On a team full of high expectations, manager Don Mattingly just might have the most on the line. In the final year of his contract, Mattingly needs the 2013 Dodgers to win or he will find himself out of a job. But with a payroll north of $230 million, Mattingly feels just fine with his chances.
"It's got a chance to be a good club. On paper we know we've got a good club, but that doesn't necessarily turn out," Mattingly said. "I know I'm in a good position."
Mattingly's tenure as manager in Los Angeles has been eventful. In his first season he saw two of the greatest individual performances in franchise history from Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw, but the club finished just three games over .500, and had to finish 25-10 to do so. But that campaign will forever be marred with owner Frank McCourt dragging the club into bankruptcy, so Mattingly gets a pass for dealing with the constant distractions.
In 2012, Mattingly saw his club overachieve with a 30-13 start and built a lead as big as 7½ games in the National League West. Injuries took their toll, but the Dodgers brought in several reinforcements, adding eight major league players via trade from July 25 to Aug. 25. But even with a revamped lineup the Dodgers struggled to score down the stretch, and an 18-18 finish left them two games out of a playoff spot.
Mattingly did not get the contract extension he wanted during the offseason, and goes into 2013 with a need to win to keep his job. But for someone who worked for George Steinbrenner in New York for several years, this pressure is nothing new.
Tactically there are times when Mattingly is frustrating, such as bunting perhaps too much, or not batting his best on-base hitter higher than eighth in the lineup, or refusing to recognize a platoon candidate. But generally these tend to be small things; getting the right eight guys in the lineup is more important than the order, and Mattingly does that more often than not. Also, platooning Andre Ethier, or even Carl Crawford, would require a roster built with players whom Mattingly could legitimately sub in, and that hasn't been the case during his tenure.
Back in 2012, Mattingly said there was much more to managing a club than strategy.
"It's more leadership in this position. There are a zillion guys who can run a game. But there's so much communication with these guys and having an understanding of what you expect," Mattingly said. "You have to know Xs and Os, but there are a lot of guys who know that."
Mattingly is generally thought of as a player's manager, as he is usually upfront with players about their roles and his expectations. It would be unlikely to see a 2009 Orlando Hudson situation under Mattingly, with a starter benched without being told why. With Mattingly, the communication lines are always open.
"He's great. He keeps everybody in here humble, where we all stay tight with each other," said relief pitcher Scott Elbert. "That makes the game easier to play when we all get along."
The team does generally seem to get along, and the impressive collection of talented players have now had a full spring training to gel under Mattingly and his staff. Now, they just need to win.
Mattingly's job depends on it.
Needing to win is nothing new for Dodgers managers. In the 129-year history of the franchise, the only managers to not finish in first place within their first three years who were brought back for a fourth season are Dave Foutz (fourth season was 1896), Bill Dahlen (1913), and Jim Tracy (2004). Both Foutz and Dahlen were canned after not winning in their fourth season, and Tracy though he won the NL West in 2004 was fired one year later after losing 91 games.
Mattingly's .520 winning percentage in two seasons in Los Angeles is the 13th best among the 27 managers in Dodgers franchise history.
Mattingly is in the final season of a three-year contract signed before the 2011 season.
|2013 Projections - Age 52 Season|
There are certainly tougher things to do than manage a team with the highest payroll in the history of the game, but I do think the Dodgers will win the division, or at least make the playoffs, which will likely be enough for Mattingly to get a new contract.
What is your guess for Mattingly? Be sure to guess his 2013 record, whether or not he gets fired and/or a contract extension, and any other thing you wish to guess.