LOS ANGELES — The day after the regular season ended, it was a picture-perfect 80 degree afternoon at Dodger Stadium — except for the fact that Don Mattingly, Ned Colletti and Stan Kasten were meeting with reporters outside the team offices rather than getting ready for a postseason game.
Dodgers manager Mattingly was not pleased with his team’s inability to qualify for the playoffs, but had already started to put the disappointment behind him.
“It’s better today than (Wednesday),” he said, “because that was the first day of dealing with what happened. Now, with each day we’re going to move forward. We’ve already had meetings talking about next year, what we can do differently and what things needed to be changed.
“But it doesn’t really change the disappointment because at the end of the day, we started last year at this same time to try to win a championship, and a couple nights ago, that ended. No matter how you try to slice that up, you didn’t get where you were trying to go. The (disappointment) can’t be gone this fast, but you go back to work and start on next year.”
And 2013 is going to need a lot of attention for the Dodgers to make it to the World Series for the first time in 25 seasons.
During the final two months of the season, GM Colletti and the Guggenheim Baseball Group restructured nearly half of the 25-man roster. Hanley Ramirez and Randy Choate were added in a trade with Miami; Shane Victorino and Joe Blanton were acquired from Philadelphia; Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Nick Punto came to the Dodgers in a blockbuster deal with Boston; and Seattle sent their former closer, Brandon League to LA. The massive amount of moves — and newly-inflated payroll — didn’t even get the Dodgers a wild card spot.
What it did do is give them one heck of a jump on the rest of baseball heading into next season.
With the free agent market expected to be one of the weakest in recent years — especially if the Angels re-sign right-hander Zack Greinke — Colletti and company picked up four players who would have been quite attractive had they been available on the open market. Ramirez, Gonzalez and a healthy Crawford (who is coming off elbow surgery in August) are three of the premier offensive players in baseball, while Beckett can be an upper-echelon starter who already owns two World Series rings. League actually will be a free agent, but will likely be brought back at closer’s wages, even though Kenley Jansen currently holds that job. But Jansen will undergo heart surgery to correct atrial fibrillation, a condition that causes irregular heart beats, and if he has a slow recovery, League will anchor the ‘pen early in the season. It’s unlikely that Victorino or Blanton will be back, while Choate and Punto are possibilities to return.
Then there’s the matter of players who were already in Dodger uniforms.
Matt Kemp underwent surgery on his left shoulder and is expected to be ready for full action sometime early in spring training. Andre Ethier had a good season and signed a five-year, $85 million contract extension. The main goal for him is to become more consistent in his hitting against left-handers (he hit .325 against righties, a miserable .222 versus southpaws). With Crawford joining them, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better all-around group in the outfield.
The bench will be tweaked as it is every season, and with most of the heavy lifting already finished, Colletti says his top priority will be to get more pitching.
Clayton Kershaw and Beckett will join Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang in the rotation. Chad Billingsley, who bounced back in 2012 to cut his walks nearly in half and end up with 10 wins before injuring his elbow, will be the No. 2 starter if he’s healthy. If not, Ted Lilly hopes to overcome shoulder problems and rejoin the rotation.
“When you look at the situation with our pitching,” Colletti said, “you can see that you never really have enough pitching. That’s why I’ll be looking for more pitching through trades, signings, from our system — wherever I can find it. We like the guys we have in the rotation and in the bullpen, but injuries are unpredictable and we have to be prepared.”
So, while Colletti and Mattingly focus on personnel, team president Kasten is looking to to focus on improving the fan experience.
“We’ve got a lot of plans for Dodger Stadium, which is the greatest place ever built to watch a baseball game,” Kasten said. “But from a modern standpoint, it needs some improvement. More kid-friendly places, places for families, and for the adults more bars and restaurants where they can watch the game; hangout-type places. It’s an ambitious agenda, but we have 24 weeks to get as much done as we can. Dodger Stadium will look a lot different next April.”
And maybe next October something different will take place as well: a trip to the World Series on the 25th anniversary of Kirk Gibson’s home run.