My recent interview with Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti prompted me to reflect on a little-discussed aspect of his tenure.
Colletti has held the management reigns for more than five years now, and some clear patterns have emerged. He values depth. He values veteran leadership. He wants young players to succeed, but he’d much rather do it on his own timetable. One of the funnier revelations I’ve had is that while Dodger fans think Colletti took too long to commit to then-kids like Andre Ethier or Matt Kemp, Colletti would tell you that he wishes they could have had more time in the minor leagues to develop. You can imagine that there would be some fun arguments at the imaginary Dodgers dinner table.
I’ve long been suspicious of the value placed on so-called clubhouse leaders, for a number of reasons. For one thing, these clubhouse leaders, at times, seemed not all they were cracked up to be. Players like Nomar Garciaparra, Luis Gonzalez and Jeff Kent were supposed to show how this game was played, but often they seemed more concerned with turning up their noses and looking out for themselves.
Then there were the players who would seem to have no other function other than to be clubhouse gents and gems. The Dodgers would give money to players staring retirement right in the face -- last year, it was Garret Anderson and Brad Ausmus -- and justify it in large part by the examples they set as professionals. Nothing against these guys personally, but there’s a word for baseball men who can teach but can no longer play. They’re called coaches -- or at least they should be.
All this might be enough to conjure up an image of Colletti’s Dodger clubhouse as a local branch of the VFW -- guys hanging out, sharing war stories while hazing the rebellious small-fry. But that wouldn’t tell the whole story.
It doesn’t get discussed much in a broader context, but Colletti has also taken in guys who have worn problems on their sleeves. Vicente Padilla was practically chased out of Texas, but not only did Colletti pick him up from the midseason junkyard in 2009, he has signed him as a free agent twice since, including once shortly after Padilla shot himself in the leg.
In his first year as Dodger GM, Colletti traded away catcher Dioner Navarro when he was a 22-year-old with promise, in order to clear the path for Russell Martin. This winter, Colletti signed Navarro to a $1 million contract when he was a 26-year-old who packed his bags and left the Tampa Bay Rays after they didn’t include him on the active postseason roster, rather than stay and support the team.
Ronald Belisario will be back, visas willing, despite being late to the past two spring trainings and having a DUI arrest and rehab stint on his ledger.
Meanwhile, Blake DeWitt, who wowed even the irascible Larry Bowa with his work ethic, and Juan Pierre, who was considered the clubhouse MVP at one point, are among the good citizens who have been traded away in the past year.
In other words, the pattern to Colletti’s attitude toward the clubhouse is that there isn’t exactly a pattern. He’s wants a good mix off the field, but he’s not afraid to take a chance on a player that would upset that mix if he thinks he can help. Colletti asks the question, “Can they succeed in Los Angeles?” and comes up with an answer. That answer might sometimes perplex fans, but it isn’t dependent on the players being angels.
Jon Weisman writes about the Dodgers at Dodger Thoughts for ESPNLosAngeles.com.