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Colletti is facing tough decisions

June 22, 2008|Bill Shaikin

Welcome back, Lakers fans. We rejoin this Dodgers season, already in progress.

You haven't missed much, and you're back just in time for what could be a crucial month. The Dodgers are a bad team, in a bad division. They should be buried by now.

They're not, thanks to the generous insistence of the Arizona Diamondbacks in turning a one-team race into a five-team race. The National League West is there for the Dodgers' taking.

That could be a bad thing. This isn't a World Series team, not close to one, not yet. There's no sense tearing up this team for the chance to go three and out in October -- unless, that is, your job depends on getting to October.

Frank McCourt isn't telling.

In three seasons under Ned Colletti, the Dodgers' victory total has gone from 88 to 82 to a projected 74, while the payroll has gone from $98 million to $108 million to $119 million.

There's a lot of busts, for a lot of money: Jason Schmidt at $47 million, Andruw Jones at $36 million, Nomar Garciaparra at $19 million, Esteban Loaiza at $8 million.

The Dodgers have almost twice as much money on the disabled list as they do on the active roster, with the injured parties including Garciaparra, Jones, Rafael Furcal and three-fifths of a starting rotation in Schmidt, Brad Penny and Hiroki Kuroda.

This is not the best of resumes for a general manager.

"I have the utmost confidence in Ned and his group," McCourt said. "We've come light-years in terms of having more of a team in the front office."

This is not to diminish McCourt's satisfaction in no longer having to referee intramural disputes, but the object is to win, not just to play nice. Colletti could win, or try to, by trading young talent for veteran help before the July 31 trading deadline.

"We have never made a decision during my ownership based on immediate, near-term, win-loss results," McCourt said. "That's not how we're built. That's not what we're about."

The apparent conclusion, then, would be that Colletti would be safe no matter how the Dodgers finish. Colletti and McCourt agreed last year, after all, that the Dodgers should not package young talent for Johan Santana, Miguel Cabrera or Mark Teixeira.

However, McCourt refused to say whether Colletti will keep his job if the Dodgers finish with a losing record.

McCourt called it a trick question, and not unjustifiably. If the Dodgers spiral toward last place, he doesn't want to be reminded of a quote he gave in June. He gave a quote in support of Paul DePodesta three years ago, then fired him before the Dodgers had lost even one more game.

That leaves Colletti with no assurances, and with no idea what kind of team the Dodgers might be fielding by the trading deadline.

"Our dilemma between now and then is to figure out how good the team is," Colletti said.

They're not one player away. They have used nine starting pitchers, tied for the most in the league. They're last in the league in home runs, last in the league in doubles, near the bottom in walks. That means they need a bunch of singles to score, without a bunch of .300 hitters.

So they have lost 19 of their last 28 games, scoring barely three runs per game. Amazingly, they have lost only one game in the standings during that span -- but here come the Colorado Rockies, with Matt Holliday, Troy Tulowitzki and Brad Hawpe all off the disabled list.

The Dodgers could get some power if they can get Furcal, Jones and Garciaparra off the disabled list.

"The first part of deciding what we need is, what is our team?" Colletti said. "If we're not going to have any of those three for the rest of the year, which is a longshot, you can look at it one way.

"If we're going to get them back in a couple weeks, we'll have a couple more weeks to make a determination of what we have."

It's a longshot that all three guys come back, stay healthy and hit for power. But first things first: If they get those guys back, and Penny and Kuroda too, maybe they cross their fingers and hope they really are one player away.

If that player is C.C. Sabathia, he might be a two-month rental. McCourt already is wary of long-term pitching contracts, and the Schmidt experience isn't going to help persuade him to offer Sabathia five guaranteed years.

If that player is Holliday, the Rockies have made it clear they would add an NL West surcharge, an extra player in return if they trade him within the division.

In either case, the Dodgers would risk disrupting the core of young players they have trumpeted for years without ever letting that core establish itself. They also would risk gutting the depth of an organization that now calls Angel Berroa its major league shortstop.

The kids won't all pan out, but Russell Martin, Chad Billingsley and Jonathan Broxton already have. James Loney, in his first full season, is hitting .308.

Matt Kemp, in his first full season, is hitting .291 with seven home runs and 13 stolen bases. He has driven in 43 runs, the team high.

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