Ned Colletti Thinks the Dodgers Are Close to Contending, Because Of Course He Does

While I was away for the weekend, we saw Clayton Kershaw dominate the Giants as usual, Dana Eveland do his best to match Kershaw’s outing, and Hiroki Kuroda finish the series by tossing out his second consecutive lousy start, possibly as a result of recurring neck pain. We learned that Andre Ethier is finally getting knee surgery on Wednesday and that contrary to all previous reports, there will be not be any further callups to bolster the roster for the final weeks.

Yet what interests me the most, and what I heard more about from readers than anything else that happened this weekend, were Ned Colletti’s comments that he doesn’t think the roster is going to need a whole lot of work to be competitive in 2012. From the Dylan Hernandez story:

General Manager Ned Colletti and Manager Don Mattingly don’t think the Dodgers have to overhaul their roster next season.

“I don’t think we’re that far away,” Colletti said.

The initial fan response to that was predictable. This is a team which was flawed from the start and was flirting with the depths of team history barely two months ago. Does an admittedly-impressive-but-ultimately-meaningless hot streak in August and September suddenly turn this team into a contender? Of course it doesn’t. How, people asked, could Colletti be so blind as to think this was a team that could compete with the Philadelphias and Atlantas of the league?

The answer, as it always is, is to never take anything Colletti – or any other high-ranking executive – says at face value. What did we expect him to say? “Boy, these guys sure do suck. Can’t wait to clear them out and start over next year.” Of course not. This is the team Colletti has personally put together over the last few years, and the ownership situation makes his future tenuous at best. It’s absolutely in his best interest to put out the vision that this was always a good team, torpedoed early by a wave of injuries and perhaps lacking that one impact bat – a deficit which he, of course, personally helped fix by picking up Juan Rivera.

That’s in no way meant to bash Colletti, since part of any executive’s job (in baseball or out) is to project a sense of calm and leadership, not to stir the pot any more than is necessary. It’s something that Colletti hasn’t always done a good job of in the past. It’s best for him, best for the players, and best for trying to drive next year’s season ticket sales to make people think that something special is brewing, even if that’s only remotely the truth.

Besides, on a practical level, it doesn’t even make sense. Regardless of how Colletti feels about the current roster, it’s still a collection that has offensive veterans like Jamey Carroll, Aaron Miles, Tony Gwynn, Rod Barajas, and Rivera without contracts for next year. Rafael Furcal is already long-gone and Casey Blake, for all intents and purposes, is too. Prospects Dee Gordon, Justin Sellers, Jerry Sands, and Tim Federowicz have all shown promise but none have unquestionably nailed down a job, though that is still likely to change. James Loney, recent play aside, is still very possibly a non-tender, plus while Ethier is unlikely to move, he is going to be coming off surgery and is clearly unhappy with his situation. And can you really count on anything from Juan Uribe? On the pitching side, Jonathan Broxton, Jon Garland, and Vicente Padilla are all unlikely to be back, Mike MacDougal is a free agent, Rubby De La Rosa is likely out for most or all of next year, and it’s anyone’s guess as to what Kuroda will do.

While some of the players listed above will return, the majority won’t, and that means there will be changes. Possibly a good deal of them, particularly in the infield, and Colletti notes that another bat is a big need:

Pointing to how the July acquisition of Juan Rivera transformed the pitching-heavy Dodgers’ previously-impotent offense, Colletti and Mattingly said their top priority this winter is to land a run producer.

“It has to be the right bat,” Colletti said. “If the right bat’s not available, then it’s got to be somebody else.”

Of course, just exactly what that means is a topic of conversation we’ll get into heavily in the offseason. We have absolutely no idea what the McCourt mess means for the 2012 payroll, making it unlikely that the Dodgers are in the Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder game – and you could make a solid argument that even if the team wasn’t in bankruptcy court, $100m+ contracts like that aren’t the best use of resources anyway, particularly with the contract situations of Matt Kemp, Ethier, and Kershaw quickly becoming serious issues.

There’s a solid core here, and we’ve seen it come out in recent weeks. Yet Colletti’s media-friendly statements aside, expect the 25-man Opening Day roster next season to look a whole lot different than it did this season – and that’s not a bad thing.

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