Get Ready To Hear About This For the Next Five Months

Well, you figured this had to pop up at some point, but I didn’t think it’d be former New York Times writer and noted stats hater Murray Chass to be the one to say it… (via MLBTR)

Ned Colletti, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ general manager, is in the last year of a four-year contract, which also includes a mutual option for a fifth year. When a Los Angeles newspaper recently asked Frank McCourt, the team’s owner, if he planned to exercise the option, he lauded Colletti for the job he has done but declined to talk about the option.

Instead McCourt talked about the need to go further than the Dodgers have in recent years and win the World Series. “That is a promise we have made to our fans,” he said.

What can the man possibly be thinking? He should have instantly said of course, we will exercise the option; why wouldn’t we?

nedcolletti.jpgThis is a topic I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, so this is as good a time as any to discuss it. I hate to say it, but sure, I can actually see Chass’ point here. In the three years Colletti’s been here, the Dodgers have made the playoffs twice – winning their first postseason series in 20 years the latter time – and look poised to do so again in 2009. (I don’t want to put down the supermegajinx here, but with Arizona floundering and Brandon Webb possibly missing major time with arm injuries, it’s going to take a 2007 Rockies-esque miracle for any of these other clubs to overtake the Dodgers in the NL West.) Coming off a 91-loss season in 2005, that’s a huge improvement under Colletti’s watch, so I get it. Yet, has he really been that good? There’s been some huge, huge mistakes under his watch, including…

  • Signing Juan Pierre to an enormous contract. Actually, signing Juan Pierre. Period.
  • Giving $47m to Jason Schmidt (yes, I was in favor of this deal at the time, but it’s since come out that the Dodgers knew Schmidt was injured, so I can still call it a mistake).
  • The entire Andruw Jones debacle (which I don’t blame him too much for, since so many of us liked it, but I can’t pretend it didn’t happen)
  • Every trade with Tampa Bay (so long Dioner Navarro, Edwin Jackson, & Willy Aybar; hello Mark Hendrickson, Toby Hall, Lance Carter, & Julio Lugo).
  • Giving Nomar a two-year contract after 2006, even though he’d been horrible in the second half
  • Trading Carlos Santana & Jon Meloan for Casey Blake, which infuriated me then and continues to do so now.

That’s not to say he hasn’t done any good things; he’s certainly traded away the right prospects (anyone miss Joel Guzman or Chuck Tiffany?) while keeping those who became the core of the current team, and getting Andre Ethier for Milton Bradley was an absolute face-raping of Billy Beane. Plus, the whole handling of Manny was great – first getting him for basically nothing, and then standing fast all winter on Scott Boras. He also admitted that Jones wasn’t going to work out here and bit the bullet to get rid of him. (“What about Orlando Hudson”, you say? Hudson’s been great – no complaints here – but you can thank the lousy economy and market for his falling into Dodger hands far more than any clever work by Colletti.) 

So while I think Colletti’s certainly gotten better in the last year (the awful Blake deal aside), since this team is mainly running on the strength of prospects who were here before he was, I’d hardly call it a slam dunk on him.

Chass continues:

Since a previous Dodgers ownership (the Fox Group) foolishly fired Fred Claire in 1998, the Dodgers had a succession of poor choices as general manager. Kevin Malone and Paul DePodesta (McCourt’s first general manager) particularly stood out.

Malone was obviously a disaster, but that was years before McCourt even bought the team so it’s irrevelant. I think most educated Dodger fans agree that DePodesta did a good job (signed Lowe & Kent, traded little for Bradley, traded LoDuca for Penny – which as shocking as it was at the time, has clearly been proven to be a great move) and was given a totally raw deal after less than two years on the job. But, Murray Chass is a cranky old man who hates numbers (and freedom, probably), so the surprise here is not that he doesn’t like DePodesta, but that he actually restrained himself from calling DePo a “pencil-necked geek.” Do any of us really think that DePo wouldn’t have had a good team, too, if allowed to let the prospects develop? And I guarantee you we wouldn’t be stuck with Juan Pierre.

With Colletti, though, the Dodgers finally got it right. They reached the playoffs in two of Colletti’s first three years, winning the National League West title last year, and they are poised to win it again this season.

Well, right, but the 2006 team was largely DePodesta’s squad, buoyed by the arrival of Russell Martin and Chad Billingsley (granted, Ethier, as well). And I don’t want to discount getting to the NLCS last year but… the team won 84 games. Any other division, that’s a 3rd place finish.

And for individual achievement, Colletti held his ground in the Manny Ramirez negotiations this past winter and induced Scott Boras, Ramirez’s agent, to blink first.

It would be in McCourt’s best interests to exercise Colletti’s option – or give him a new contract, which would be the more intelligent way to go – because if he should let Colletti go, he would probably bungle the choice for his successor.

As I said, he played the Manny talks well, but I’m not sure I follow the logic here. Chass apparently thinks McCourt made a great choice by selecting Colletti, since he’s advocating a contract extension. Yet in the same breath, he’s saying that if McCourt had to choose a new GM, he’d definitely screw it up. Which is it, Murray?

As for Colletti, I think McCourt is playing it exactly right. Ned’s improved somewhat, but I can’t shake the feeling that if you consider both the good signings and the poor, the team would have been better off (and far cheaper) if he’d done nothing at all. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s time to fire Ned Colletti now, but a string of awful signings aren’t outweighed in my book by a 2006 division championship with DePo’s team, a 2008 flag that was won with 84 wins thanks to a lousy division, and a 2009 team that – while formidable – is made up mostly of prospects that would make any GM look good.

If this team makes some noise in the playoffs, then sure - sign him back up. But it’s the right thing to do to wait, because are we really afraid he’s going to walk away if he becomes a free agent like so many players do? I doubt it.   

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