Dodgers tenacious despite tribulations
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The recent past of the Los Angeles Dodgers franchise has been characterized, to put it mildly, by uncertainty at the ownership level.
But at the level of the baseball operation itself, there has been persistence in the middle of trials and tribulations. This persistence, in these circumstances, qualifies as admirable.
Even with the troubled ownership of Frank McCourt providing a backdrop and with the Dodgers at less than full strength on the field, the team went 39-23 after July 22 last season.
"We started off last year inconsistent in the first half, and through it all we also had a lot of the outside things that started to bombard us a little bit," general manager Ned Colletti said on Tuesday in an interview with MLB.com. "But to the credit of [manager Don Mattingly] and to the credit of everybody else, too, we stayed the course and concentrated on the game at hand, trying to figure out how to win that day's game. These jobs are big enough that you spend enough time just worrying about things you have control over, or some control over, or maybe no control over to some extent. But that's where we spend our time and where we focus."
The next major change of direction for the Dodgers will be determined not on the mound, not at the plate, but in the bankruptcy sale of the franchise. Departing owner McCourt must decide on which bidder will become the new owner by April 1, and must complete a sales agreement by April 30. The new ownership will presumably be capable of spending far greater sums than McCourt could, as the purchase price will likely be the largest ever for a baseball franchise.
But funds were limited this winter, and the Dodgers attempted to improve the roster while player payroll was being cut, from $120 million to $90 million.
"We were very judicious on where we spent our money in the offseason," Colletti said. "We needed to spread the money out, just for the situation we currently find ourselves in."
The Dodgers wanted to improve their defense at second base, which they believe they did with the addition of Mark Ellis. And with the remarkable talents of Dee Gordon at shortstop, the Gold Glove work of Matt Kemp in center field and Matt Treanor adding to the number of good defensive catchers, the Dodgers should be solid up the middle.
The Dodgers wanted to provide more options against left-handed pitching, so they brought back outfielder Juan Rivera, added the versatile Jerry Hairston and are giving Jerry Sands, a right-handed hitter with power, a shot at making the roster.
They also looked to extend their rotation depth, even while letting Hiroki Kuroda go.
"We tried to sign Kuroda," Colletti said. "At the time we started negotiating with him, his price was higher than what he eventually agreed to. By then we had moved on. But we were able to add [Chris] Capuano and [Aaron] Harang, two veterans, two guys who know how to win. They've had winning seasons before and can give us some innings and stability."
By bringing in Capuano and Harang, the Dodgers allowed more time for prized pitching prospect Nathan Eovaldi to develop.
"Nathan's got a chance to be a very, very good, probably front-line Major League pitcher," Colletti said.
The Dodgers have the singular talent of National League Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw at the top of the rotation, followed by Chad Billingsley and Ted Lilly. A generally young and truly talented bullpen, developed on the fly last season and anchored by closer Javy Guerra, makes for a pitching staff that is good enough, at a minimum, to keep the Dodgers in the vast majority of games.
On the offensive side, there is Kemp, second in the NL MVP voting after a breakthrough 2011. Full health for right fielder Andre Ethier would be helpful, and so would a full season of productivity from first baseman James Loney.
All in all, this is a ballclub that, given good health and performances meeting reasonable expectations, could fairly consider itself a contender in the increasingly competitive, pitching-first NL West.
"Is it sexy? No, it isn't sexy, but we think it's solid," Colletti said. "And I'll tell you something else people forget, too. Donnie hadn't managed before, and his first couple of months, there was some learning curve that went on. We're beyond that. We played great for the last two months of the season. We think we shored it up in some areas, we think we gave Donnie some flexibility, lengthened out our rotation a little bit."
A couple of scenarios regularly make the rounds in regard to the direction of the new ownership. The first is pleasant but plausible: The team remains afloat in the standings early in the season, due largely to its pitching. Then the new ownership makes a big splash with the acquisition of a big-name, expensive talent, preferably a middle-of-the-order bat. Two splashes would be twice as nice.
On the other hand, having spent all that money, new ownership might want to put in place people of its own choosing, all the way from the front office to third base.
But for the Dodgers who are on board now, playing with dueling scenarios is not a productive enterprise. This is a baseball team that needs direction, day to day, every day. The members of this organization would like to be inoculated against this plague of speculation.
"There's only so much you've got control over," Colletti said. "I find I'm not perfect at it. And Don and I talk about it all the time, because it's important to keep it out of [the clubhouse], and really, keep it out of upstairs, too. We concentrate on the things that we have something to do with.
"It's a good lesson in life, too. We all worry about a lot of things that we have no control over in our daily lives. We waste a lot of our time, we waste a lot of energy worrying about a lot of things that never come true. You can't even remember what you were worrying about a week ago, but it kept you up all night. We focus on things that we have today, and we take it day by day."
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.