Take that, critics: Mattingly pulls power play (and good for him)

BOSTON -- Dodgers manager Don Mattingly was criticized plenty for his stratagems throughout the postseason. But Mattingly pulled a very interesting play Monday at his post-year press conference.

Maybe some folks will need to rethink the idea that he can't size up a situation.

While admitting his contract vested for 2014, Mattingly suggested he isn't sure if he wants to return as Dodgers manager. Can't say I blame him, under the circumstances.

Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti, meantime, said he'd like to resolve his situation soon, and predicted it would be resolved soon. The implication is that the Dodgers all want him back, and perhaps they do.

It was reported here that the Dodgers did intend to bring him back. However, the season-long actions of the club hierarchy suggest at least someone with power wasn't anxious to bring him back. And whispers went for weeks about whether they might look elsewhere, as was mentioned here and other places.

Mattingly noticed how long it took for them to pick up the option. And so did everyone else.

Although, the Dodgers apparently want Mattingly back (at least for 2014), he announced at a Dodgers press conference held with Colletti that it "doesn't mean I'll be back."

Mattingly suggested he might look around. And no one should blame him for it.

"I love it here, but I don't want to be anywhere I'm not wanted," Mattingly said.

Mattingly suggested he didn't really want to return on a one-year deal, either. So now the onus is on the Dodgers. Perhaps they will compromise and make it two or more.

The fact Mattingly, unfailingly loyal, would say something -- anything -- shows you how untenable the situation became for him.

"This has been a frustrating, tough year, honestly," Mattingly also said at the press gathering. "I think when you are in with a club like this, basically as a lame duck, with the payroll and the guys that you have, it puts you in a tough spot in the clubhouse. When you're put in this position, the organization basically says we don't know if you can manage or not. That's not a great position to be in as manager."

Beyond the Dodgers technically not picking up his option until it vested with their advancement to the NLCS, word was getting around baseball that at least one person (or persons) at the upper reaches of the Dodgers hierarchy was questioning Mattingly behind the scenes. While top Dodgers people said nothing negative publicly (and perhaps not even to him), there was word that there were at least internal talks about at least one other possibility to manage the team.

A person familiar with their internal talks said Joe Girardi's name came up in discussions among at least some key Dodgers people. This was obviously before Girardi re-signed for four more years with the Yankees, and before Mattingly took the Dodgers into the NLCS, where they lost to the Cardinals, four games to two.

Colletti texted back regarding Mattingly's situation, "He's under contract." That suggests they intend at the moment to hold onto him, one way or another.

The Nationals, who have a managerial opening, have shown interest before. But Mattingly was loyal to the Dodgers. Now he is quite obviously questioning that loyalty.

The Dodgers usually get what they want. And they do have the contract in force.

Colletti has been a consistent supporter, as he pointed out at the press conference. But the question is, do all of Mattingly's bosses, not just Colletti, really want him back?

Team president Stan Kasten, who has declined comment on Mattingly's status throughout the year, didn't respond to a text Monday.

Even if Mattingly didn't hear the whispers, he knew for some reason his option wasn't picked up even after he led the team back from a 30-42 record and last place 9½ games out in June to win the NL West in a runaway. The Dodgers went on an unprecedented 42-8 run to walk away in the NL West despite injuries to Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Hanley Ramirez and earlier Chad Billingsley and Ted Lilly. Their $220-million payroll never was really in full force.

The option reportedly is for $1.4 million, so Mattingly understandably took it as rather telling that the free-spending Dodgers waited so long to pick it up. And then technically it was picked up automatically, anyway, with a vesting option.

Truth be told, this isn't the easiest job, anyway, even if a manager has more than a one-year deal. The Dodgers are a very talented team but the roster is full of big personalities and egos. Some of them include Adrian Gonzalez, Yasiel Puig, Brian Wilson, Kemp and Ramirez, who resurrected his reputation and career and is said to love Mattingly. Gonzalez, for all his talent and obvious smarts, has a reputation for having his own thoughts on how things should be done, which can be tough on managers.

All the players seem to love Mattingly, and there's a big value in that. They also played hard, and played hurt, for him.

Colletti seems to recognize that, advocating sticking with Mattingly when there were rumors a change was being considered.  But the Dodgers have a very powerful hierarchy, with several voices above Colletti, and high expectations.

No top Dodgers person, including Kasten, said anything unflattering about Mattingly. But actions speak louder than words, and no one should criticize Mattingly for wondering aloud whether he's truly wanted.

Is he?

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