I sat down with Los Angeles Dodgers VP and GM Ned Colletti on Wednesday to talk about the team's 2011 season, which it finished with a record of 82-79 and in third place in the National League West. I asked 10 questions about his personnel evaluation of the Dodgers and the team's plan heading in to the offseason.
1. How would you evaluate Don Mattingly's rookie season as manager?
I think that Don had a really good rookie year as manager. There was a lot of speculation going into the season on how he would do, and as the year went on, his speed of managing in-game really improved and he caught up to it. The turning point for Donnie was in early August when it became obvious that the team's expectations of winning this year were dwindling. He was able to get the team to continue to play hard for the entire 162-game schedule. Even with injuries and off-field distractions, he kept a level head throughout. Like all former position players, handling of a pitching staff can be the most challenging part of the job, and in his case, he had to deal with a plethora of bullpen injuries. However, he did a tremendous job in dealing with that and was able to show incredible patience for a young manager in letting his bullpen arms develop and work out of problems rather than rushing to make pitching changes.
You brought back the entire coaching staff. Was the decision made for stability and continuity as well as the fact that you're pleased with the job they did this year?
As GM, I've always hired my coaching staffs in concert with my field manager. Both Donnie and I are united in the decision-making process in regards to the coaching staff. We both think that the coaching staff did a tremendous job with all of the injuries they had to deal with as well as the number of young players that had to develop this year at the Major League level. And it showed on the field over the last 10 weeks of the season. I especially want to point to the job they did with Dee Gordon, Jerry Sands and Javy Guerra. Both Gordon and Sands were sent back and returned, and the player development staff, in concert with the major league staff, all worked as a unit to get them to continue to improve. The teaching and instructing by this coaching staff was special. Davey Lopes was phenomenal with the baserunning and defense. Tim Wallach was solid as third-base coach and positioning the players. Trey Hillman earned Don Mattingly's confidence early on and really improved in the second half after getting adjusted to National League baseball after spending most of his career in the American League and in Japan. Dave Hansen, who took over as hitting coach, oversaw a lineup including James Loney that was much improved in the second half. Whether it was a new voice or different techniques, the results were obvious. The pitching and bullpen coaches have been here a long time and continue to do a magnificent job.
Matt Kemp is a priority, and I plan on getting with his agent, Dave Stewart, and will work diligently in trying to work out a long-term deal with Matt. There is some urgency because he'll be a free agent at the end of the 2012 season if they don't sign him long term now. Clayton Kershaw's situation is not as urgent because he's only first-time arbitration eligible and won't be a free agent until after the 2014 season. That doesn't mean we won't have conversations and listen, and if we can make a deal that makes sense, we will be open to it -- but not with the same urgency as Kemp.
3. Andre Ethier will be a free agent after next year too. If you're not able to extend his contract, is he a trade candidate?
We will entertain signing him as well, but he's coming off an injury and a subpar season.
If you don't sign him would you consider trading him either this offseason or at next year's trade deadline?
I am not inclined to trade any player that is a key player to our major league club right now, and he fits that category.
4. From a player personnel perspective, what is the Dodgers biggest need this offseason?
We really need a middle-of-the-lineup impact bat, which would be a very key component to us winning next year. We need to figure out second base. Carroll and Miles are free agents. Right now we have the two young players in Sellers and Ivan DeJesus that we might let compete for that job next year. We need to figure out left field as well, but we're leaning towards Jerry Sands, especially after the way he finished this season with us. Behind the plate, we'll probably let Tim Federowicz and A.J. Ellis handle the duties. They are both good catch-and-throw receivers. If Federowicz can hit .240 with some power, he can be an everyday catcher. He calls a really good game and has a strong arm. The free agent catching market is very thin, but we'll look there as well just in case. We'll also have to look at rethinking our bench. Carroll and Miles contributed a significant amount of plate appearances this year, and if we're not able to re-sign them, it's an important area that we'll look at for depth, especially because we have to protect ourselves for potential injuries or younger players that could struggle. If Kuroda doesn't re-sign with us, we'll need to look for another veteran starter to make up for his innings as well. And finally, although we're pleased with our deep young bullpen, we'd still be open to signing another veteran reliever, but that would be a low priority based on our other team needs.
As you know Jim, I can't speak about specific names of players who are not yet free agents because of tampering rules. However, we have a need in the middle of our lineup, and if we could do the right deal with a player in terms of duration and money, we would be willing to do it. We have flexibility if we keep catcher, second base, shortstop and left field as non-arbitration eligible players like we have now, then it is definitely possible that we could afford to spend the money on a significant middle-of-the-order bat.
6. Hiroki Kuroda nixed trades to both Detroit and Boston at the July trade deadline because of his desire to remain in Los Angeles. Will he continue to display his loyalty by coming back next year?
Kuroda has bought a house in Los Angeles and both of his daughters go to school here. He is an extremely loyal person to both the Dodgers and the city of Los Angeles and really doesn't want to play anywhere else. We hope he decides to stay here because he's a very important part of our rotation and clubhouse.
7. If Kuroda were to leave via free agency, how important is it to replace him with another veteran starting pitcher either through trade or free agency?
If we're not able to sign him, then we'll need to replace his innings with another veteran starter.
8. Let's break down the team as we look forward to 2012:
What are your thoughts on the outfield for next year?
The outfield as of now has Andre Ethier in right field, Matt Kemp in center field and Jerry Sands in left field. Tony Gwynn Jr. played great defense for us off the bench, and his offense has improved from the prior year with the Padres. We hope to bring Juan Rivera back because he gives us a right-handed hitter to play against some tough lefties while giving Ethier or Loney a blow. His ability to play both corner outfield spots and first base is really beneficial to our bench.
What are your thoughts on the infield and behind the plate for next year?
Right now, James Loney is our first baseman, and we like the second half that he had. Sellers and DeJesus will platoon or compete at second base. Dee Gordon will be at short with Juan Uribe at third base. We didn't pick up Blake's option, and we need Uribe to bounce back next year and stay healthy. He doesn't have to repeat what he did in 2010, but we do need him to hit 15 home runs and drive in 65-70 runs while playing average defense at third base.
What are your thoughts on the starting rotation for next year?
We're pleased with our starting rotation. Clayton Kershaw should win the Cy Young Award. Chad Billingsley, Kuroda and Lilly give us three solid veterans behind him, and Eovaldi really impressed us in September and should be our fifth starter. We also like the depth we have after those five, with Dana Eveland, who was 3-2 for us in September. Rubby De La Rosa should be back in June or July of next year from the Tommy John surgery, and as you know, Jim, he has the potential to develop into a No. 2 starter down the road.
What are your thoughts on your bullpen for next year?
I like our bullpen. We developed a lot of good young arms this year. Kenley Jansen, Guerra, Lindblom and Elbert all showed us what they are capable of doing. Guerrier gives us a veteran presence and Kuo should be able to come back next year and even MacDougal did a good job for us.
9. Who are some of the top prospects in the organization that didn't make it to the major leagues this season?
Our best prospects in our system right now are mostly pitching prospects, led by Zach Lee, who pitched at the Midwest league this past season but has a chance to be special. Allen Webster and Shawn Tolleson are two other top pitching prospects. Tolleson was our minor league pitcher of the year and a close friend of Clayton Kershaw. Steve Ames is another bullpen arm that we could see as early as next season. Chris Lee, our first round pick from Stanford, of course, is also special, and we're going to try to develop him as a starter, knowing we can always move him back to the bullpen if we have to.
10. Any closing thoughts on this season and the prospects for next year?
We're a lot closer to winning than people realize. If we had gotten just the typical offensive contributions this year from James Loney, Andre Ethier and Juan Uribe, who knows how many games we could have won. But injuries and subpar seasons are just part of the game. If we can make a few key moves this offseason and solve some of the question marks on this team that we've just been talking about, I really believe this club can finish in first in 2012.