Dodgers have potential, need edge

LOS ANGELES -- Ned Colletti has had a few months to digest it now, though last season was never going to go down easy.

Time, in this case, was the best antacid on the market.

Though the disappointment of the Los Angeles Dodgers' 80-82 season still gnaws at the general manager and his staff, two months away from it has allowed for a few rounds of reflection and analysis.

The club's organizational meetings were split between Los Angeles and Phoenix, where new manager Don Mattingly was getting experience in the Arizona Fall League.

"I've been all over the place," Colletti said from his Dodger Stadium office last week. "But things are good."

Colletti hasn't figured out all the reasons why last season went so wrong, but he seems to have settled on a few plans for how he'll try to right those issues.

"The team underachieved," he said. "So you have to figure out ways to re-sharpen it. That doesn't mean everybody here isn't capable. Most of the core of this group went to the LCS the previous two years. It's there. It's a matter of getting it going and being driven to make sure it happens."

The Dodgers' young core of Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp, James Loney and Russell Martin all had down years last year.

Colletti and his staff spent a great deal of time analyzing why that happened and trying to determine whether those players could get back on the upward track that seemed so assured only a few seasons ago.

"I think the season we just went through should be -- not really a lesson -- but part of the education process of what it takes, how good you have to be and how difficult it is to get there year after year and to get further than we've gotten," Colletti said.

The Dodgers will have to make initial decisions on Loney and Martin this week, as both are eligible for arbitration. Thursday is the final day the club can tender them offers. If the Dodgers elect to non-tender them, they become free agents.

It's not clear what the Dodgers will do yet. The club will likely take every second of its available time to make an important decision about two players the team had such high hopes for.

While that decision may take until the final minutes before the deadline, one large issue has been settled: The Dodgers are going to make a concerted effort to surround their young core with veteran players with histories of success, reputations as leaders and players who have no trouble doling out tough love when it's needed.

Guys like two-time World Series champion Juan Uribe, whom ESPN The Magazine's Buster Olney reported Monday was close to reaching an agreement with the Dodgers.

"My budget will be higher than a year ago," Colletti said last week. "But it doesn't make a difference on what you spend, it's who you spend it on.

"Some people, you know right from the get-go that they're going to be kind of right in the middle. But that doesn't mean you don't sign them. That means you keep looking for the players that live on the other side, that live on the edge so to speak, and have that competitive nature about who they are."

The last couple of seasons, the Dodgers' clubhouse has been a rather quiet place. Third baseman Casey Blake is respected but spends most of his downtime working on crossword puzzles near his locker or reviewing game tape. Manny Ramirez played music and held court in the corner of the room. Garret Anderson mentored Kemp with kindness, not tough love.

Previous manager Joe Torre believed in letting players act like professionals until they proved him wrong. He gave his players space when they asked for it and waited for problems to come to his office, rather than seeking them out himself.

Though Mattingly will always be regarded as Torre's protégé, he is going to be very different.

Mattingly has already shown that he's much more hands-on than Torre. He'll be on the field for batting practice. He'll be at their lockers. He'll be in the film room with them. He might even throw them batting practice in the cage.

"I think Donny is going to bring an edge to it, and I think the coaching staff will also bring an edge to it," Colletti said. "We'll have a chance to sharpen everybody's approach."

Whether that will be enough to wash away the disappointment of last season remains to be seen. Colletti will try to rebuild the team this winter, adding some sharper-edged pieces to the set this time. But he can only do so much.

"It's up to them. It's up to everyone individually," he said. "All you have control of is your own effort and how you look at things individually. It doesn't make any difference who is sitting next to you.

"You either have it or you don't have it, or you're willing to accept it or not accept it," Colletti said.

"That's just not just three players, that's anybody doing anything in any walk of life."

Ramona Shelburne is a columnist and writer for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow her on Twitter.