steady through a tough period of time. He kept our team together. I've been a supporter of his since the day he walked in as a hitting coach six years ago."
Usually GMs get to decide when managers are hired, fired, or get their contracts extended. But in yesterday's awkward press conference, Colletti basically told the media that it's not his call.

It's crucially important for a manager and a GM to be on the same page and work closely together. If the Dodgers aren't going to let their GM pick his own manager, then they probably should hire a different GM.

2) The Dodgers don't really like Don Mattingly

A few days ago, I openly expressed support for Mattingly. I still think bringing him back is the right thing to do. But if Stan Kasten truly believed in Mattingly, then yesterday's press conference wouldn't have happened.

I can understand why the Dodgers would want to wait until the offseason to decide what to do with Mattingly. But Mattingly took the Dodgers farther than they've gone in 25 years. They won the NL West by 11 games and were maybe 2-3 more hits (or 1-2 fewer injuries) away from going to the World Series. Mattingly will probably win NL Manager of the Year for turning around a team while facing a level of pressure that most managers would wilt under. I absolutely think he deserves to stay.

If Mattingly does go, then the media and fans may play up some of his tough decisions in the playoffs, like pinch running for Adrian Gonzalez in Game 1 of the NLCS. I disagreed with that call, but at least there was a legitimate argument for making that decision.

Still, the real reason why Mattingly would go is that Kasten just wants to bring in his own guy. He must not like Mattingly that much, or he may have some philosophical disagreements with him.

I'm not sure who Kasten would want to hire, since it's not like Bobby Cox is coming out of retirement any time soon. Earlier this year, I proposed the Dodgers trade Mattingly to the Angels for Mike Scioscia - a managerial trade that is theoretically possible - but it's hard to envision that happening. Former Dodger Dusty Baker is available to manage, and he's won everywhere he's been. But if the Dodgers didn't like Mattingly in the postseason, then they couldn't possibly like Baker, who has a long history of playoff failures. Other candidates could be Dodgers third base coach Tim Wallach, Padres special assistant Brad Ausmus, and Rays bench coach Dave Martinez.

There's also talk that Mattingly could stay if he makes changes to his coaching staff. But I'm not sure why they would force that on him. Just as it's important for a GM to pick his own manager, it's also important for a manager to pick his own coaching staff. Remember how the Red Sox collapsed last year when Bobby Valentine couldn't hire his own coaches?

Plus, the Dodgers have a pretty good coaching staff in place. Rick Honeycutt is one of the best pitching coaches in the game, as he has turned around numerous careers. Hitting coach Mark McGwire developed many of the Cardinals great young hitters. Wallach is regarded as a top managerial prospect. And I've always been a fan of bench coach Trey Hillman, who offers a unique perspective on the game having once managed in Japan.

3) The Dodgers farm system needs help

I've harped on this in virtually every Dodger column I've written for the past three years. But once again, I'll note that since De Jon Watson was put in charge of player development in 2006, the Dodgers stopped developing their own players. In order for the Dodgers to build a sustainable winner, they need a better farm system.

It seems like this point is finally starting to sink in, as the home grown Cardinals beat the free agent laden Dodgers in this year's NLCS. The Times' Bill Shaikin discussed the Cardinals' model in today's edition.

But I didn't expect Mattingly to point out the farm system's failings in the press conference yesterday. According to Ramona Shelburne's ESPN column, he said:

"There's got to be a developmental system we adhere to with Yasiel, as well as all of the other guys," Mattingly said. "Kids that come up [to the majors] have to know the game and play -- the Dodger Way, or the Cardinal Way or whatever organization's way.

"That comes from learning the game and being developed and understanding, 'This is what we believe in. This is what we do as an organization.'

"We have to do a better job of helping these guys understand that. Because when you make mistakes against teams that are just as good as you are, then you lose. And when you get to the playoffs, you're playing teams that are just as good as you are. When you make mistakes, you lose."

Now, it's not totally fair to single out Puig, since he has only 63 games of minor league experience. He probably would have made the same mistakes for any MLB team. But would a better developmental system have benefitted Dee Gordon, Justin Sellers, and Stephen Fife? Probably. And a better developmental system would have given them a deeper and faster bench in the playoffs.

4) The Dodgers will spend, but not like drunken sailors

Throughout the year, many have speculated that the Dodgers would sign Robinson Cano. But with the Yankees second baseman asking for $300 million, the Dodgers were smart to take a pass. Given the recent success of Cuban defectors in the majors, it's possible that Alexander Guerrero could be a better player over the next four years.

Signing Cano to the 10-year deal he wanted would have been a mistake analogous to the Angels' regrettable signing of Albert Pujols. Cano is 31 years old and his defense at second base is mediocre at best. He may only have a few years left at the position before his body starts to break down, and then he'd need to move to a spot on the diamond where he'd be less valuable.

Contrary to popular belief, I don't believe the Dodgers have an "unlimited" player payroll. It may be high, but not high enough to just sign Robinson Cano for fun. With the team set to give Clayton Kershaw a huge extension, we may find out the actual ceiling for their payroll.

5) Matt Kemp will never be Matt Kemp again

It kills me to say this, but I think when we look back at Matt Kemp's career, we'll look at him as one of those players who could have been great had it not been for injuries.

Kemp underwent ankle surgery yesterday, and he won't be able to run for two months. The Dodgers are hopeful he'll be ready for Opening Day, but I'm not so sure. He will also undergo strengthening programs for his shoulder and hamstrings, which have been problematic in recent seasons.

Even if Kemp does make it back by April, it's going to take a great deal of time for him to round back into form. The Dodgers may not play him every day, and they may not want him in centerfield anymore.

It appears to me that Kemp will have three straight injury plagued seasons before his 30th birthday. That usually means a player will have an injury-riddled future. Kemp still has the talent to make valuable contributions to the Dodgers over the course of his long contract. But with his body constantly breaking down, I don't think he'll ever realize his superstar potential.

6) The Dodgers care about injury prevention

I really like Sue Falsone and I believe in many of her training methods. Some may think her firing is unfair, considering the Dodgers have an aging and injury prone roster. But their injuries grew so numerous and ridiculous this year that the Dodgers really need to take a step back and reevaluate their training program.

Falsone can't be blamed for every Dodger injury, like Zack Greinke breaking his collarbone in a brawl or Hanley Ramirez fracturing his rib in the NLCS. But you can't help but wonder what's going on when Ramirez or Kemp pull their hamstrings on routine running plays.

Yes, the Dodgers are old, and old players are more likely to get hurt. But Kemp and Ramirez are both under 30. So is Chad Billingsley, who supposedly went through a rigorous offseason training regimen in lieu of surgery, only to have the Dodgers discover that he should have had surgery all along.

Injuries are partially due to bad luck. But a first-class training program can do wonders in helping to prevent them. Since the Dodgers have so many seemingly fragile bodies, they should bring in an innovative head trainer who can keep their players as healthy as possible. It seems like they want to move in that direction.

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