LOS ANGELES — “It’s not a problem for me at all,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly replied when asked about the fact that team management has decided — for now — not to give him a contract extension heading into the 2013 season. This is the final year of the deal he signed to replace Joe Torre after the legendary manager retired in 2010.
On Monday against the World Champion San Francisco Giants at Dodger Stadium, Donnie Baseball will begin his third season at the helm of the Los Angeles franchise, with expectations at an all-time high for the storied franchise. Yet their leader has been put in a very tenuous position.
The owners — Guggenheim Baseball Partners — invested $2.15 billion to purchase the team from Frank McCourt, and payroll going into the season will be a franchise-record of over 200 million dollars. Anything less than a playoff appearance will be considered a monumental flop.
Under these circumstances, most teams would prefer not to have their manager in a “lame duck” situation that can summon unwanted negative attention any time a club hits a rough stretch during the season. Many teams have added one or two year extensions to the manager’s deal in order to prevent such circumstances from arising.
Guggenheim has decided to buck tradition, however, and Mattingly says he’s comfortable with their decision.
“If you look at the situation realistically,” he said, “I wouldn’t be here right now if they didn’t like me managing their team. We have an over $200-million payroll and the expectations are extremely high — which they should be. If they didn’t think I was the right guy for the job, they wouldn’t keep me around just because they didn’t want to buy out the last year of my contract.
“They have confidence in me and they just want us to show that we can get these guys to play the type of baseball we know they’re capable of playing.”
A high-ranking member of the Guggenheim Partners — who preferred to remain anonymous — said that Mattingly is correct in his assumption.
“We like Donnie a lot,” he said. “Everybody does. He’s the right man for this team right now.
“Honestly, the fact is that we don’t have to sign him right now, and the trend of giving an extension for “window dressing” is quickly being abandoned.
“Players make so much money now in every sport, that even the best coaches or managers don’t compare to the best players in terms of salary. Players know that if they want to get a coach fired, they can. If there was a team rebellion about the coach, the coach is gone. That’s the way the game is being played in just about every sport.
The management member then cited the situation of Scott Brooks, head coach of the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder and one of the league’s most respected mentors.
“Look at Brooks last year,” said the Dodger official emphatically. “He was already thought of as one of the best coaches in the game and he had one year left on his deal. (OKC) management was going to bring him back the whole time, but there’s no urgency anymore in doing it. A few days after they lost to Miami in the Finals, they agreed to a four-year deal for about $16 million.
“But if Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook all of a sudden decide they don’t want to play for Brooks anymore and they go to management, who do you think is going to stay and who’s going to go? That’s basically the reason it’s not as important for the manager to have that extra year.
“Like I said, we really like Mattingly and we expect that he’ll be managing the Dodgers for a lot of years to come. If we win, it’s really a no-brainer to give him a healthy new contract. If we lose, it gives us options.”
Mattingly is fine with their reasoning.
“That’s my job as a manager and our job as a staff — to win,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with having to go out and prove that your guys will respond. If they go out, play hard and do their jobs, we’ll all be where we need to be.”