Dodger Stadium sat empty Wednesday, the postseason logos already starting to fade in the grass. The Dodgers would have preferred to play Game 5 of the National League division series on their home field Thursday. Instead, the focus shifts from the field to the executive offices, where team officials will huddle to determine the first steps in an off-season that started much too soon for their liking.
There will be time to decide whether to make a qualifying offer to shortstop Hanley Ramirez, how to rebuild the starting rotation given that Zack Greinke can opt out of his contract after next season, where to find a setup man or two, and whether the Dodgers can get even a seventh-inning reliever in trade by eating enough of the contract of Andre Ethier or Carl Crawford. The first order of business: three management questions.
1. Do the Dodgers retain General Manager Ned Colletti?
With star salaries so great on large-market teams, ownership generally makes the call on major transactions — for instance, the Dodgers' trade with the Boston Red Sox that brought Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett to Los Angeles, the Dodgers' signing of Greinke, and the Angels' signings of Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton.
That leaves a general manager to construct a deep and flexible roster around the stars. The Dodgers showed up for the playoffs with the highest payroll in North American sports history and not a single setup man that Manager Don Mattingly could trust, and Colletti invested heavily in unproductive former closers Brian Wilson, Chris Perez and Brandon League.
Two of the Dodgers' top young relief arms — Chris Withrow and Jose Dominguez — were injured, but the team stashed useful Paco Rodriguez in the minor leagues most of the summer because ineffective veterans clogged the major league bullpen. Colletti could not make a trade to improve the bullpen during the season, even as the Angels rebuilt theirs by doing just that — two of those trades were with the Dodgers' National League West rivals, the Arizona Diamondbacks and San Diego Padres.
Under Colletti, the Dodgers have won the NL West five times in nine years. Stan Kasten, the team president, is not quick to fire employees. Kasten previously ran the Washington Nationals, where he inherited general manager Jim Bowden in 2006 and retained him until 2009, when Bowden resigned, three days after the Nationals fired two executives in connection with concerns over the signing of a prospect from the Dominican Republic.
Under Kasten, the Dodgers have added veteran executives to the baseball operations staff. One of those executives, Gerry Hunsicker, the former general manager of the Houston Astros and top advisor to Tampa Bay Rays General Manager Andrew Friedman, could be a replacement for Colletti, at least on an interim basis. The Dodgers also could consider appointing a president of baseball operations, who in theory could oversee Colletti.
2. What is Mattingly's status?
The ownership group, including controlling owner Mark Walter, has a solid relationship with Mattingly, who signed a new contract last year that extends through the 2017 season.
Mattingly has gotten the public backing of co-owner Magic Johnson, whose $50-million ownership stake makes him more than a figurehead. In the last week of the regular season, Johnson praised the job Mattingly had done this year. "Off the charts," Johnson said. "His performance has been one of the best. He had to manage all of the egos, and all of the stars."
The Dodgers are concerned that Mattingly's in-game strategies often invite second-guessing, even after they fired his hand-picked bench coach, Trey Hillman, and replaced him with Tim Wallach. But Mattingly's most important job is to control a clubhouse with too many outfielders — "They tell us one thing and something else happens," Carl Crawford said in June — and in which some players snipe that Yasiel Puig appears to get favored treatment no matter what time he shows up for a game.
With the Dodgers' owners tossing stars into the clubhouse left and right and telling Mattingly to go get 'em, some of this conflict might be unavoidable, at least until a revitalized minor league system starts churning out players who come up alongside one another.
3. With baseball rules limiting the ability of teams to spend freely on amateur talent in the draft and in Latin America, how effectively can the Dodgers use their financial muscle in signing professionals from foreign leagues?
Kasten had barely unpacked his office when the new owners had to decide whether Puig would be worth their millions. Logan White, who ran domestic and international scouting under the financially strapped McCourt administration, recommended the Dodgers spend the money on Puig. Since then, Kasten has returned White to his specialty — domestic scouting — and assembled a fully staffed international scouting unit. On his way out, White recommended Hyun-Jin Ryu, and the new international scouts agreed.
Bob Engle, the Dodgers' vice president of international scouting, and his scouts recommended Alex Guerrero and projected him as the Dodgers' second baseman this season. He did not make the team out of spring training. They recommended shortstop Erisbel Arruebarrena, who plays good defense but has yet to show he can hit major league pitching. And they warned against engaging in a bidding war for pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, saying he would be good but not great. That's 0 for 3 so far.
On deck: right-hander Kenta Maeda, who went 11-8 with a 2.56 earned-run average for Hiroshima this season. He is 26, with 1,295 career innings pitched. Kershaw is 26, with 1,378 career innings pitched.