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Last-place Dodgers are just taking up space, and there's nothing Ned Colletti can do about it

BILL PLASCHKE

The season looks lost — no point in trading for help at the deadline. But turning into sellers and trading away top players like Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier is a nonstarter too. They're stuck.

July 05, 2011|Bill Plaschke
  • General Manager Ned Colletti says he's "in no mood" to tear up the Dodgers, a team that looks like anything but a contender as the trade deadline approaches.
General Manager Ned Colletti says he's "in no mood" to… (Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles…)

As baseball's trade deadline approaches and each team must decide upon one of two philosophies, the Dodgers again find themselves in an entirely different league.

Neither buyers nor sellers, they are squatters.

They are transients living in a house abandoned by its bankrupt owner. They are waiting for someone to either invite them to stay or throw them out. They have no idea who that person will be, or how much money that person will have, or when those decisions will be made.

Until then, all they can do is squat.

You want Ned Colletti to trade future free agents Matt Kemp or Andre Ethier for a busload of prospects who could replenish the farm system? What if a new owner shows up this winter with a wallet fat enough to offer Kemp and Ethier long-term deals and build around them?

You want Colletti to keep Kemp and Ethier and trade top prospects for players who can help them win now? What if there is still no new owner after next season when Kemp and Ethier become free agents and both men walk?

The Dodgers are stuck. They can't get better, and it can't get any worse, and there's only one person who could truly help.

His name, however, is Frank McCourt, and if he can't own the team, he is clearly intent on ruining it.

The future is in a courtroom. The past is in cobwebs. The present is in shambles.

Colletti is in a car driving from Atlanta to Chattanooga, trying to keep his head from exploding.

"I know what it looks like, and to say we need to get on track is getting to be an old message, but we still have 31/2 weeks to go before the trade deadline," he says by telephone. "If we have to make a move, we will, but it's against my thought process to sell."

Yes, he knows what it looks like. Yes, it looks as if he can't win in this situation. And no, he can't.

If he's the general manager who gives up on Kemp and Ethier, he would become a McCourt-sized villain. If he's the general manager who watches them leave town, he would become a Fox-sized villain.

So, he says, he's going to follow his baseball gut here, which was good enough to help build two teams that came within a wink of a World Series appearance, and should be good enough for now.

Most of the squatters are staying put. Nobody big is going anywhere. Colletti is going to wrap a giant blanket around the shivering core of his team and hope it can stay together until the new owners show up with windows and doors and hope.

And if there is still no new owner when the guaranteed part of Colletti's contract expires after next season? At least he can leave town knowing nobody will blame the destruction of the Dodgers on him.

"For the sake of the long-term viability of the club, I'm in no mood to start tearing [it] up by getting rid of core players; you build around players like that," Colletti said. "I look at it this way — I've got to do what's best for the baseball team, and keeping our better young players is best for the baseball team."

Kemp is staying. Ethier is staying. Clayton Kershaw is staying. Chad Billingsley is staying. Am I missing anybody?

If somebody's first baseman gets hurt in the middle of a pennant race, they could pick up James Loney. If somebody's rotation needs fortifying, they might pay a worthy price for Hiroki Kuroda. If somebody wants to roll the dice on an October inning or two, they could have Jonathan Broxton.

You want Jamey Carroll? Sure. You want Rafael Furcal? No problem.

But the best handful of Dodgers will stay, and the team will probably continue to lose around them, and there is nothing anybody can or should do about it.

"Most of what I get from people around town is, 'Hang in there,' " Colletti says. "The vast majority of people are encouraging me to just hang in there."

It's an increasingly difficult hang. Even though they are currently on a pace to lose about 92 games, this could reasonably be the first Dodgers team in 103 years to lose 100.

The lineup is disjointed and injured and underachieving, the bullpen is makeshift and inconsistent and, unlike with some teams stuck in these bad stretches, the Dodgers have few kids to bail them out.

Think about this: Kershaw is considered the most recent top Dodgers prospect to have a big league impact, and he's in his third full big league season.

Where did all the great draft picks go? When did all the heirs apparent disappear?

Rubby De La Rosa and Javy Guerra have been tiny surprises, but after them, their best young pitchers are all just finding their legs at Chattanooga. Dee Gordon and Jerry Sands made a bit of noise in Los Angeles this year, briefly, but there is only one other position prospect — triple-A outfielder Trayvon Robinson — who is even on the radar.

Colletti has made mistakes like the signing of bust Juan Uribe, and the scouting and player development departments require serious examination. But the real blame here goes to McCourt, who, if he cared anything about the Dodgers, would give them up immediately.

In the meantime, the team is neither here nor there, the former champions of Chavez Ravine having been reduced to squatting on it.

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

twitter.com/billplaschke

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