Blue-collar Colletti at helm of new-look Dodgers
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Life has changed dramatically for the Los Angeles Dodgers franchise. You could also amend that statement to "improved dramatically" with no risk of inaccuracy.
And yes, the money available to be spent on player payroll is also new and improved. But this narrative is more complex than that. This is why Ned Colletti's take on the issue of the Dodgers' payroll makes perfectly good sense.
Colletti, the Dodgers general manager, obviously has an oar in the water on this topic. But unlike the rest of us, he's lived this situation, before and after.
It was only one year ago, in the final segment of the McCourt ownership, with bankruptcy court as a backdrop, that the Dodgers were being forced to compete on the cheap. Colletti was seeking bargain basement talent and doing a commendable job pasting together a competitive roster.
Then the Guggenheim ownership took over and the franchise moved from one end of fiscal spectrum to the other. The money, in many instances, became the story. But looked at in another way, maybe the more unusual story occurred before that, when a franchise with a rich history and mega-market size was not spending money.
"People talk about the payroll, 'Oh, gee, the payroll's over $200 million,'" Colletti said Sunday in an interview with MLB.com at Camelback Ranch. "You know, we were at $90 million last year. You're the Dodgers and you play in Los Angeles at Dodger Stadium, and you've got a chance to draw almost four million people a year. And you've got two great baseball cities in Boston and Philly, and their payrolls have been in the $170-$180 [million] range, with two smaller ballparks, too, two smaller areas. If that's where they're at and the Yankees are way up there, too, shouldn't we be somewhere between the Yankees and those two clubs with our payroll, $190-$200[million]?
"If that's where we were, if that's where we should have been, is [an increase to over $200 million] a big deal? No, it's not a big deal. The big deal to me is not that we're at $200 [million] it's that we were at $90 [million]. That's the big deal. If it was $190 last year and we signed [Zack] Greinke and we went up to $210, is it a big deal? No."
Circumstances essentially forced the Dodgers to build, as Colletti puts it, "two teams at one time" -- one under the previous ownership in the winter of 2011-12 and early in last season, one later in the '12 season under the new ownership.
"So you're going to have a little bit of combinations that you have to work through," Colletti says. "And we also have $55 million coming off next year. So we'll be in a different spot where we'll be able to smooth this out a little.
"We've got some situations that are a little bit unorthodox, having, quote, 'eight starting pitchers in camp.' You know what? I like that far better than when we had three starting pitchers in camp, or two starting pitchers in camp. We've been there, too," Colletti adds with a smile.
The struggles under the previous ownership -- Colletti sometimes refers to these with the phrase "we had a different dynamic going on" -- added up, the general manager says now, to "a great learning experience.
"Some people like to learn only when it's convenient," Colletti says. "But what is important is what you learn when it's inconvenient, when you have to fight through and deal with adversity. That's when you really learn, I think.
"That's really also when you learn about other people. I think our staff did great. Our people stayed in there. [Manager Don Mattingly] kept everybody focused on winning games. Even though our payroll kept shrinking, shrinking, shrinking and the Giants kept winning and their payroll kept going higher while ours kept going lower. We never complained about it, we just said, 'Hey, our job is to figure out how to win today's game.'
"We did the best we could. You can't control results. The only thing you can control, and I ask this of everybody that works in baseball ops, is your own effort. If that's pure, it that's everything that everybody's got, we'll let the results come however they come."
Colletti knows something about doing a lot with a little. His Chicago working-class background was a long way from the Dodgers' current circumstances. But it also provided a foundation for the man he became.
"Where I grew up, I lived in a garage until I was 5 years old, then we moved into a four-room house in Franklin Park right by O'Hare Airport," Colletti says. "Little house, 800 square feet. We ran out of money every Wednesday, had to scrounge around at the little Italian deli for groceries for two days to keep going.
"Lived like that my whole life, me and my mom and my dad and my younger brother. It never bothered us. It never fazed us. We just did what we had to do, day in, day out. We had great lives."
To this day, when the Dodgers play in Chicago, Colletti returns to the old neighborhood and hangs out there.
Now, we're back at the other end of the spectrum. The Dodgers have star power and resources. So the expectations have soared. That isn't bad, either.
"When I came here this is what I hoped it would be," says Colletti of the current team. "This is my eighth season. It's taken us a little while."
The general manager is full of praise for the new Dodgers ownership. Which of us would not be, in his circumstances? And he is full of hope about what amounts to a new era for this storied franchise. The Dodgers closed the 2012 season winning seven of the last eight, narrowly missing a Wild Card berth. Colletti looked players in the eyes and thought he saw the right look of determination there.
"April 1, I just can't wait to get there," he said. "I can't wait to get the season started to see where these guys are at. Where we've gone from one place to another, and how it translates."
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.