This could be Ned Colletti’s last trade as the Dodgers’ general manager.
Frank McCourt isn’t going anywhere. Neither is Joe Torre. If the Dodgers fail to make the playoffs, Colletti is the one whose job is on the line.
Yet the Dodgers’ issues extend well beyond Colletti, with Saturday’s trade offering the latest bit of evidence. The Dodgers, a club that should never be in the business of selling prospects, sold off two pretty good ones for a stopgap third baseman.
Here’s the typical tradeoff at the trade deadline: money or prospects. The more money you’re willing to spend, the less the cost in prospects.
The Dodgers picked up Casey Blake from the Indians, without spending a dime. The Indians paid the $2 million remaining on Blake’s contract, raising the question of why the Dodgers did not pay some or all of that money to ease the hit on their minor league system.
“If anybody thinks we were going to go and get Casey Blake for two non-prospects, they’re wrong,” Colletti said.
Colletti said he could have added to the Dodgers’ payroll if necessary to complete the deal. However, a source familiar with negotiations said the Indians were told that the Dodgers needed any trade to be “revenue-neutral” -- in other words, McCourt would not increase the payroll.
If the owner is playing to win this season -- and a $118-million payroll would suggest he is -- it would be curious indeed to say no to another $2 million.
But, on a team desperately in need of reinforcements since Rafael Furcal’s back gave out in May, these are the additions: Blake for nothing, Angel Berroa for nothing and Pablo Ozuna for about $150,000, a prorated share of the minimum wage.
When McCourt raises the price of your season tickets this winter, you might ask why you should pay more when he would not spend more.
“Our payroll is strong,” Colletti said. “The commitment is obvious.”
Perhaps McCourt has cut off Colletti’s allowance. Colletti extended the budget with Jason Schmidt at $47 million, Juan Pierre at $44 million, Furcal at $39 million, Andruw Jones at $36 million, Hiroki Kuroda at $35 million and Nomar Garciaparra at $19 million.
If McCourt does not trust Colletti to spend his money, he should fire him now. If McCourt does not trust Colletti to run the front office, he should do the same.
The perception around baseball is that the Dodgers’ front office is dysfunctional and factional. Three executives -- all from different major league teams -- said last week his club had been frustrated in trying to conduct trade talks with the Dodgers.
The Dodgers tend not to respond to trade proposals as quickly or decisively as other clubs, leaving those executives wondering whether to approach Colletti, McCourt or one of the assistant general managers for a prompt response and whether scouting guru Logan White is whispering into McCourt’s ear to hold onto the prospects.
The Dodgers say this is nonsense. Colletti solicited White’s opinion on Saturday’s trade, even dispatching him for a last-minute evaluation of the better of the two prospects, catcher Carlos Santana. White gave his blessing to trade the prospects.
Even without them, there is youth aplenty in Dodger blue. With McCourt’s commitment to young players, not only last winter but through this trading season, it becomes increasingly apparent that Torre was not the best choice as the Dodgers’ manager.
This is not to criticize Torre. He is the same manager in Los Angeles that he was in New York, but the needs are not the same.
With the Yankees, Torre calmed a veteran clubhouse, steadfastly buffering the players from ownership and media tempests.
Torre is more a head coach than a manager, delegating the teaching to his coaches. When the Dodgers staged a mini-camp for their top prospects last winter, Torre skipped part of the camp and, on the day he did show up, did not change out of street clothes. The Dodgers had given their approval; they already had dispatched him to China for a photo opportunity.
The Angels’ players do not respect Mike Scioscia because he wears a championship ring or because he blocked home plate back in the day; they respect him because he straps on the catcher’s gear and teaches how to block the plate on 90-degree days in spring training.
These Dodgers would have been better served with a younger, high-energy manager -- say, Torey Lovullo or Ron Wotus, two of the names on the candidate list that Paul DePodesta compiled three years ago, before McCourt fired him.
Torre said he was not surprised by how much the Dodgers’ young players had to learn on the job and said he and his coaching staff work with them daily.
“I think we give them everything they need,” Torre said. “I think we’ve given them attention and let them know what they need to know.”
Torre will be back next season. If McCourt fires Colletti, he ought to pursue Brian Cashman, Torre’s longtime general manager with the Yankees. Cashman has the cachet that McCourt so admires in Torre, and the strength to thrive while working for owners who publicly and routinely threaten to fire him.
Cashman, whose contract with the Yankees expires this fall, is said to be monitoring developments with the Dodgers. He is believed to be rooting for Kim Ng, his former assistant and now an assistant to Colletti, to get the first shot if McCourt lets Colletti go.
This story still could have a happy ending for Colletti, for McCourt and for all the Dodgers. The Dodgers are one game under .500, but they’re one game out of first place. Bless the National League West.
But it has been 20 years since the Dodgers last won a playoff series, a drought Torre probably did not have in mind when he offered one reason why they traded for Blake.
“He’s been on a winner,” Torre said.
The Dodgers should not have to import winners. They should get back to the art of raising them.