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T.J. SIMERS

Dodgers play in a first-rate city with second-rate talent

Ned Colletti has it tough, but the truth is that Dodgers fans have it worse because they settle for a team with lesser talent.

December 11, 2010|T.J. Simers

GM Ned Colletti has repeatedly told us his hands are not tied because of the McCourt mess.

This makes Colletti a liar.

Or, the worst judge of talent in baseball history.

Or, a former Giants executive still doing what he can to help the Bay Area team by mucking up the Dodgers.

Read the list out loud of off-season acquisitions as I did to Colletti the other day: Jay Gibbons, Ted Lilly, Jon Garland; Tony Gwynn Jr., Juan Uribe, Vicente Padilla, Rod Barajas, Dioner Navarro and Hiroki Kuroda.

"Which one of these is not a stiff?" I wanted to know.

If you are thinking about buying Dodgers tickets, which one of these guys clinches it for you? Can you hear yourself saying, "I've just got to see Barajas before he retires."

Colletti and I went through the list of stiffs one by one. Gibbons is the former steroids guy, strictly a pinch-hitter. Lilly was 10-12 a year ago and the Dodgers have agreed to pay him more than $13 million three years from now when he's 37. McCourt must figure the next owner will be on the hook for that one.

Garland is 25-25 the last two years after leaving no memories as a starter briefly with the Dodgers and earlier with the Angels. The Dodgers got Gwynn, the one who hit .204 last season, the Padres starving for offense and cheap players but cutting him.

Colletti likes to have at least one fat player on his roster every year, which explains why he employed Andruw Jones and Ronnie Belliard. At least the Dodgers will have a uniform to fit Uribe.

Manager Joe Torre named Padilla his opening-day pitcher a year ago just to prove to the front office how poor the pitching staff stacked up. Navarro hit .218 two years ago for Tampa, .194 last season. Now you know why the Dodgers are excited about Barajas.

"He's our starting catcher right now," says Colletti of Barajas, and I ask him whether he's worried he might be talking too loud and someone in the hotel room next to him might start laughing.

"You never know," he says, and I can't say for sure he's talking about Barajas or whoever is in the next hotel room.

Kuroda is 28-30 in three seasons here, the Dodgers worried a year ago his arm might fall off.

"Isn't the world great?" Colletti says. "So many different opinions out there."

Now you know why Bill Hall's name has been linked to the Dodgers, and as a possible starting left fielder. What's one more stiff? Or, another lifetime .250 hitter?

It would be hard to find anyone in town more likable than Colletti. He was doing work Saturday morning on behalf of a charitable cause, but who knows whether he's any good at his job.

Colletti's stature here in so many funny ways has risen because he's always telling folks his hands aren't tied, the good soldier saying what he must to keep his job. And then everyone applauds him for doing the best he can under trying circumstances.

At the trading deadline last season, the media lined up to praise him for working under obvious restrictions, several media outlets placing the Dodgers in the top five teams to help themselves the most at the deadline.

The Dodgers were 5 1/2 games out of first at the trading deadline; they finished the season 12 games back.

This past week, Times reporters have been gushing about Colletti's off-season work, marveling at his ability to find so many warm bodies while the McCourts continue bickering.

It's a good bet that when the McCourts leave, Colletti will be the only sad guy in town, his cover gone.

"I'm not surprised by your reaction," says Colletti, the former Philadelphia sportswriter. "That's what you do. I'd be surprised if you liked any of this."

Just to be clear here, I think the Dodgers are stockpiling garbage when they should be acting more like one of the game's top franchises located in one of the country's top cities.

I think Dodgers fans have come to accept a lower standard of player when it comes to their team, management counting on it and knowing Dodgers fans will keep buying tickets.

"The payroll will be higher this year than last year," says Colletti. "It should be a better team this year."

The Dodgers will point to a $110-million payroll this season, but that includes deferred money for players such as Manny Ramirez.

As for players on the field, Colletti says the Dodgers were in the mid-80s last season, and will be in the mid-90s this season. So shouldn't Colletti be dismissed immediately if this is the best he could do with the extra money?

Why can't the Dodgers act more like the Red Sox and Yankees when it comes to improving their teams?

"We don't think it's prudent to sign players to six- and seven-year contracts and will not do so," Colletti says.

It has nothing to do with money, Colletti says, the Dodgers apparently believing you don't need Cliff Lee if you can get Padilla, Lilly and Garland.

Colletti says he had a phone call with Matt Kemp and now believes Kemp will be a much better player this season. I guess Colletti spent more time with spiritual healer Vladimir Shpunt than any of us knew.

Colletti says the Dodgers underachieved last season, so they will be better this season. He says the players who were here last season need to be a little more focused. And he says the newest Dodgers make this team better than what it was last season.

I just wonder what he's telling his friends at the Giants.

t.j.simers@latimes.com

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