Welcome Back, Don Mattingly

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We first heard rumblings yesterday, and now we’re hearing this: Ramona Shelburne reports that the Dodgers have reached an extension agreement with Don Mattingly. No terms yet, though I can’t say I really care about manager salaries. (It reportedly will be for three seasons.)

This is probably going to ignite the same conversations we had months ago about whether Mattingly is the manager best equipped to run this team, but it really doesn’t matter. You almost never see a manager who takes his team to the League Championship Series not return — unless it’s Grady Little, and then the Dodgers just hire him anyway, and then… — and after Mattingly survived that bizarre post-season press conference with assertions that he “would be back,” his return has been something like a given anyway.

If anything, I’m just glad that it appears to be settled. No matter how you feel about Mattingly, nothing would have been worse than letting him go into the season as a lame duck again, after how that worked out last year. And even if you can’t stand him as a manager — I’m hardly defending the bunts — we weren’t getting Manny Acta, and there’s no evidence Tim Wallach would be better. At least there’s this: he’s not Dusty Baker.

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Yes, Ken Gurnick submitted a train wreck of a Hall of Fame ballot today. Yes, Twitter is up in arms over it, and rightfully so — I can’t defend the thought process that says Greg Maddux (and Mariano Rivera) shouldn’t get a vote, or that Jack Morris is somehow a guy who didn’t pitch “during the steroid era,” or that Gurnick’s radio explanation today makes any sense whatsoever. It’s probably the worst ballot I’ve seen so far, and that’s saying something when Murray Chass exists. But I have corresponded with Gurnick in the past, and I know people who speak of him with the utmost respect. I generally am satisfied with the job he does as the MLB.com beat writer, knowing the constraints that come with being employed by the league, and so I’m really not interested in bashing him as a person. I’m noting it here simply because it’s the story of the day.

If anything, it further convinces me that the Hall of Fame process is irreparably, irretrievably broken.

Don Mattingly To Return, Unless He Doesn’t

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Dylan Hernandez:

Don Mattingly will manage the Dodgers next season.

“I always thought that,” team President Stan Kasten said. “Absolutely.”

Kasten’s comments were made Wednesday after Mattingly’s agent, Ray Schulte, said Mattingly intended to honor his contract.

Yet there’s no news about any possible extension, and Mattingly seemed pretty certain that he had no intention of returning as a “lame duck,” so I’m not sure if this is so much news as it is public posturing, or at least both sides trying to repair the republic relations damage that had been done this week. As I said earlier, the firing of Trey Hillman while the other coaches were retained didn’t exactly seem like the actions of a team setting up for a new manager, but it’s not like many of their other actions screamed “he’s staying.” So until we have a more solid answer, I consider this matter open… and frustrating.

Don Mattingly’s Moment of Truth

I'm not sure of the source of this photo to give proper credit other than this tweet, but good lord: You can feel the frost from here.

I’m not sure of the source of this photo to give proper credit other than this tweet, but good lord: You can feel the frost from here.

A lot of you don’t like Don Mattingly, and for good reason. The bunting. The batting orders. The bunting. The love of certain veteran bench players. The hideous everything that was NLCS, Game 1, though again, the outcome of that series was far more about Hanley Ramirez & Michael Wacha & Clayton Kershaw than anything else. Oh, and the bunting.

Still, I can’t help but take his side after today’s bizarre display at the season-ending press conference, during which — with Ned Colletti sitting right next to him! — he made it extremely clear that even though his 2014 option had vested, he wasn’t certain he’d be back, saying in so many words that he had no intention of returning without an extension, that he didn’t want to be “a lame duck”.

There’s also this jaw-dropping quote, via Tony Jackson:

“This has been a frustrating, tough year, honestly. … You come in basically as a lame-duck manager, and with the payroll and guys you have, you make it tough in the clubhouse, put me in a spot where you’re basically trying out, auditioning. Can you manage or not manage? To me, we’re three years in. We’re at the point where you know or you don’t.”

And you know what? Good for him, seriously. Whether he’s a flawed manager or not is beside the point. He’s been the manager for three seasons now, and in the organization for six. Good and bad, it’s pretty clear what he is at this point. It’s not like there’s a lot of mystery remaining. If you want him to be your manager, fine: Extend him. If you want to move on, also fine: Fire him. But I don’t see the value here in letting him swing in the wind, especially when (publicly, anyway) he seemed to be a good sport about not letting his expiring contract become a distraction.

For his part, he can look at an oddly wide-open managerial landscape and think that he has options. Usually, teams that are looking for new skippers are coming off poor seasons or bad situations, like we’ve seen with the Cubs & Mariners. But with Jim Leyland‘s retirement this morning, there’s three teams — the Tigers, Reds, & Nationals — with just a ton of talent who need new leaders. We know that the Nationals wanted to interview him several years ago, and it’s not hard to see them wanting to do so again. He can shop himself as someone who survived the McCourt disaster and untold amounts of injuries to lead the 2013 Dodgers to a historic 42-8 run and an NLDS victory.

Colletti promised that the situation “would be resolved soon,” and it really has to be, before this gets ugly. For my part, as I’ve been consistent in saying, any judgement in letting him go depends heavily on who would replace him. Tim Wallach? Fine, whatever. Manny Acta? Unlikely, but yay! Dusty Baker? Oh, holy lord no, for that would indeed be the darkest timeline.

My guess is that Mattingly does indeed return, but his entire coaching staff doesn’t, as he wants it to. I don’t think Rick Honeycutt or Mark McGwire or Davey Lopes are going anywhere, and Wallach stays unless he gets a top job of his own, but Trey Hillman… well, don’t get too comfortable.

Should Ricky Nolasco Have Been Hit For In the Second Inning?

In the bottom of the second inning in yesterday’s Game 4, the Dodgers loaded the bases with two outs. Andre Ethier had singled, and Yasiel Puig & A.J. Ellis had each drawn walks, so there were three men on for pitcher Ricky Nolasco. At the time, I was watching the game at the MLB Fan Cave with some friends, and once I realized that it was Nolasco coming to the plate, I half-jokingly suggested that Don Mattingly should take his opportunities where he could find them, and pinch-hit for Nolasco despite the fact that his starter had retired six of the seven Cardinals he’d faced and generally was calming all of our questions about him.

I never really expected Mattingly to do it, and he didn’t. Nolasco struck out, and we moved on. I’m thinking about that this morning because I see now that it was the highest-leverage play of the game

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…and so I’m thinking: Should Mattingly have tried to make some noise in that situation? In the regular season, it’s not even a question, because you don’t pull your starter after two innings and ruin your bullpen for weeks. But in the playoffs, when you’re down 2-1 and having all sorts of trouble getting runs on the board, and you have your fourth starter who hasn’t gone in weeks, and the possibility of Clayton Kershaw being available for an inning or two or three to at least make it a reasonable bullpen game after that, well, you wonder if it should have been considered. (Yet another situation where Chris Capuano might have been useful rather than Carlos Marmol, but I digress.)

It probably wouldn’t have mattered, really, because Mattingly would have likely used Skip Schumaker, who grounded into a double play in a very similar situation in the fourth. And you certainly can’t bag on Mattingly for the fact that Nolasco fell apart in the third, because he had looked good in the first two innings, though it’s now fun to think about what might have happened had someone else been on the mound. But with some benefit — but not entirely, as I said above — of hindsight, you start to realize that the Dodgers are about to lose this NLCS because they simply can’t generate offense, and the opportunity to make something happen with the bases loaded is arguably more valuable than another inning or two out of Nolasco.

Like I said, I never really expected such a move, and it wouldn’t surprise me if Mattingly never even considered it. But I know I was thinking it at the time, and I wonder what the outcome might have been.

Don Mattingly To Return, Like You Didn’t Know That

mattingly_ump_2013-07-14I guess I’ll put this here because it’s newsworthy and because the less we think about being down 3-1 in the NLCS the better, but honestly, this isn’t a topic I like focusing on all that much the night before an elimination playoff game. Anyway, Jon Heyman, hit me:

The Dodgers intend to bring Don Mattingly back to manage the team next year, people familiar with the situation say.

Ken Gurnick confirms this as well. I think that we all pretty much figured that, though again there’s nothing that has been announced by the team here. Had the Dodgers lost badly in the NLDS, I think a change may have been made, but it’s pretty difficult to fire a manager who A) just won the division by 11 games B) presided over one of the best in-season runs in baseball history C) is likely to get some Manager of the Year votes and D) won a playoff series.

Again, we have all winter to argue about this, especially once the news is official, but you all know where I stand on this point. I consider Mattingly to be a very good clubhouse manager — no, I don’t put much stock into Bob Nightengale’s report about players “complaining about his managerial ability” — and a pretty lousy in-game tactician. I thought that before the playoffs, and he’s just been so atrocious so far (the Jason Heyward / Reed Johnson thing, the Juan Uribe sacrifice bunt attempt, Game 1 usage of Kenley Jansen, pretty much everything involving Michael Young) that he’s somehow dropped even further in my eyes there.

And so my position remains consistent: there’s absolutely room to improve at the position, and if there was ever a possibility of firing him to get someone better, then so be it. (Manny Acta!) But everyone’s definition of “better” is different, because I think we all know by now that 90% of managers would pull 90% of the same foolishness that he does, and if the alternative is bringing in former Dodger player, ex-Giant manager, “proven winner” Dusty Baker, as I’ve been terrified of ever since Cincinnati let him go, then yeah — absolutely hang on to Mattingly, please.

Anyway, the end result here is the same as it always is, which is managers matter so much less than people think they do; if Hanley Ramirez or Matt Kemp or Andre Ethier were actually healthy and if anyone else could hit the St. Louis pitching, we might not be feeling so badly about Mattingly as we do right now. As it is, this news shouldn’t distract from what’s important, and that’s beating St. Louis in Game 5 tomorrow to send the series back to Missouri and simply stay alive.