Shrewd Colletti has LA eyeing October
GM's trades, signings pay off in big way for first-place club
LOS ANGELES -- Excluding strike-shortened seasons, the Dodgers haven't finished first in back-to-back seasons since 1977-78 or reached the postseason three times in a four-year span since 1963-66.
They're on the verge of doing both.
Frank McCourt owns the Dodgers and Joe Torre manages them, but this is Ned Colletti's club. He traded for Andre Ethier and Manny Ramirez, he refused to trade away Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw, and he signed Randy Wolf and Vicente Padilla.
Since the general manager took over four years ago, the only team in the league with more wins is Philadelphia. Colletti inherited a club that finished 20 games below .500, and in four years, the Dodgers are 50 games above .500. Colletti's best win-loss record of the four seasons will be this year -- after trimming the payroll by $20 million.
Until or unless his Dodgers win a World Series, Colletti's tenure will be highlighted by his stretch-run deals the past two seasons, packaging prospects for immediate impact players.
Nobody could have more impact than Ramirez last year, but Colletti has been equally successful plugging in overlooked and underrated players such as Casey Blake, whose professional demeanor and steady play haven't wavered this year.
"When a team plays hard and puts itself in position to win, they deserve to see that you're trying to get them more tools to win," said Colletti. "When a quality person like George Sherrill or Jim Thome walks in the clubhouse, players recognize that ownership and the front office are acknowledging what you've done."
Critics blame Colletti this year for not getting a Cliff Lee deal done at the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, and even though the Dodgers were bidding for the ace until the end, Lee could haunt them this postseason.
But if the Dodgers get that far, it will be in part because of the deals that brought them Sherrill, Ronnie Belliard, Padilla, Jon Garland and Thome.
With Jonathan Broxton closing, Sherrill's eighth innings are sometimes overlooked. But he hasn't been scored upon in 22 of the 23 times Torre has used him, for a microscopic 0.42 ERA.
|"When a team plays hard and puts itself in position to win, they deserve to see that you're trying to get them more tools to win."|
|-- Ned Colletti|
The versatile Belliard has three homers and eight RBIs in 13 games since coming from Washington for a pair of Minor Leaguers, seeing extended playing time because of Blake's hamstring and Orlando Hudson's slump. Colletti had similar success after acquiring Marlon Anderson three years earlier.
With injuries to Wolf and Kershaw, Padilla and Garland have been invaluable. Padilla hasn't shown any of the personality flaws that got him run out of Texas, just a model citizen who's gone 3-0 with a 2.01 ERA in four starts for the Dodgers. Garland has been right behind (2-0. 3.32 in three starts).
"Padilla was in some ways a gamble, but we felt it was one we could take with the strength of our clubhouse," Colletti said. "He's pitched very well for us."
Colletti is in the fourth and final guaranteed season of a contract that also includes a "mutual option" for 2010. He doesn't talk much about his status, but doesn't seem worried about it either.
He's more successful than the five general managers who preceded him, if not more secure, even with the failures of free-agent signings Jason Schmidt and Andruw Jones.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.