More Ned Colletti?

Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times (which I swear exists in this, the second-largest city in the United States, despite apparently having none of the larger cultural effect that the New York Times, or even the Wall Street Journal, has) apparently reported that the Dodgers are in extension talks with Ned Colletti. I don’t really know the details, because I didn’t actually click any farther than D.J. Short’s piece on Hardball Talk. I’m lazy that way, and besides, the LAT has one of those paywall thingies and I don’t want to waste one of my monthly views on Bill Shaikin reporting on a team I don’t care about.

Anyway! We’re pretty surprised by this, right? Like, this is Ned Colletti we’re talking about. The team has missed the playoffs the last two years despite, as I noted, playing in the second-largest market in the country. Sure, they were hamstrung financially by the McCourt nonsense, but outside of inheriting Andre Ethier (EDIT: I’m an idiot. This was a Paul DePodesta trade. Thanks to Mike Petriello for pointing this out.), Matt Kemp, and Clayton Kershaw, what exactly has Colletti done to make this team visibly better?

To give this topic the full treatment, we’d want to look at the farm system production, at how Colletti has spent the money he has, at how the team may have underperformed what we would have reasonably expected, and so on and so on. I’m not really interested in that, though, because I don’t want to take a position on whether Colletti should get his job back. I just think it’s weird that he is. See that McCourt guy above? He doesn’t own the team anymore. Magic Johnson, Stan Kasten, and Guggenheim Partners do. Just like new general managers often want their own guy in the clubhouse (see poor Brad Mills in Houston), owners often want their own general manager. The last time the Dodgers were sold, Frank McCourt fired Dan Evans and hired Paul DePodesta in the spot. (Of course, two years later, Bill Plaschke fired DePodesta, but that’s another story.)

If the general manager is quite accomplished and/or famous such that bringing in your own man would cause a revolt in either the franchise or the fan-base, then it makes sense to stick with them. Imagine the uproar if Lew Wolff had fired Billy Beane in 2005! But Ned Colletti has neither the results that Beane got through 2005 (the 2005 offseason being Wolff’s first clean chance to bring someone new in, having purchased the team in April of that season) nor the notoriety. If anything, among the kinds of fans who tend to know who general managers are and what their tendencies might be, Colletti’s firing would likely be well-received.

It’s interesting, then, to speculate on what it is that’s caused the Dodgers ownership to keep Colletti around. It’s possible that he’s a better general manager than stat-nerds like me have given him credit for, the same way Brian Sabean, another sabermetric bete noire and Colletti’s boss for a decade with the Giants, has turned out to be quite capable at building winning teams, especially by using talent the organization drafted and signed. The turmoil and financial limitations of the McCourt years, not just in dollars available to spend but, perhaps, the uncertainty of said dollars from year to year or month to month or day to day, should not be underestimated. Perhaps Kasten et al. believe strongly that Colletti can turn into the next Brian Cashman given Cashman’s resources. (I’ve always wondered, and this seems as good a place to say this as any, how much Colletti’s appearance plays into our perception of him. He has a rather large, bullish head, and a mustache straight out of the “rough old man” book. He just looks old school. You know? And what if he didn’t? What if he looked like Brian Cashman? What would we think of him?)

It’s also possible that there’s a weird trick of timing arising from the fact that Colletti acquired six trillion dollars in future obligations in an attempt, in part, to compete this season. Ownership approved all of this, of course, but one can imagine a feeling of being in a corner, of wanting to fight one’s way out to show the beaten and abused Dodgers fans that the team is different now, that they’re worth supporting, and that the best way to do that was to acquire guys like Hanley Ramirez and Adrian Gonzalez. And then once those guys were on the payroll, well, how absurd would it be to take the team away from Colletti at that point? Giving Colletti the right and the responsibility to see the thing through makes a certain amount of sense. If he fails, well, you just hope he fails in a way that only costs money and doesn’t cripple the organization for five years to come.

Or maybe he’s just got dirty pictures of Magic Johnson.