Ned Colletti hopes for big moves

Ned Colletti called three hours earlier than scheduled, hoping the interview could be moved up.

"My day's really filling up later. Can you do this now?" he asked.

The Dodgers season ended more than a week ago, free agency doesn't begin for another month, and arbitration is another month after that. If there was a time for Colletti and his staff to take a short break, it would be now. Instead, his day is filling up.

Colletti is planning the future of a club he might not get a chance to run, should he be replaced if the Dodgers are sold to a new owner. It would be a challenging spot for anyone. But after the way the Dodgers finished the season, winning 25 of their final 35 games and leaning heavily on the young prospects Colletti and his player development staff have cultivated the past six years, it's got to be gut-wrenching.

"Yeah, well, whatever," Colletti said, dismissing my question about the team's ownership situation. "What am I going to do about that?
Should I sit here and worry about that right now?

"I have enough things to spend my time focusing on without worrying about things I have no control over. You're trying to get me to be very philosophical here."

Philosophy, at this moment in time, is of no use to Colletti. His reason for being is actually pretty uncomplicated. The questions he needs answered are all practical.

Which arbitration-eligible players should he tender contracts to? Who should he let go? Which of the young players who contributed to the Dodgers' second-half turnaround can he count on full time next season? How can he keep Matt Kemp in Los Angeles for a long time?

"It's like I tell everybody, no matter if they're a player, a coach, a general manager, whatever," he said. "We've got control over one thing: our effort. That's all we've got."

Early in his tenure with the Dodgers, before anyone knew about Frank McCourt's hair dressers and Jamie McCourt's swimming habits, Colletti realized that the checkbook he was working with was not going to be the same checkbook other large-market teams had. The only way to get better for the long haul was to grow talent from within.

This season, the Dodgers finally began enjoying the fruits of that labor. In planning for the offseason, those young players might even put Colletti and the Dodgers in a better place.

The Dodgers' key players are young, under club control for at least one more season and relatively cheap. They aren't losing many key veterans (no, Jamey Carroll doesn't count), and outside of the $40 million still owed to Juan Uribe and Ted Lilly over the next two years, they aren't carrying many burdensome contracts.

What they need is fairly obvious: a big bat in the middle of the order to protect Kemp and Andre Ethier.

In the past, that meant signing two or three decent bats and hoping they added up to the one good player the team never had the money to pursue. See the Marcus Thames + Uribe + Rod Barajas experiment of 2010 for details.

But this year, because of the way the kids played at the end of the season, Colletti feels the Dodgers might have enough flexibility to make a realistic run at the kind of high-impact free agent they haven't bothered to pursue during the lean years.

"The way we finished," Colletti said, "it leaves you with a pretty good feel, which may allow us to be more flexible acquisition-wise -- whether it's free agent-wise or via a trade -- because we sense we can go younger at a few positions with guys that have shown they have a chance to play at this level right now.

"If you can do that, as you balance out your roster and balance out your finances, you've got a chance to do some other things."

Colletti can't spell out those "other things," because a guy with his job security shouldn't be incurring fines. It remains for Dodgers fans to connect the dots.

No one is saying an Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder-caliber free agent wants to come to Los Angeles or that the Dodgers will have the financial wherewithal to land them, but for the first time in a long time, it seems as if Colletti thinks the Dodgers might actually be players for some of the best free agents on the market this winter.

"I've got a pretty good feel for where we want to be," Colletti said of his recent conversations about next year's payroll with owner Frank McCourt. "I've got a good enough feel to make some plans and to take the plans outside the office so to speak."

Those plans depend on whether Colletti is still holding the authority to pursue them. A new owner means he likely won't. The same owner means he could, as always, lack the resources.

It's a strange place to be in. A reality Colletti neither denies nor detests.

Hope, be it fleeting or false, feels good right now. That's all he's got.