PHILADELPHIA -- The deeper the Dodgers go into this postseason, the greater the angst for the critics of Ned Colletti.
The roster he's general managing is still prime-time programming in October for the second time in his first three seasons. None of his nine predecessors did that.
Conventional wisdom has heaped most of the credit for this year's Dodgers success on either Joe Torre or Manny Ramirez, but not much for the guy who maneuvered to bring them west.
That's because he's the same guy that signed Jason Schmidt and Andruw Jones. When the failures are spectacular and expensive, they overwhelm the decisions that work. And the Dodgers wouldn't be in the National League Championship Series if most of their decisions hadn't worked.
"I know what I tried to do and the path I took," said Colletti. "I know where it was when I got here."
He knows there were trades he could have made, blockbuster deals for names like CC Sabathia, Miguel Cabrera and Mark Teixeira, but other clubs were demanding in return two or three or four home-grown players by the names of Russell Martin, Chad Billingsley, Jonathan Broxton, Matt Kemp, James Loney and Clayton Kershaw.
Colletti had two missions that often were in conflict: trying to win immediately and not dealing away the cornerstones of the future.
"I didn't want to break up the nucleus," he said. "We had to win as soon as we could win and the young players weren't ready. [Double-A] Jacksonville is further from here than it looks on the map. The only way to do it was to go the free-agent route. But now you look at our roster and see a lot of players that aren't 26 yet. That's not a bad thing."
The former assistant general manager of the San Francisco Giants was hired to replace Paul DePodesta on Nov. 16, 2005, taking over a 91-loss club six weeks into the offseason. There was no manager and the small group of healthy stars he could count on for the following season consisted of Derek Lowe, Brad Penny, Jeff Kent and J.D. Drew. Among the position players he inherited that finished in the top eight for team at-bats the previous year were catcher Jason Phillips, first baseman Hee-Seop Choi, injured shortstop Cesar Izturis, utilityman Olmedo Saenz, injured outfielder Jayson Werth and infielder Oscar Robles.
Colletti's biggest moves
RHP Chan Ho
LHP Michael Watt, RHP Eduardo Perez
3B Andy LaRoche, RHP Bryan Morris (to
C Carlos Santana, RHP Jonathan Meloan
Claimed $8 million contract off
SS Cesar Izturis
Hendrickson, C Toby Hall, cash
C Dioner Navarro, RHP Jae Weong
Seo, OF Justin Ruggiano
RHP Danys Baez,
RHP Lance Carter
RHP Edwin Jackson
OF Milton Bradley, 3B Antonio Perez
He signed his first free agent -- the dynamic Rafael Furcal -- before he even hired manager Grady Little. He soon traded Milton Bradley and his considerable baggage for an unproven Andre Ethier. Nomar Garciaparra was signed and won the Comeback Player of the Year Award. Dodgers scouts uncovered a Japanese right-hander who crossed the Pacific completely under baseball's radar and turned into closer Takashi Saito.
The Dodgers were swept out of the playoffs that year, but coming off 91 losses, it wasn't a bad turnaround debut season for the general manager. But that postseason told Colletti he needed better starting pitching. He wasn't interested in locking into the seven-year deal Barry Zito was seeking, so he went shorter term with a player he knew from San Francisco and signed Schmidt to a three-year, $47 million deal. In two years, Schmidt has one win and two shoulder operations.
The signing of Brett Tomko and claiming off waivers of Esteban Loaiza, intended to buy time for youngsters like Kershaw, didn't work. He also traded Dioner Navarro, Willy Aybar and Edwin Jackson and they've helped Tampa Bay get as far as the Dodgers.
"Where I'm at fault," said Colletti, "is that I tried to be patient and impatient at the same time. When I started, we had players at Jacksonville we knew would be good, but I couldn't wait for their development, and I tried to turn it around overnight, and the only way was with free agents. Some worked, some didn't work."
When Drew blindsided the Dodgers and opted out of his contract that offseason, Colletti pushed hard to sign Alfonso Soriano, but dropped out of the bidding when it soared past $100 million, and settled for Juan Pierre, one of the most polarizing players among fans in Los Angeles history because of his speed-oriented game. Pierre has become a bench player with three years remaining on a five-year deal.
The 2007 season saw the youth movement take hold, with Kemp and Loney joining the lineup and Billingsley the starting rotation. But at crunch time, the club collapsed on the field and unraveled in the clubhouse. Little essentially quit and Colletti launched his managerial search the day after the season ended.
The managerial search ended when Torre left the Yankees and joined the Dodgers with a three-year deal. Still in need of a slugger, Colletti passed on a trade for Cabrera (that would have cost Billingsley and Kemp) and signed Jones, who in one season became as puzzling a free-agent flop as baseball has seen.
But the Dodgers won this year's division anyway. Torre kept the club in the race until Colletti acquired Angel Berroa to stabilize shortstop, Casey Blake to take over third base, then Ramirez, then Greg Maddux. Their previous clubs even picked up $17 million in salary. And the retooled roster, after an eight-game losing streak that nearly had them buried, won eight straight and finished best in a bad division.
Ramirez brought a lethal bat to the lineup, fun to the clubhouse and confidence to the collective Dodgers psyche. The Dodgers won their first postseason series in 20 years by sweeping the Cubs, Colletti's favorite team while growing up in Chicago, and Thursday night open the NLCS in Philadelphia, where he once covered hockey as a sportswriter for the Journal.
The general managers of New York's baseball teams just received contract extensions, even though their clubs missed the playoffs. Colletti has one year remaining on his contract, and club chairman Frank McCourt won't discuss Colletti's future status.
Saturday night, after the Dodgers eliminated the Cubs, Colletti handed off credit to the scouts, the staff and the players. He wouldn't take any.
"My father's been deceased for 26 years, but he taught me a long time ago, you'll get more out of life by making people happy giving rather than receiving," Colletti said. "He's right."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.