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Mattingly has done 'amazing' job; but is he 100 percent in Dodgers' plans?

The Dodgers didn't pick up manager Don Mattingly's option during the season, so should he be worried? (USATSI)
The Dodgers didn't pick up Don Mattingly's option during the season. Should he be worried? (USATSI)

If Dodgers manager Don Mattingly is worrying about his job, he isn't showing it. But no one could blame him if he's at least wondering about it. With his contract option not picked up during the Dodgers' unprecedented turnaround and run to the NL West title, just about everyone else seems to be wondering about it.

Mattingly isn't discussing his situation but one of his close friends said he (the friend) is "shocked" that the Dodgers haven't picked up that reasonable contract option for 2014, much less offered him a long-term extension. Others are suggesting the same.

Dodgers bosses consistently praise Mattingly when asked about the situation and stress that his contract is a "non-issue" that will be addressed after the season, strongly suggesting but stopping a bit short of guaranteeing he'll be back. So it's no surprise the lack of a contract has caught the attention of a lot of folks around the game who wonder if he is quite as safe as one might assume.

Dodgers president Stan Kasten said before Game 1 that Mattingly did a "terrific" job guiding the $220 million team through "stormy weather" early. Meanwhile, Dodgers part-owner Magic Johnson in a group interview termed Mattingly's work, "amazing," adding, "Don's been pushing the right buttons. It's paying dividends."

And Kasten told CBSSports.com, "He's done a terrific job, obviously. We had stormy weather early. But he came through it great, leading us on a historic run. And we're all hoping he'll have the same magic touch in the postseason."

There were suggestions a few months ago that Mattingly may have come within a few more losses of being fired. That's when the Dodgers were 30-42 and 9½ games out in a West race they eventually won in a runaway, boosted by their shocking 42-8 streak. How close he came to being canned may never be known. But Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti was thought to have been steadfast in Mattingly's corner throughout the early struggles.

Still, even considering all the seeming support, with the reasonable $1.4 million option yet to be addressed, there are whispers abut his future throughout the baseball community, not just among Mattingly's friends.

One person with ties to the Dodgers said it's his guess that Mattingly may even need to win at least the NLDS vs. the Braves to ensure a return, while another suggests he believes it's possible Mattingly isn't necessarily this ownership's "guy."

No one within the ownership group has said anything publicly to that effect. To the contrary, the public support seems strong -- though there's no advantage to revealing there are doubts while the team is in the playoffs. It's possible folks outside the organization are making assumptions about the high expectations that come with a $220 million payroll, exceptional talent and competitive spirit of the Dodgers' ownership group.

In the spring, Johnson famously suggested it was "World Series or bust." Though he wasn't necessarily implying anything about the manager, that kind of quote is recalled when a manager's relatively inexpensive $1.4 million contract isn't picked up.

In any case, Johnson seemed to soften that stance in his pre-series interview, clarifying that that's only the way he feels about whether the season is a success, not necessarily the Dodgers' main decision-makers, who include Kasten and Colletti. That makes sense considering that's how the Lakers all-time great approached all his hoops seasons.

"If you don't win it all, you have to say it wasn't the season we wanted," Johnson said on the eve of the NLDS. That, of course, doesn't necessarily imply that it's on the manager.

Mattingly has shown no sign of worry, which is characteristic of him. But, as his friend said, "He'd have no trouble getting another job." With openings in Washington, Seattle, Chicago (Cubs) and Cincinnati, considering the job he's done his chances would seem to be strong, at the very least.

If Mattingly isn't as safe as one might think, a lot of interesting scenarios could develop. There are an unusual number of big-time major-league managers who could be available, including just-fired ex-Dodger Dusty Baker. Another ex-Dodger, Mike Scioscia, whose situation isn't quite settled with the Angels, was looked upon for a decade as a manager who the Dodgers missed hiring.

However, the most intriguing potential prospect would have to be Joe Girardi, who hasn't accepted the Yankees' offer of a big raise to return, and who was hotly pursued by Colletti before he hired Joe Torre for the Dodgers six years ago.

The belief is Girardi is most likely going to wind up back with the Yankees. And Mattingly, ultimately, still has to be seen as much more likely than not to return to the Dodgers.

But is there any chance they wind up switching places?

Crazier things have happened.

Folks figure Girardi will stay in New York, but if his talks break down, and the Yankees eventually permit him to start talking to other teams, despite claims by some that he isn't an "LA guy," why wouldn't he talk to the Dodgers, who now spend like the Yankees and look primed to compete for years?

The Cubs have dominated outside speculation involving Girardi. But that doesn't mean a thing.

Girardi is extremely close to Colletti, who befriended Girardi back when Girardi was coming up as the Cubs' catcher and Colletti was a Cubs exec. The Girardi and Colletti families lived in the suburbs on the North Shore and regularly got together.

When Colletti tried to hire Girardi six years ago, Girardi called the Yankees his "dream job," but not before seriously seeming to entertain the Dodgers' overture.

And if that isn't enough, Dodgers' managing partner Mark Walter -- like Girardi a Northwestern guy -- still happens to live in Chicago, where he is reading and hearing about how interested the Cubs are in Girardi.

The Cubs make for intriguing Girardi speculation because he's from Peoria, originally was drafted by them and played at Northwestern. Girardi publicly suggested his Chicago ties are overblown. And if he wants to win sooner, it's easy to wonder whether the Dodgers (or Nationals) are a better alternative to the Yankees.

The Yankees are said to have offered Girardi a significant raise from his expiring reported $9 million, three-year deal, but if anyone could afford to match (or beat) their offer, it might be the Dodgers.

If Girardi should go to the Dodgers, the Yankees would want a high-profile, experienced manager to take his place. And guess what? The only other manager the Yankees interviewed when they hired Girardi six years ago was Mattingly.

Of course, this is (mostly) supposition and theory. And the most likely scenario is that Girardi stays with the Yankees with a big fat raise. And Mattingly stays with the Dodgers.

But until Girardi takes the deal, it gives us something to wonder about.

The Dodgers, logically, would keep Mattingly, who will finish in the top two or three in NL Manager of the Year voting. The Dodgers have terrific talent, but they've also had more injuries than most teams, with only three of their original eight starting pitchers remaining and a grand total of zero games with all four of their excellent outfielders -- Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Carl Crawford and Yasiel Puig -- available and healthy. There were two games they all started on the card, but Kemp suffered injuries in both those games (he is out now, and Ethier is relegated to pinch-hitting duty).

Overcoming all those injuries would seem to point to a return for Mattingly

"We're going to talk to Donnie. This isn't the time to talk contracts," Johnson said. "We'll see where we're at when the moment is right."

That time isn't now.

"I haven't discussed it all year. Neither has Donnie," Kasten said. "We're all laser-focused on the postseason."

And here, it's clear expectations are high.

"It's a successful regular season. It's been great, especially as measured by the response of our fans," Kasten said. "Now we are looking forward to the postseason, which we've all be working for, really."

Mattingly took a bit of criticism after the Dodgers' 4-3 defeat to the Braves that enabled the Braves to tie the series. Rather than allowing rookie Chris Withrow to face Reed Johnson, Mattingly had Johnson intentionally walked Reed Johnson and asked a slightly more experienced pitcher, Paco Rodriguez, pitch to Jason Heyward. Mattingly was going for the lefty-lefty matchup, but some wondered whether it might have been better to focus on Johnson, a professional pinch-hitter but still a bench player. Mattingly, alluding to the significant role Rodriguez has played, said Rodriguez had been "getting those guys out all year long for us."

Mattingly has won wide praise for how he's handled players and earned their respect, no surprise considering his down-to-earth reputation. That proved crucial in the Dodgers' historic turnaround. But some have suggested he's still working on the strategy element of the job.

Dodgers folks are saying they didn't address Mattingly's contract during the season only because they didn't want it to become a distraction. But, of course, it's still an issue as they embark on their remaining playoff run.

Someone bluntly asked Mattingly at Wednesday's press conference: "Girardi goes to the Cubs, are you going to the Yankees?"

To which Mattingly responded, "We're trying to win a baseball game today, you know that -- or tomorrow. Made me nervous … I've said it a lot. I'm happy where I'm at. As long as they're happy with me I'd like to be here."

Mattingly is the type who doesn't let these type of things bother him. Even if they did, he is smart and professional enough not to mention anything personal while his team is taking on the Braves, a difficult first-round assignment. In a private conversation before the series, Mattingly acted like he's unfazed. (Of course, as a longtime key employee of George Steinbrenner's Yankees, he doesn't faze easy.)

In a one-on-one conversation on the field Wednesday, Mattingly insisted that his job situation is not something he's thinking about now.

But if so, he may be alone in that regard.

 
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