Dodgers prepare to look ahead
Young, Kemp have big days in season-finale loss
LOS ANGELES -- Frank McCourt, Ned Colletti and Grady Little took turns Sunday addressing the state of the Dodgers and where they go from here, but the question on everyone's mind was answered with a non-answer."Alex Rodriguez," said Colletti, "is a New York Yankee." OK, what would you expect him to say? Anything else is tampering. If Rodriguez opts out of his contract and becomes a free agent, the presumption is that the Dodgers will come after him hard because he could fill two needs the club has had since Colletti arrived, and before. "Since I've been here, I've been singing the refrain about a middle-of-the-order bat," said Colletti on the day the Dodgers dropped their season finale to the Giants, 11-2. "They're tough to come by. It's tough to develop your own or convince somebody to come here as a free agent or to trade a handful of your young players for one. It's our job to find and bring them in here at a reasonable cost, especially in terms of young players." Rodriguez would serve the double purpose of stabilizing third base, a black hole since agent Scott Boras took Adrian Beltre to Seattle. Whether it's Rodriguez or Andruw Jones or Torii Hunter or Mike Lowell, that move must wait until the free-agent season. And if the solution isn't found in the free-agent market, Colletti said he would be willing to trade his young players if he gets what he needs in return. That said, he remains committed to the youth movement. Very committed. "If we do not stay the course here, they'll be saying it's 25, 30, 35, 40 years since the last World Series," he said. "We would not be doing justice to the fans. We have a chance to be good for a while, even if it's painful to watch from time to time." Colletti said he has not been able to put his finger on why a roster, built with chemistry in mind, spoiled, but he acknowledged that the wave of young players moving out the veterans was a tough trick by sheer quantity. Most of the unhappy aging veterans will be gone next year, leaving Little and the club hoping they take with them the bitterness that soured the clubhouse as the season unraveled. "Personally, I'm the same person that took this team into the playoffs," said Little. "What was disappointing was people who were going good, they were fine. But the very minute things turned a little sour, the real person comes out. That's what disappointed me the most. I'm talking about everyone at every area. Last year, people didn't change. "We are looking for people who remain the same person during good and bad times. We're looking for consistent behavior when things are going good and when things are not going good." Two potentially tricky issues management must resolve: the status of Jeff Kent and Nomar Garciaparra, who have guaranteed salaries for 2008. Kent is passionate about winning a championship before he retires. He was outspoken about his frustrations this season and drew the ire of management for going public. It's not clear what damage that caused, whether he would prefer to play for a team better equipped to win a World Series immediately or whether the Dodgers want him back, although Colletti said he was planning on Kent returning. And likely overriding all of that is whether Kent -- who turns 40 next year -- might choose to retire and be a full-time husband and father. "This year, of all the years, it will be the hardest decision and not because of what happened in here and the baseball, but because of family," Kent said as he cleaned out his locker after the game Sunday. "I want to take my sons hunting and ride motorcycles and the things dads get to do. I've been fortunate, I've made a lot of money. It's an insult to say I'd come back for the money. The reason we come back is for a World Series. I'm still so frustrated about this season. I'll drive 1,500 miles home and clear my head and around November I'll make a decision." Garciaparra has never been one to complain publicly, but when his production declined this year, so did his playing time. The Dodgers must decide if he still has the bat and body to play every day, or whether to gauge his willingness to move into a utility role. Colletti said he will continue speaking with players individually and Little said he would do the same during the winter. Management's commitment to the youth movement was very much apparent in Sunday's game, when Delwyn Young's two-run pinch-homer accounted for the only Dodgers runs and Matt Kemp continued his torrid hitting with three singles for a season-ending average of .342. It is the youth movement that led to Little's hiring and it's why he will return as manager for a third year. He's been a talk-radio target one season after reaching the postseason and there haven't been many players voicing support for their manager, but Colletti went to bat for him Sunday. "Look at how the young players have progressed. They're all better than they were," said Colletti. "A lot of credit I give to him. Part of the interviewing process last year was working with young players and his willingness to play young players. A lot of managers would shy away from playing young players because they're not a finished product. We're seeing the results of it. That's a key component when you're trying to do what we're doing, staying the course. The opposite component is not a good fit. We're going to continue playing young players."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.