Not long after we published the following, Ned Colletti was kicked upstairs by the Dodgers. He will be a "senior advisor" while Rays general manager Andrew Friedman will join the organization as President of Baseball Operations. The piece begins, "Colletti is falling." Now he's fallen. These are the reasons why.
Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti is falling. Released in midair from the talons of the Great Red Menace for the second straight season, the weight of great expectations has him gathering speed as he plummets. It's unclear whether the golden parachute that is Guggenheim Partners is enough to save him. Yes, Yasiel Puig had a horrible series. Yes, Clayton Kershaw was undone, not once but twice, by the seventh inning. Yes, Adrian Gonzalez failed, repeatedly, to hit a fly ball to left with a runner on third and fewer than two outs. Still, the fault was not in the Dodgers' stars, but in their bullpen.
Dodgers' New Man
Dodgers hire Rays GM Andrew Friedman
The Dodgers removed Ned Colletti from the GM role, and replaced him with one of the game's best.
Dodgers' New Man
To be clear, a 94-win season is no knock on a general manager. Then again, when the payroll is $240 million, aspirations extend beyond regular-season success. What was evident in the postseason -- that the Dodgers had little to offer on the mound beyond Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, and a tenuously healthy Hyun-Jin Ryu was also clear at midseason. While his National League counterparts were busy acquiring Jake Peavy, Justin Masterson, and John Lackey, Colletti countered by discount shopping, coming away with Roberto Hernandez and Kevin Correia as stretch-run fill-ins. While two of the three veterans struggled, there was at least a track-record of success with each around which to build expectations, whereas Hernandez and Correia were bargain-bin items at best. Thrift-store mentalities have their place and time, but given the Dodgers' means, Colletti shouldn't be looking to Macklemore for inspiration.
Patching the rotation with factory-refurbished Band-Aids did nothing to address the open wounds in the bullpen. The eighth-inning bridge to closer Kenley Jansen was filled by a combination of Brian Wilson and J.P. Howell rather than younger in-house option Chris Withrow. A crucial part of the Dodgers' bullpen, Withrow fell prey to Tommy John surgery in late May. While Howell followed up his strong 2013 campaign with another strong year, the same cannot be said of Wilson. This is where much of Colletti's offseason strategy has to be questioned. He spent heavily on former closers, gambling that they'd rebound. He paid Wilson $10 million, Chris Perez $2.3 million, and Brandon League was already on the payroll for $8.5 million. He even guaranteed 39-year-old Jamey Wright $1.8 million. It was the first guaranteed deal of Wright's career. The Dodgers' $30-plus million bullpen possessed recognizable names, but also significantly less talent than there should have been at that price.
Brian Wilson: He'll have the warmth of the sun (Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports).
Colletti has been the Dodgers' GM for nine seasons. His Dodgers have made the playoffs five times and posted winning seasons eight times. It might seem draconian to pull the plug on his leadership after that much success, but a good deal of it has occurred despite many of Colletti's moves rather than because of them. It's hard to forget Juan Pierre's massive contract, or Jason Schmidt's, or Andruw Jones' (just now off the payroll). There was also Juan Uribe's first deal, the inclusion of Carlos Santana in the Casey Blake trade, the release of Russell Martin after insisting on a non-guaranteed contract offer. Colletti bid against himself to re-sign Rod Barajas and Juan Rivera. The list goes on.
While the Dodgers' engorged payroll doesn't in any way guarantee regular-season or postseason success, it does allow them to outrun more mistakes than the average club. This makes it all the more confusing that Colletti refused to do so in 2014. As Andrew Miller, Jonathan Broxton, Jason Frasor, Huston Street, Jason Grilli and others were moved over the summer, Colletti slept. While David Price, Jon Lester, Lackey, Masterson, Peavy and others shored up rival rotations, the Dodgers, once again, failed to stay awake.
Some of this can be blamed on a farm system that contains a few jewels and little else. Of course some of that can be blamed on Colletti's willingness to dip into said farm system over the years to fortify the major league team. Few of the prospects he's dealt in recent years have come back to the bite the Dodgers, but at the same time, very few of the players acquired have significantly aided the Dodgers, either. The combination of Colletti's trades and the stagnation of several key prospects leaves the system top-heavy. Many of the Dodgers' first-round picks have failed to find success as starting pitchers and are now considered relief prospects, but were blocked at the major league level by the big-money signings of the offseason.
What's clear following consecutive postseason defeats is that the status quo isn't good enough. Colletti is but one of several possible fall guys. Mattingly certainly has his detractors, but he has seemed to manage a clubhouse full of bloated egos, and that's an asset even if he fails to improve tactically. Logan White is the architect of the Dodgers' farm system, and while he bears responsibility for the lack of depth, it was he who plucked Puig and top prospect Julio Urias out of Mexico and drafted the Dodgers' core of internally-developed talent. Director of Player Development De Jon Watson likely bears as much blame for the farm system's current state as White and Colletti, but he is already gone, accepting a promotion to senior vice-president of baseball operations with the Tony La Russa-revamped Arizona Diamondbacks front office.
Despite a laundry list of ill-fated decisions, it's impossible to ignore that in Colletti's nine seasons, his record of 783-674 (.537) is the third-best in that span, trailing only the Phillies and the Cardinals. He's the winningest general manager in the National League since 2006, ahead of second-place Walt Jocketty by 37 games. Still, it seems unlikely that both Mattingly and Colletti will survive the offseason. The early reactions seem to place more blame on the roster composition than how it was put to use.
If the Dodgers do replace their general manager, you could make the case it will be difficult to find an upgrade given how well they've done to date, but that's no excuse for complacency. Given the resources at the Dodgers' command, it's far past time to see if someone else might do even more.