And let’s face it, it has been. Don’t let the current modest 4 game winning streak fool you. Any time a team with a 200-million dollar payroll is in last place in its division this far in, it’s a disaster. And as with most disasters, people like to point finger. It’s “fire Colletti!!!” or “fire Mattingly!!!” or “trade EVERYONE!!!” Though the late great George Steinbrenner may disagree, the solution is rarely as simple as just firing everyone. But, when a supposed juggernaut is instead a giant suckbag of fail, someone needs to be held accountable. Let’s take a look at the usual suspects and see who in fact is most likely to shoulder the blame.
General Manager, Ned Colletti
His detractors will point to the cataclysmic decision to sign Brandon League to a big contract, despite League never having shown extended periods of success as a closer, though he had some track record as a decent set up guy. They can point to Josh Beckett’s lost season so far, or Ted Lilly’s, or the fact that with Jerry Hairston, Skip Schumaker, Nick Punto, and Luis Cruz, you essentially have the same player. Who the hell needs four utility infielders!? They can also look, with the assistance of hindsight, at the contract extension given to Andre Ethier, who now pretty much amounts to a 85 million dollar fourth outfielder. Let’s not even get started on (suddenly resurgent) Juan Uribe. His apologists will say that once he was freed from the shackles of the McCourt’s stranglehold on the pocket book, he was tasked with going out and getting the best available players. He got Carl Crawford, he got Adrian Gonzalez, got Hanley Ramirez, signed Zack Greinke, extended Matt Kemp, is likely to soon lock up Clayton Kershaw, what more do you want from the guy? The players have to perform, and the manager has to make good decisions!
The verdict: It’s really a mixed bag with Colletti. When he was hamstrung by a skimpy budget, he was able to still cobble together a decent enough roster for the team not to embarrass itself with, though never really contend. Now that he has money to spend, he has gotten the best available guys. But he’s also thrown around quite a bit on players who probably shouldn’t have had it thrown around on them… and somehow managed to assemble a roster with four facsimiles of one another. The team’s current situation is probably less his fault than it is more, though.
Manager, Don Mattingly
Give him a team of Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Clayton Kershaw, and a bunch of has beens, never will bes, an who the hell is this guys, and he navigated a half way decent ship. He seemed to make good decisions at vital times, wasn’t afraid to charge out of the dugout and embarrass an umpire who had just screwed them on a call, and seemed to be respected by his players and the media. Hand him a team flush with allstars, and he makes the unconscionable decisions to batt Jerry Hairston clean up, continue to use a foundering Brandon League in high leverage situations, keep Justin Sellers to open the year as the starting shortstop under the guise that he’s superior defensively, when in fact he’s average at best, and any one of the four (with the defensively excellent Luis Cruz the best option) utility guys already on the roster could have done the job better.
The verdict: It’s tough, because Donnie Baseball is revered by a lot of different people, most of them for his exploits as a player. But there were high hopes for him as a manager too. Whether or not he’s to blame for all of the team’s current dire straits is debatable, but you can’t continually mismanage a bullpen and make haphazard lineup decisions and come out with zero blood on your hands.
Players have to play. That’s what they say, right? Well, through the first 50 games of the season, the Dodgers were historically bad with runners in scoring position and even worse than that with the bases loaded. Star outfielders Kemp and Ethier were struggling. Hanley Ramirez barely played due to injury. The team was languishing at the bottom of the league in runs scored. This is despite solid contributions from the guys hitting atop the lineup, and A-Gon in the middle. It truly was befuddling. How do key guys hit, and the team doesn’t score? Now, with sensation Yasiel Puig playing every day and the return of Hanley Ramirez, the offense is showing some life… but it’s still only when someone muscles up and hits one out of the park. This team remains incapable of manufacturing runs.
The verdict: Well, players do have to play. And when they don’t play well, guys get shipped off for other guys who will. But the thing is, nobody has gone anywhere. It’s hard to say whether or not the players are getting too much or not enough of the blame for the team’s poor performance thus far, but if the Dodgers are riding into battle on the horses that took them this far, and things don’t improve, it’s glue factory time for some of them.
Matt Kemp, Hanley Ramirez, Zack Greinke, Mark Ellis, Carl Crawford, Chris Capuano, Chad Billingsley, Ted Lilly. What do they have in common? They make gazillions of dollars and have all spend significant time on the DL this year. Guys can’t play if they’re hurt right?
The verdict: I don’t buy it. Freak injuries happen. Jackasses like Carlos Quentin will charge the mound and snap your collarbone like a toothpick from time to time, sure. A guy getting up in age will tweak a groin trying to hustle out an infield it sometimes. We all get old. But there is no excuse for muscle pulls and strains. You get those when you fail to prepare, stretch, or in general give a damn about your body. Which when you’re an athlete, that’s what you’re paid to do. I don’t care if you have a Stay Puff Marshmallow Man physique (see: Sandoval, Pablo) or an Adonis-like one like Matt Kemp. You can’t get hurt with crap like hamstring strains. Anyone counting injuries as the primary blame for poor performance can just go ahead and file the blame with the players… or wait, shouldn’t the manager motivate the players to get and stay ready?
The truth is, everyone needs to shoulder a bit of the blame. But the only one who has no excuse is Mattingly. You can make every decision right, and still lose sometimes. You can make 50/50 calls and get most of them wrong. But you can’t make terrible decisions day in and day out and get away with it for very long. If the key acquisitions Colletti has made pan out, people will ultimately overlook him paying a servicable middle reliever 7 million a year for three years to be a closer, and see that he did what a GM with money is supposed to do; buy the best players available, damn the cost. The players are what they currently are. Even if they are underperforming, they are going to stay because the alternatives that are AVAILABLE (see; guys their current teams aren’t intent on keeping, all you Cano to the Dodgers shouters) are no better. No matter what angle you look at it from, Mattingly is really the only one who has no excuse for his performance so far. Make a gutsy/innovative/questionable decision and turn out correct, you’re a mad genius. Make the same decision over and over again, and have it blow up in your face over and over again, you’re just mad. And ultimately, unemployed.