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BILL PLASCHKE

Don Mattingly's Dodgers need a make-over

With no money, no closer and no clubhouse leader, the team could go from bad to worse next year. GM Ned Colletti needs to make some quick, cheap, decisive moves.

September 18, 2010|Bill Plaschke

"It's all yours, pal."

By the sound of it, Joe Torre was not handing Don Mattingly a baseball team, but a dirty diaper.

"It's all yours, pal."

When Torre made that pronouncement at Friday's changing-of-the-poor-slob-who-has-to-manage-the-Dodgers ceremony, he didn't act like he was leaving a sacred dugout, but a burning building.

You know it's bad when a guy who managed a dozen years for George Steinbrenner's team can't stand one more minute with yours. You know the future is bleak when one of baseball's most touchy-feely managers says your team is beyond his touch or feel.

You think this Dodger season has been lousy? You haven't seen anything yet.

The veterans have faded. The kids have stalled. The stadium is booing. The owner is broke. That rumbling you hear is not the cavalry, but the cellar, growling underneath a team whose final game this autumn will not stop its precipitous drop toward last place.

Less than one year after being perhaps a couple of Jonathan Broxton strikes from reaching the World Series, the Dodgers are the length of one Ryan Theriot bunt from being one of the worst teams in baseball next season. Until owner Frank McCourt finally sells, bringing in new money and fresh hope, they will probably remain that way.

If Friday was a day to recognize Mattingly as the Dodgers' manager for 2011, then Saturday was a day to start feeling sorry for him. For him to have a chance with this mess, he needs to change his nickname to Donnie Miracle.

Money might fix it, but McCourt has little. Prospects of high value might fix it, but the farm system has few. The situation is so dire that when I used the word "trouble" with two of the Dodgers' most discerning players Saturday, neither disagreed.

"I hear you," Casey Blake said.

"I know," James Loney said.

Start with the starting pitching. It's good, but it's going to get worse. The only two guys guaranteed to be back next year are Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley, as Vicente Padilla, Ted Lilly and Hiroki Kuroda are all free agents.

Move to the infield. There is no catcher, first baseman Loney doesn't have enough power in this lineup, second baseman Ryan Theriot is a complementary piece, shortstop Rafael Furcal can't stay healthy, and third baseman Blake is finally showing his age.

Now for the outfield. Andre Ethier has regressed in right field, Matt Kemp remains an enigma in center field, and they really don't have a left fielder who fits.

Finally, the bullpen, which would be great, except it has no closer and three setup guys and blown leads everywhere.

So what is a harried general manager to do?

"We're not talking about a core group that has not been successful, because they have," Colletti said. "It's too early to say that the struggles will continue. I can't say that. I'm not going to blow this up."

Translated: "I don't have any money to do anything big, so I'm going to have to work with what I've got, so chill out and let me figure out how to reach them, OK?"

The first item on his winter list will be Matt Kemp. Everyone around town wants him traded. Everyone in baseball wants to trade for him.

Don't pull that trigger, Ned. This is the worst time to trade him. You won't get full value for him. You've endured what is surely the worst of his immaturity. Stick with him long enough to enjoy his adulthood. The same goes for Andre Ethier, whose biggest enemy remains his own perfectionist personality. He should also grow out of his inconsistency.

So if you can't trade your two best young hitters, how do you get better? You look at moving guys who can be replaced. You look at moving Loney, who may have reached his power potential and would be outstanding on a team with other sluggers. You look at moving former closer Broxton, whose shattered confidence isn't helped by the fact that he is now being jeered with nearly every pitch.

You use both of them, and more, in a trade for a power-hitting first baseman or third baseman. You sign a free-agent outfielder in your only big winter expenditure. You pick up a veteran catcher to platoon with Rod Barajas. You bring back Lilly and Kuroda.

And, then, as important as all of that, you find a leader. You find a guy unafraid to stare down, scare down, and even throw down with one of his younger teammates. You find a guy who will not let them whine. You find a guy who will not let them wilt. The Dodgers did not have that player this year, they've haven't had one since Manny Ramirez did it for two months at the end of 2008, and they cannot get better without him.

"'Do we have one player in there who stands up and says, 'Follow me?' " asked Colletti. "No."

On Saturday morning before another loss against the hard-charging Colorado Rockies, the clubhouse was deadly silent. At this rate, it could be a couple of years before we hear from it again.

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

twitter.com/billplaschke

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