As the Dodgers were closing in on a deal to make Joe Torre their manager Tuesday, Grady Little vacated the position by announcing his resignation.
Little, who managed the Dodgers for two seasons, denied that his departure was related to news that the club was targeting the former New York Yankees manager to replace him, saying the move was “mutually decided” between him and General Manager Ned Colletti.
Colletti denied that the team’s managerial position had been offered to anyone.
But baseball sources said the Dodgers and Torre had agreed to the terms of his contract and were settling the final details of what is believed to be a three-year deal worth about $4 million a season. Torre wants to appoint his own coaches, among them Don Mattingly, and is negotiating how much money will be spent on them. He also wants input on player personnel moves, which could lead to the free-agent pursuit of Alex Rodriguez.
The deal could be completed as early as today.
Torre’s agent, Maury Gostfrand, did not return phone calls.
Colletti also could not be reached until he and Little were on a conference call Tuesday afternoon with reporters to discuss Little’s decision. Colletti had not returned phone calls over the last five days.
Why Little decided to resign abruptly remained a mystery at the conclusion of the call. He was under contract for next season, and had an option for 2009.
Little cited “a combination” of personal reasons, denying it had anything to do with the fracturing of the Dodgers’ clubhouse last season or a falling out with Colletti. One team source said that Little took offense when Colletti was critical of the coaches in an end-of-the-season meeting with them.
“That’s news to me,” Colletti said when asked of a rift with Little.
“That’s news to me too,” Little said.
Colletti said he never wavered from his stance that Little could return if he wanted and that he spoke to other managerial prospects only in case Little decided to quit.
Colletti admitted that he had discussions with Joe Girardi, who was named the Yankees manager Tuesday. He would not say if he has spoken to Torre.
It is uncertain whether the Dodgers have contacted anyone other than Torre and Girardi for their managing job. Baseball rules require teams to interview a minority candidate for any vacant manager’s position.
Little said thoughts of leaving started crossing his mind over the final weeks of a troubled season, in which the Dodgers finished 82-80, fourth in the National League West. But a source close to Little said that as of Monday night, Little “didn’t know what was going on.” The same source recanted the claim Tuesday upon hearing from Little of his decision, saying Little had probably tried to convey that he was uncertain of his own state of mind.
Little, who led the Dodgers to an 88-74 record and a wild-card berth in his first season, also denied he was leaving because the Dodgers tried to replace him without his knowledge.
“There’s a lot of belief out there that I’ve been dealt an injustice here,” Little said. “That couldn’t be further from the truth. Ned and I have been in constant communication privately since the end of the season and we mutually decided that this was the best direction for the Dodger organization to take.”
Third base coach Rich Donnelly thought Little resigned as a result of what he endured over a trying season.
“He was beaten down,” Donnelly said. “He said, ‘I don’t know if this is worth it because I’m miserable.’ ”
Donnelly said it pained Little to be forced to move down veteran players in the batting order or sit them.
“I don’t think he wanted to,” Donnelly said. “He was forced to because the guys weren’t doing their jobs.”
Donnelly said that the Dodgers’ offensive shortcomings were such that at one point, he scribbled pitcher Brad Penny’s name in the eighth slot in the lineup in an August game in Cincinnati. Little later decided against the idea.
Donnelly said he hoped to be back with the Dodgers next season. Bench coach Dave Jauss said he was undecided.
Their desires could be ignored if Torre gets his way.
But the issue of how much to spend on a coaching staff could be significant. Torre has worked with one of the strongest staffs in baseball, whereas those of the Dodgers have historically been underpaid.
Mattingly, who was Torre’s bench coach with the Yankees, didn’t deny during a conference call Tuesday that he could work under Torre again in the same role with the Dodgers next season. Mattingly was one of three candidates to replace Torre as the Yankees manager and said he spoke to Torre through the entire interview process, as well as in its aftermath.
“As far as I know, there has been no announcement,” Mattingly said of Torre becoming the Dodgers’ manager. “It’s not something I’m prepared to talk about until something happens.”
Also important to Torre is the duration of his deal. He parted ways with the Yankees on Oct. 18 after rejecting an incentive-laden, one-year, $5-million deal.
A multiyear commitment to Torre could help the Dodgers sign Rodriguez, who played under Torre for four years in New York. Rodriguez opted out of the most lucrative contract in baseball history and filed for free agency Monday.
Rodriguez’s agent, Scott Boras, refused to speak of the chances of Rodriguez signing with any team in particular. Boras also avoided questions regarding how a move by Torre to Los Angeles could influence where Rodriguez lands or if Rodriguez was hesitant to play in the NL, where he would not be able to become a designated hitter in the latter stages of his career.
“Alex enjoyed playing for Joe,” Boras said. “He knows him very well. That’s all I can say.”
Dodgers pitchers David Wells and Rudy Seanez and pinch-hitting specialist Mark Sweeney filed for free agency.
Also on the free-agent market are catcher Mike Lieberthal and utility infielder Ramon Martinez, whose options for next season were declined by the Dodgers. The team bought out Lieberthal’s $1.4-million deal for $100,000 and Martinez’s $1-million contract for $50,000.
The Dodgers also are expected to decline pitcher Randy Wolf’s $9-million contract for next season, which will cost them $500,000.