Are Mattingly's days as the Dodgers manager numbered?
The Los Angeles Dodgers may be last in the National League West standings, but they are certainly first in the news. The team with the highest payroll in baseball has gotten off to a miserable 19-26 start, leading to speculation about the futures of several key figures within the organization.
Needless to say, this is not what Magic Johnson and the other members of Guggenheim Baseball Management expected when they paid more than $2 billion for the Dodgers last spring.
General manager Ned Colletti was given license to overhaul the team by any means necessary. So far, however, the expensive contract extensions, blockbuster trades and glamorous free-agent signings have not resulted in many victories on the field.
Injuries have unquestionably played a significant role in the Dodgers’ disappointing start. But most of the latest rumors making the rounds in Los Angeles are focused on the team’s failure, regardless of the reason.
At this time last season, the Dodgers were 30-14 and had the best record in baseball. Now, the team is a significant winning streak away from just getting back to .500—thanks largely to an offense that is second to last in all of MLB in runs scored.
As the organization scrambles to salvage a season that began with enormous expectations, here are a few of the biggest stories and rumors surrounding the Dodgers.
Mattingly wasn't shy about his team's performance thus far.
There may not be enough hyperlinks available to cover all of the stories written over the past two weeks regarding Don Mattingly’s future as the Dodgers manager.
An objective observer would note that the Dodgers have been playing short-handed all season. However, that hasn’t stopped everyone from Fox Sports.com's Ken Rosenthal to other general managers (interestingly in a conversation with Rosenthal) from speculating that Mattingly’s time in Los Angeles' dugout is running out quickly.
For his part, Mattingly seems to be managing as if he very much intends to be around for the foreseeable future. Prior to Wednesday afternoon’s 9-2 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers, he provided a brutally honest take on the current state of the Dodgers and the type of players he feels he needs to be successful.
I have no idea how accurate the rumors surrounding Mattingly’s future are, but count me in the pro-Donnie Baseball camp.
I’ve always felt that his temperament and experience as a star player for the New York Yankees made him the perfect man to lead the Dodgers' return to greatness. Nothing I have seen in his two-plus seasons at the helm have convinced me otherwise.
Colleti voiced his support for Mattingly earlier in the week, and team president Stan Kasten seems to still have confidence in him as well. Winning two of three games in Milwaukee—including the team’s highest run output of the season in Wednesday’s series finale—certainly didn’t hurt the manager’s cause.
Mattingly and the Dodgers face a tough stretch over the next 10 days, one that could go a long way toward determining his future.
They host the St. Louis Cardinals—who own MLB’s best record at 30-16 entering Thursday—in a three-game series beginning Friday night. The Dodgers then face the equally-disappointing Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in a four-game, home-and-home series beginning Monday night at Chavez Ravine.
Los Angeles will then travel to Coors Field next Friday to face the Colorado Rockies, who are currently tied atop the division at 26-21, along with the San Francisco Giants and Arizona Diamondbacks.
Depending on how tenuous Mattingly’s job status is, losing two of those three series could spell the end for his tenure with the Dodgers. I would like to see him stick around at least until the All-Star break, but I’m not the one cutting the checks.
Ethier hasn't had much to celebrate so far this season.
Dodgers right fielder Andre Ethier once again finds himself mired in trade rumors, much as he was at this time last year and throughout this past offseason. However, the circumstances surrounding the growing speculation are very different this time around.
Ethier entered the 2012 season headed toward free agency. Following back-to-back productive, but injury-riddled, seasons in 2010 and 2011, many wondered if the Dodgers would trade the two-time All-Star before the July 31, non-waiver deadline.
Ethier responded with a hot start last season, driving in 20 or more runs in both April and May. Los Angeles promptly rewarded the 30-year-old with a five-year, $85 million contract extension last June, and his production has tailed off ever since.
After driving in 44 runs over the first two months of 2012, Ethier drove in just 45 more runs the rest of the year. In 43 games this year, Ethier has driven in just 15 runs, putting him on pace for a career-low 54 RBI.
Ethier was benched by Mattingly in two of the three games during L.A.‘s three game sweep at the hands of the Atlanta Braves and was directly targeted for his poor play in the manager’s aforementioned rant.
Mattingly is known for being more of a player’s manager, so his not-so-veiled shot at Ethier’s play had to be building up for quite some time. Ethier hasn’t been an above-average player in the two-plus seasons that Mattingly has managed the Dodgers, so it wouldn’t be shocking to see the once-promising right fielder suffer the same fate that James Loney suffered last year.
Loney, Ethier and Matt Kemp were once thought to be the offensive centerpieces of the Dodgers’ renaissance. Yet Loney was almost an afterthought in the blockbuster deal with the Boston Red Sox last summer.
Loney has fit in nicely with the Tampa Bay Rays, so perhaps Ethier could do the same with another club.
Ethier is only in the first year of his new contract, which would seem to make a trade difficult to pull off. However, the Dodgers may be willing to eat a significant portion of salary to give he and the team the fresh starts that both desperately need.
With Scott Van Slyke swinging a hot bat and Yasiel Puig tearing up minor league pitching, don’t be surprised if Mattingly outlasts Ethier in a Dodgers uniform.
Ethier's exit could clear a path for Puig to reach the majors.
According to the following tweet from Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times, the Dodgers have discussed the possibility of calling up outfielders Yasiel Puig and Joc Pederson.
#Dodgers have discussed calling up Yasiel Puig and Joc Pederson, according to Don Mattingly.— Dylan Hernandez (@dylanohernandez) May 22, 2013
Puig (No. 1) and Pederson (No. 3) are two of the top three prospects in the Dodgers’ system, according to MLB.com. They could provide a spark for an offense that has scored just 156 runs in 45 games.
Puig, in particular, has been a tantalizing option for Dodgers fans since the 22-year-old Cuban was signed to a six-year, $42 million contract last June.
He missed a full year of organized baseball after defecting from his home club, Cienfuegos. Puig also missed out on a chance to play in the Arizona Fall League last year after being diagnosed with a staph infection.
But none of that has stopped him from delivering a .314/.385/.579 triple slash line in 32 games at Double-A Chattanooga.
With a 6’3”, 245-pound frame and tantalizing speed (he also has 10 stolen bases this season), Puig is an exceptional athlete and one of the more fascinating prospects in the majors. One can’t help but compare him to a young Kemp, and that has worked out pretty well for the Dodgers.
If Ethier is, indeed, shipped out of Los Angeles, Puig could be the perfect player to inject into the lineup. We saw how the Mike Trout and Bryce Harper call-ups helped the Angels and Washington Nationals last year, and the Dodgers could use a similar jolt of youthful exuberance and talent.