LOS ANGELES -- With an early exit in the playoffs come the obvious questions for the Dodgers, namely who - if anyone - will take the fall for losing one round earlier than in 2013? With offseason meetings beginning this week, the answer seems to lean more toward general manager Ned Colletti than manager Don Mattingly.
The Dodgers had the highest payroll in baseball history in 2014 - depending on the accounting, the opening day payroll was either roughly $235 million or closer to $270 million - which wasn't too far off the 2013 payroll. It's understandable that the Dodgers ownership group, in their third offseason and second after a full season at the helm, would want better results for their investment.
For what it's worth, ownership partner Magic Johnson on the final day of the regular season dismissed any talk of high salaries as a factor in judging the team's performance.
"Everybody wants to put the payroll as the big thing. It's about the team growing. This team has only been together two years," Johnson said. "It's not about the payroll. They are supposed to grow like any other team. We want to win bad, but if we don't [get to World Series] it's not a bust. We know we're good enough to win it. We'll just have to see what happens."
What happened was the Dodgers falling short to the Cardinals again, one round earlier than last year. But before the NLDS, Johnson was also quick to praise Mattingly.
"He had to manage all the egos, and the stars," Johnson said. "He's done a wonderful job at who to plug in and when to play them, and at the same time managing the injuries."
Mattingly, who signed a three-year contract in January, is not getting as much heat, locally and nationally, for the Dodgers' quick exit, as is Colletti.
From Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register:
The time is ripe for change. The Dodgers recently lost vice president for player development DeJon Watson to Dave Stewart’s new front office in Arizona. That would give a new GM in Los Angeles the chance to restructure the player development side – an area that team president and CEO Stan Kasten has made clear holds primacy in his long-range plans for the Dodgers. The $250 million payrolls will not be around forever. A commitment to player development is the only way to continue churning out contenders – and compelling programming for SportsNet LA.
Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times chimed in as well:
The Dodgers showed up for the playoffs with the highest payroll in North American sports history and not a single setup man that Manager Don Mattingly could trust, and Colletti invested heavily in unproductive former closers Brian Wilson, Chris Perez and Brandon League.
Two of the Dodgers' top young relief arms — Chris Withrow and Jose Dominguez — were injured, but the team stashed useful Paco Rodriguez in the minor leagues most of the summer because ineffective veterans clogged the major league bullpen. Colletti could not make a trade to improve the bullpen during the season, even as the Angels rebuilt theirs by doing just that — two of those trades were with the Dodgers' National League West rivals, the Arizona Diamondbacks and San Diego Padres.
From Mark Saxon of ESPN Los Angeles:
Hearing Don Mattingly's job is safe. Not sure about others in the organization.— Mark Saxon (@markasaxon) October 8, 2014
Andy Martino of the New York Daily News cited a source who "heard rumblings" more involving Colletti than Mattingly:
Team chemistry is highly subjective, and others close to the situation continue to praise Mattingly for his laid-back style, and ability to handle superstar egos. The most thorny issue that arose was how to balance four established players, Matt Kemp, Yasiel Puig, Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier, in the outfield.
"It was rocky at first, but Donnie handled it very well," one source said, noting that the manager helped facilitate buy-in from Ethier, when he was pushed into the fourth outfield role. "(Ethier) handled it so well, and worked so hard," the source said, which reflects well on both player and manager.
The general read on Mattingly remains unchanged from last year: Great people person, so-so strategist, cursed to endure perennial speculation about his job status, which could soon happen again, as it probably will with Colletti. So it goes.
Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports opined as well on Wednesday:
Feeling among number of #Dodgers people is that GM Colletti is on hot seat, and that ownership has softer spot for Mattingly. We shall see.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) October 8, 2014
If #Dodgers change GMs, Colletti’s replacement presumably would want ability to name his own manager - if not sooner, then later.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) October 8, 2014
I'm not certain there will be any big changes, but if either one of Colletti or Mattingly get fired, it would be Colletti. I can see Colletti getting fired and Mattingly staying, but not the other way around. Then again, this is the first truly disappointing finish under the new ownership group, so we'll see how patient they are.