LOS ANGELES – Three days after their season ended, the Dodgers still have not decided whether to bring back Don Mattingly — an inaction that has the manager perturbed and perplexed.
Mattingly remains a lame duck, although he said Monday that the option year in his three-year contract became vested when the Dodgers beat the Atlanta Braves in the first round of the National League playoffs.
“But that doesn’t mean I’ll be back,” he added.
So far, there has been no contract offer beyond next season and, in fact, no assurance the team wants him to return in 2014. General manager Ned Colletti said at a news conference at Dodger Stadium that the subject would be discussed in the coming days.
“This is going to be resolved very quickly,” he said.
There is no explanation for the holdup, but it’s clear Mattingly is in limbo despite leading the team to the NL West title and within two games of reaching the World Series.
In what was clearly an awkward and somewhat tense session with the media, Mattingly, wearing a black sweater and glasses, sat with his arms folded. He conceded the season was a difficult one, and understandably so because the Dodgers had made no commitment beyond this season.
“When you come in with a club like this, you come in as a lame duck, and the payroll and the guys you have, it puts you in a tough spot in the clubhouse,” he said.
“So we dealt with that all year long. Really, what it does is, it puts me in a spot that everything I do is questioned because I’m basically trying out, or auditioning. Can you manage or not manage? To me, we’re at that point where you’re three years in. You either know or you don’t.”
So why the indecision? Colletti made it clear he’s in Mattingly’s corner, but the final decision rests with team president Stan Kasten, who refused to discuss Mattingly’s situation the entire season, whether the team was slumping or winning. These three scenarios are most likely taking place.
1. The Dodgers are willing to bring back Mattingly next season under his option worth $1.4 million, but refuse to give him a deal beyond next season. Mattingly clearly would not agree to that.
2. They’re willing to commit to a three-year contract but want him to make changes in his coaching staff, something he would be reluctant to do.
3. They’re not entirely sold that he’s the right manager and are considering letting him go despite the likely backlash. That decision could be pending.
“I love it here,” Mattingly said. “I like being here, but I don’t want to be anywhere that you’re not wanted.”
Certainly, Mattingly would draw interest from teams currently looking for managers, including the Seattle Mariners and Detroit Tigers. Asked if he would have interest in those jobs if he doesn’t sort out his issues with the Dodgers soon, he looked at Colletti and said, “Well, I want to manage.”
Colletti indicated he had no problems with the job Mattingly has done. After pointing out the team’s accomplishments this season, he essentially gave Mattingly a ringing endorsement.
“I have a lot of respect for this guy,” he said. “He kept it steady through a tough period of time. He kept our team together. We’ve won, and I’ve been a supporter of his from the day he walked in here as a hitting coach, which was six years ago.
“I have tremendous confidence and faith in this guy.”
Colletti said there has been little time to sit down and discuss the future since the Dodgers were ousted from the postseason Friday night in a Game 6 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals. And Mattingly said he still hopes to speak with Kasten, co-owner Magic Johnson and Mark Walter, who heads the ownership group that purchased the team. But he sounded uncertain whether he would get the opportunity.
“Hopefully I get a chance to speak with everyone, from Ned to Mark Walter to Magic to Stan to everybody on how I feel, what I think,” he said. “I don’t know if I’ll get that opportunity or not. I’m proud of what happened this year. I know this is the farthest the Dodgers have gone in the postseason since ’88. I’ll just leave it at that.”
But until that happens, his future continues to blow in the wind.
“I don’t want to be anywhere that people don’t think you’re capable of doing the job,” he said. “If that’s the case, then we’ll just go from there.”