Plenty of people who root for the Dodgers will be happy that Don Mattingly is coming back to manage the team for at least two more seasons beyond the next. Plenty of people who root for the Dodgers will be either unmoved or unhappy.
Like most managers, but more than many, Mattingly has his supporters and his detractors. His supporters can point to the respect he commands in the clubhouse, gained by a borderline Hall of Fame playing career, and his upbeat, easygoing personality. Detractors question his lineups and bicker with his in-game strategy.
Whether you think Mattingly is the manager best suited to take the Dodgers all the way or a hindrance, one thing seems clear: The Dodgers had to do something. It was simply becoming too awkward.
It’s been three months since Mattingly’s out-of-the-blue press conference, in which he publicly complained about operating as a lame duck on year-to-year deals. It has been two months since news reports surfaced that the Dodgers and Mattingly were discussing an extension. It has been a month since the Dodgers essentially said “No comment” when asked about Mattingly’s status at the winter meetings, with the manager finally badgered into admitting he wouldn’t back off any of his comments.
So what were the Dodgers going to do, just let the story bleed into the regular season, have it hanging over them again as it did for the last 12 months, one brush fire after the next? By locking up Mattingly, the Dodgers return the focus to the field and allow themselves to move on to far more weighty matters, at least financially speaking.
Their decision-making core, with owners who seem to defer to president Stan Kasten and a competent, experienced general manager in Ned Colletti, is stable and proven. Their scouting staff is among the deepest in baseball. Any rift Mattingly’s comments caused between Mattingly and Kasten presumably is reparable. There never was a rift between Mattingly and Colletti.
So now, for the cost of paying Josh Beckett or Carl Crawford or Matt Kemp for a couple of months next season, they can return the focus to the rest of their offseason priority list, which is dominated by trying to keep Clayton Kershaw beyond 2014. Needless to say, that will cost them more than the $3 million to $5 million (based on his reported 2014 salary) they committed over the next three seasons to keep Mattingly.
So in a way, you can say that Mattingly got his way. He forced the issue.
But is that really anything to get worked up about? The Dodgers committed $28 million to a second baseman, Alexander Guerrero, who has never played an inning of U.S. professional baseball. If Guerrero doesn’t work out, the Dodgers will spare no expense to find a better solution come July or November, maybe even sooner.
If they decide Mattingly isn’t the choice, they could easily fire him and absorb the rest of his contract. In fact, if they don't make the playoffs with another massive payroll, would anybody be surprised if they did so? Unlike Guerrero’s deal, Mattingly’s won’t even count against the luxury-tax threshold. Tuesday’s move was kind of a no-brainer, which is why it’s somewhat puzzling it took so long.
This move won’t wash away the “Fire Mattingly” campaigns on Twitter. It won’t even guarantee such rumors won’t surface in the mainstream media next season. What it does is clear away a distraction going into spring training. If you truly have championship aspirations, the last thing you want are sideshows before you've even thrown a pitch.