Colletti flexes clout with financial free will

As Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder and Jose Reyes signed elsewhere during the past offseason, the Los Angeles Dodgers plugged away at leaks with the more economical and effective free agent signings of Chris Capuano, Aaron Harang, Mark Ellis and Jerry Hairston Jr. Considering one of baseball’s most notorious free spending clubs had opened each of the past two seasons with the 12th highest player payroll in baseball as a beleaguered ownership group fought a fight we’d all rather forget, it was clear that the team couldn’t legitimately negotiate for superstars during a summer they spent 160 million dollars on Matt Kemp.

That has quickly changed through the middle third of a baseball season in which capital provided by Guggenheim Baseball Management under chairman Mark Walter has provided general manager Ned Colletti the financial freedom to make several bold and expensive moves: the signing of Yasiel Puig for 42 million dollars, a record for a Cuban defector, and the major acquisitions of Hanley Ramirez, Randy Choate, Brandon League and Shane Victorino, the latter of whom was acquired from Philadelphia early Tuesday and will make his Los Angeles debut Wednesday afternoon at Dodger Stadium in the series finale against Arizona.

“We definitely want to win this year,” said partner and co-owner Magic Johnson. “We’re not sitting back waiting on next year or the year after. We want to win now. As much as we could do, we did. We wanted to do more. Sometimes you don’t have the prospects, or sometimes you don’t want to pay the price that teams were looking for. We’re happy. When you bring in the guys that we brought in – we had needs and we felt that we upgraded our team.”

There’s no question about that, never mind back to back losses to begin a 10-game homestand in which the Dodgers were outscored 15-4 by the Diamondbacks.

Perhaps it will take Victorino’s physical appearance in the clubhouse to provide the spark, but this will be a buoyant Dodger lineup over the season’s final two months, one cognizant of the front office’s backing after several years of wandering somewhat aimlessly.

“The thing that they’ve made a point to come in and change right away was there’s no more sitting around and wondering ‘what if?’ and ‘if we’re going to do it,'” Andre Ethier said. “We’re going to do it, and it’s just a matter of time when. They want this to be a place where players are holding their heads high and never shrugging them because of the lack of support we’re getting from above. It only should be because of the lack of the way we can execute on the field.”

Colletti has swung and connected more frequently than he has swung and missed. Though the 172.2 million offered for the services of Andruw Jones, Jason Schmidt, Juan Pierre and the 2009-10 efforts of Manny Ramirez draw much attention, the astute signings of Rafael Furcal, Takashi Saito and Hiroki Kuroda along with trades that netted Ethier and the 2008 version of Manny Ramirez helped lead the club to the closest it had been to the World Series since 1988.

Though James McDonald (10-5, 3.38 ERA with Pittsburgh) and Carlos Santana were sacrificed to bring in Octavio Dotel and Casey Blake in separate trades, Colletti was the recipient of the most productive prospect either exchanged or acquired in his Dodgers trading history. Andre Ethier’s acquisition from the Oakland A’s in December, 2005 was amongst the earliest moves in Colletti’s Los Angeles tenure; six weeks after Guggenheim took control of the Dodgers, the rightfielder was inked to an 85-million dollar extension.

A general manager hired by an earlier regime that is so active in extensions, international free agent signings and major trades that add to the team’s core appears to be a hearty vote of confidence by an ownership group committed to putting its own identity on the franchise. It’s also an indication that a general manager who has often been successful in inserting the Dodgers into prominent trade and free agency negotiations – when provided the means – will once again be afforded the backing necessary to improve the club at any opportunity. Don’t expect the team’s payroll to rank 12th in 2013.

“He’s happy that the handcuffs are off and he can go out and make moves,” Johnson said of Colletti’s recent personnel decisions. “Ned is a great baseball man and he was working. I tell you what, you’ve got to give it to him and [president and CEO] Stan [Kasten]. They were working. They had their board. They were trying to make moves. So I’m happy for Ned, yes. And he’s improved the team.”

More moves are certain to come, including the need to add an arm to the starting rotation as players clear waivers and are dealt prior to September. While he recalled the production of Marlon Anderson – who clubbed seven homeruns and bat .375 in 64 at bats after his acquisition on August 31, 2006 – it’s arms that can bolster the back end of a starting rotation that Los Angeles will closely be evaluating over the next month.

“They don’t slam the door on July 31st at 1 pm Pacific,” Colletti said. “They close it, but they don’t slam it. So we still have opportunities to go forward and see what we can do.”

Johnson’s discussion on the Dodgers’ transactions gradually shifted towards basketball, which included the comparison of trading deadlines between the two sports.

“With the Lakers, you only make one move. Here, we can make four or five,” Johnson said.

It wasn’t the only basketball analogy of the day Johnson used.

“When Jerry West was in…and Dr. Buss was saying ‘Hey, Jerry, make whatever necessary moves to help us win the championship,’ that’s what we’re trying to do here. Ned and Stan had the green light to go make the moves that they needed to make to make us a better team and try to win now,” Johnson said.

“What we told Ned was, ‘look. You and Stan just go out there and whatever moves you want to make, you make them. Even if we have to give the other team dollars, or whatever. We want to improve this team. That’s the job that they did, and when Mark and I sat down, that’s what we decided. We want to win now. We got off to a great start, and even today, with all the things that we’ve gone through, injury-wise, we felt really good. Hanley was the first move that we made that was a good move, but now all the moves that we’ve made since then. So we want to win right now.”

It was a point he repeated for emphasis.

“We want to win right now.”