Months after a season-ending press conference turned awkward for the Los Angeles Dodgers, manager Don Mattingly received what he wanted all along: a contract extension.
According to Ramona Shelburne of ESPN, the Dodgers have reached an agreement with Mattingly to keep the former lame-duck manager in tow for the next three seasons. Now, after months of speculation about Mattingly's long-term viability in Los Angeles, the franchise has committed to him for the foreseeable future.
The deal, confirmed by Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, replaces the existing one-year deal for 2014 with a contract that spans through 2016.
In order to reward their faith in him, the former on-field great must morph from a good leader to a very good tactician in the dugout in order to help the talented Dodgers reach their ceiling and win a championship over the next few years.
The Dodgers retained their guy, hoping he's the right man to ascend to the throne of champion. After a long, storied career that left Mattingly on the outside of the championship chase in New York, his best chance at a ring comes now.
Heading into the 2014 season, "Donnie Baseball" will enter spring training with the best roster in the sport.
Yes, the Dodgers will arrive at spring training with more talent on their 40-man roster than the World Series champion Boston Red Sox, defending NL champion St. Louis Cardinals, maturing Washington Nationals and re-stocked Texas Rangers.
With NL Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw spearheading the rotation, and Yasiel Puig and Hanley Ramirez poised to play full seasons, the Dodgers have MVP candidates littered throughout the roster. If former NL MVP runner-up Matt Kemp can regain his health, the roster is loaded enough to expect 100-plus wins and a trip deep into October.
Last year, despite injuries to Zack Greinke, Ramirez and Kemp, along with Puig toiling in the minors until June, Mattingly led the Dodgers to a 92-win season. With that came an NL West crown and an NLDS victory over the Atlanta Braves. After beginning the season with a dismal record of 30-42, the Dodgers reeled off 62 wins over their last 90 games.
That run was a testament to Mattingly's resolve in the dugout. By keeping the roster together, even in the face of rumors of his impending firing, the young manager proved that he has what it takes to manage talented players in the face of adversity. The speculation about Mattingly's long-term status in Los Angeles had little to do with his ability to lead, motivate and calm the roster during difficult times.
Instead, any debate around Mattingly's ability to win a World Series stems from strategy, specifically his in-game acumen.
During the aforementioned press conference in which Mattingly asked for a contract extension, he alluded to the criticism of every move weighing on him, per Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times.
"Really what it does, it puts me in a spot where everything that I do is questioned because I'm basically trying out or auditioning to say, 'Can he manage or can he not manage?'" Mattingly said. "To me, it's at that point where, three years in, you either know or you don't."
Three years into Mattingly's managerial tenure, here's what we know: Through 485 games, he's a winner. With a .536 winning percentage, the 52-year-old manager is off to a good start.
By handing their manager a three-year deal, the Dodgers are signalling that they acknowledge his good work. In the minds of the Los Angeles brass, Mattingly is the right man to lead the team to a World Series championship for the first time since the 1988 season.
But now that he has the backing of the organization, the focus will squarely fall upon his performance. If Mattingly thinks the scrutiny around his decisions will end upon signing this deal, he's very wrong. As Dodgers fans expect more winning, every move will be up for debate. Fortunately for him, the debate won't immediately center around his job security with every puzzling move he makes in 2014.
And make no mistake, there will be puzzling moves.
Last October, despite holding a 2-1 series advantage in the NLDS over the Atlanta Braves, Mattingly sent Kershaw to the mound in Game 4. Despite holding a lead, the Dodgers chose to ride their ace on three days rest. Conventional wisdom would have dictated to hold Kershaw back for a potential Game 5, putting him out there to rescue the series on full rest. Of course, Kershaw won the game and series, taking Mattingly off the hook if Game 5 became a reality.
Furthermore, as John Harper of the New York Daily News detailed, Mattingly decided to pinch-run for Adrian Gonzalez in the eighth inning of a tie game in the NLCS. When Dee Gordon, Gonzalez's replacement, didn't score in the inning, the game stay tied and cost Los Angeles two more turns at bat for one of their best run producers.
Those moves are just a few that illustrate Mattingly's gambling style of managing.
Sometimes they work, sometimes they don't. With a new contract emboldening him, expect more of the same moving forward.
The thinking here is that the Dodgers know exactly what they have in their dugout: an excellent leader, capable of winning with big talent and unafraid of taking risks in big moments.
Over the next few years, Mattingly will be expected to win a World Series, and despite all the puzzling moves, he's a proven winner and has shown that he is deserving of the extension.
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