Did Don Mattingly just talk his way out of Los Angeles?

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OK, so at his annual end-of-the-season media availability this morning with manager Don Mattingly, Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti all but confirms (without actually confirming) that the club finally has agreed to terms with free-agent Cuban defector Alexander Guerrero, who possibly could be the team’s everyday second baseman by opening day, and that ISN’T the biggest news to come out of this thing.

For those of you pining for a managerial change, you just might get your wish — courtesy of Mattingly himself.

I’m going to allow myself plenty of wiggle room here, and I’m not going to make any bold predictions. But based on what was said this morning, it’s hard to see Mattingly coming back next year.

First of all, Mattingly confirmed something I heard in the men’s room last week, that his club option for 2014 actually vested when the Dodgers beat the Braves in the National League Division Series. But in what came as a shock to just about everybody, Mattingly, with Colletti sitting inches away from him at the podium in the interview room just off the Dodgers clubhouse, said this morning that he isn’t sure he will be back managing the club in 2014. Mattingly said he doesn’t like managing as, in his own words, a “lame duck.” Don’t forget, he already managed under that cloud in 2013, and was actually put on notice by team president Stan Kasten back when the team was going through its monumental struggles in May that the club might have to make a change.

I don’t know any way to interpret this other than that Mattingly’s stance appears to be that if he doesn’t get a new contract, he isn’t going to stick around.

Colletti said at one point that, “This is going to be resolved very quickly.”

Mattingly said at one point, in response to a question as to whether he needs it to be resolved very quickly so that if he doesn’t return he has time to pursue one of several other managerial vacancies, said, “Well, I want to manage.”

The only problem with this is, Donnie Baseball may be grossly overplaying his hand — unless he already has received overtures from another club, which one supposes is possible even though Major League Baseball prohibits teams from contacting people who still are under contract to other teams to discuss open jobs, because despite that rule, it still happens sometimes. There are openings with the Chicago Cubs, the Cincinnati Reds and, suddenly, the Detroit Tigers, all of which play in cities much closer to Mattingly’s hometown of Evansville, Ind. And reading between the lines of some of Donnie’s more cryptic comments from this morning, it sounds like he isn’t entirely happy with some of the circumstances of his current gig.

“I love it here … ” he said. “But I don’t want to be anywhere you’re not wanted.”

The problem for Donnie is that he isn’t exactly a hot managerial commodity at the moment. We hear all the time about how everything is magnified in the postseason. Well, that extends to managerial moves, and Donnie had two games in particular — Game 2 of the NLDS and Game 1 of the NLCS — that didn’t speak well of his strategic expertise. And dare I take it a tad further in saying that Yasiel Puig‘s fundamental mistakes in Game 6 of the NLCS, as well as Mattingly’s postgame concession that, “We need to do a better job of helping him mature,” also don’t speak well of Mattingly’s ability to handle high-maintenance players in an age when almost every major league player is high-maintenance in his own way.

And then, on that same subject, Mattingly offered up this rather cryptic little gem:

“There has to be some type of plan in place with Yasiel, where you want to go and what you want done. Leaving it to me is one way. … I think you have to help him maybe understand the importance of all the small things. … When he got here, we saw all the (fundamental) stuff we talked about (in spring training). I think it is our job to help him understand the importance of all those things, and it’s really not just Yasiel, it’s everybody. If they’re not physical (mistakes), then we’re throwing the ball to the wrong base or we’re trying to do something that is outside of winning baseball, then we aren’t doing our job of helping them understand the importance of the small things. Most of the time, the small things don’t get on ESPN, so they aren’t a highlight that everybody is talking about, so they aren’t important to guys.

“When guys are coming up, they need to learn how to play the game. We use the term the Dodger Way, the organizational way, the Cardinal Way, whoever it is. When you come up through player development, you have to understand how to play the game: this is what we do as an organization, this is how we play. We have to do a better job of helping guys understand that is important if you’re going to have sustained success and be able to get to the next level.

“When you make mistakes against teams that are just as good as you are, you lose. When you get to the playoffs, you’re playing teams that are just as good as you are for the most part. You have to play better. You make mistakes, you get beat.”

Now, what exactly is Donnie trying to say here? Obviously, he is trying to say that Puig has to stop overthrowing cutoff men, trying to show the world he has a cannon for an arm, all that. But what is he REALLY trying to imply? That the front office didn’t have his back in dealing with Puig? That he felt restrained from trying to administer the brand of tough love that Puig obviously needs? And if that is what he is saying, why was Donnie so quick to protect Puig all season whenever the media questioned why he kept making the same mistakes over and over? I remember at least once when a postgame question I asked Donnie about Puig was answered with, “It feels like we’re picking on him.” Which was a clear implication that I was the one picking on him by asking the question.

And finally, Mattingly also said this:

“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.”

Meaning, obviously, that Donnie feels if he isn’t worth a new contract and some job security, then maybe the Dodgers should look elsewhere.

Looking at this from afar — and I had to watch this morning’s session on streaming video because I wasn’t in Los Angeles — my gut instinct is that Colletti has Mattingly’s back and probably is on board with giving him an extension. If not, I can’t imagine Donnie would have made such bold comments while Colletti was sitting right next to him in front of a room full of reporters. It’s more likely that Kasten, who essentially runs the day-to-day operations of the Dodgers, is the one who still needs convincing.

Kasten is one of the most accomplished and most widely respected executives in the game. But he also doesn’t suffer much nonsense. And this is pure speculation on my part here, but I can’t imagine these comments by Donnie are going to sit well with Kasten, and they certainly aren’t going to sway him more toward giving Mattingly the extension he obviously wants. The fact Mattingly’s option kicked in means only one thing, that the Dodgers have to PAY Mattingly for 2014. It doesn’t mean they have to keep him on as their manager.

On one hand, I hope Donnie didn’t put himself in a bad spot with those comments. Again, his performance in the postseason didn’t create a situation in which other teams are going to be champing at the bit to hire him as their manager if he suddenly becomes a free agent, and there certainly isn’t going to be any major outcry among the Dodgers fan base to do whatever it takes to keep him in the fold. Mattingly’s support among Dodgers fans right now is probably lukewarm at best.

But on the other hand, this is a team of high-priced stars, a team that has to be managed with delicate hands. Today’s players, especially the star-caliber ones, tend to be difficult to manage. This is a desirable job because of the name and the history and the deep-pocketed ownership and the fact the pieces are in place for any manager to come in and win, possibly even win a World Series as soon as next year. But if I’m reading Mattingly’s comments correctly about managing Puig, if there is a perception that whoever manages this club is going to be left to massage all those high-dollar egos without knowing that the front office will back him up if he has to get tough at times, how desirable is this job, really? And what caliber of candidates would the Dodgers be able to attract if they suddenly found themselves in the market for a new manager?

Who knows, maybe the Dodgers will back down and give Mattingly his extension. Maybe Mattingly will back down and decide managing the 2014 Dodgers as a lame duck is better than not managing at all, which would certainly be a possibility were he to bolt.

But Mattingly’s comments this morning certainly didn’t push either side in either of those directions. And ultimately, they may wind up pushing Mattingly right out the door.

On that other subject, Colletti said that when the Guerrero signing, which he wouldn’t confirm, is official, Guerrero will be sent to winter ball somewhere to evaluate his readiness to possibly take over as the Dodgers’ everyday second baseman next season. Colletti also was quick to say incumbent second baseman Mark Ellis still has value to the organization, which could be an indication the Dodgers will pick up Ellis’ $5.75 million club option for next season, allow him and Guerrero to compete for the job in spring training and then shop Ellis on the trade market if Guerrero steals the job.

Colletti also confirmed that the Dodgers are looking at Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka of the Rakuten Eagles, who is expected to be posted this winter.

13 comments

  1. That’s as dramatic as these pressers ever get, I mean short of him quitting and just walking off… I’m left to wonder about Colletti’s future too. A GM generally only gets to hire so many managers and if (and that’s still a big IF) the one he’s clearly backing is on the outs and Stan Kasten has the final say (obviously), how long until Ned holds bare-all press conference that can’t help but rankle some feathers where he cryptically says, I don’t feel supported by ownership…Or maybe Kasten says, look buddy you backed the wrong horse this time. Ned could probably find work elsewhere without much difficulty. Don was talking but in the outro you could almost hear the words “I’m Ned Colletti and I approve this message.” Did Ned just put himself on the same potentially sinking boat? We’ll find out out in days folks, “same bat time, same bat channel.”

    • Colletti just signed a 3 year extension, so I don’t see him going anywhere any time soon. I can see Kasten making the final call on Mattingly. It’s funny that people are so quick to scream & yell at Puig for mistakes he’s made as inexperienced, yet dismiss Mattingly’s so easily. I don’t see him as a World Series manager. He’s right – the playoffs are evenly matched teams and the kind of gaffes he made in the LDS and LCS are the kind that just can’t happen in the playoffs.

      • Nobody’s dismissing Mattingly’s mistakes. If anything, they’ve been getting more airing than ever in the last couple of days since the NLCS ended.

  2. Sounds a lot like Jimmy Riggleman 2.0…..and he’s in AAA now. It’ll never happen, but I can’t help but imagine this club with Scioscia at the helm. I’m biased, but he still plays Dodger baseball.

    Tony, this is your AZ neighbor. Hope we can get together at the AFL, I’m planning on making a November trip.

    -Chris

  3. In spite of his mistakes in the NLDS AND NLCS I wanted Donnie B. to return. However, overplaying your hand as if he has the credentials of a LaRussa, Lasorda, Bobby Cox et al is a serious miscalculation. I wouldn’t at all be surprised if in the next day or two it’s announced that all parties concerned have agreed to a divorce. Who’s next? LaRussa, Baker, Wallach? Could get interesting.

  4. This will be interesting at how it pans out. Is there anywhere online where we can see this presser? I sure hope Donnie gets his contract and comes back.

  5. So, if DM does leave, who is out there that we could get? Would Wallach be an option?
    I like the way DM seems to handle the players but the game management and bunting are hard to watch sometimes. This will be interesting

  6. Isn’t this some great drama! You think StL goes through this kind of stuff? Boston did last year, changed course and look where they are at now.

    • yeah, one thing about this team, it’s never boring. Been covering the Dodgers for 10 years now, and still waiting for the first offseason. Just always something going on.