NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti lounged on an overstuffed living room chair Tuesday night, a leg crossed over the other, a shiny black cowboy boot dangling, his hands pushed lightly into his pockets.
He announced he'd been bearing up under a migraine all day and as a result might be cranky, but to go ahead, ask away.
The accumulation of his straight answers, half-answers and sighed non-answers aligned into a handful of apparent truths for the Los Angeles Dodgers, thick in the young, inexpensive – and now familiar – players who make the game go 'round, just as thick in their reluctance to let them go.
He'd spoken to the Minnesota Twins about Johan Santana.
He'd spoken to the Baltimore Orioles about Erik Bedard.
He'd engaged or been engaged by the Florida Marlins about Miguel Cabrera, the Oakland A's about Dan Haren, Scott Boras about Andruw Jones, and in this particular sixth-floor room of the Opryland Hotel, on a day Santana hung in the air like Colletti's left boot and Cabrera exited the National League to become a Detroit Tiger, Colletti forced a grin and of the Dodgers said, "The only thing that's really changed is the day on the calendar."
Matt Kemp, the rugged outfielder with the 40-homer potential, remains a Dodger. James Loney, who could someday be Mark Grace, remains a Dodger. So do right-handers Chad Billingsley and Jonathan Broxton, and left-hander Clayton Kershaw, all on a day the Tigers threw six prospects after Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis, a month after they threw two prospects after Edgar Renteria.
Unspoken, the Dodgers could have made that trade, put Cabrera at third base for at least the next two seasons, fixed up Willis and sent him out with Brad Penny, Derek Lowe, Jason Schmidt (maybe) and Billingsley, and for a player or two fewer.
The Dodgers and Colletti, potentially the belles of baseball's offseason ball, don't feel much like dancing. Maybe it's the migraine.
Just before they granted the Tigers their wish, the Marlins made one last telephone call to Colletti, gave him one last chance to take their hand.
"A lot of players," Colletti observed of the trade. "They got what they wanted. Apparently Detroit did, too."
Colletti wasn't around to answer that call.
"They left us a message," he said.
The Marlins were asking for the same young men: "Kemp, Loney, Kershaw … "
It went unreturned.
"They told us the same thing three weeks ago," Colletti said. "So …"
"Everything was the same," he said. "Same thing coming in, same thing going out, and the same answer from me."
Meantime, the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox are willing to dump prospects for Santana. If the Yankees lose out on Santana, they are expected to turn similar guys around for Haren. The Arizona Diamondbacks, an entire organization built on prospects, are also in on Haren. The Tigers have dealt so many prospects they might have to close right field in their minor-league games.
But, not the Dodgers, apparently, not the 82-win, fourth-place, have-done-nothing-for-20-years Dodgers.
And that, so far, is fine by Colletti, who not only is willing to stick with this core of players the Marlins, Twins, Orioles and A's have recently confirmed is among the best in the game, but seems quite enthused at the sight of it.
"You end up filling one of your needs with a tremendous player," he said, "and you look around and have three more needs to fill."
And as he sits and frets and barters and pops Advil up there on the sixth floor, Colletti becomes more convinced that Kemp will lay off those sliders away and go A to B on fly balls, that Loney will put the heavy part of the bat on the ball, that Kershaw will keep coming, that this is absolutely the right way to run a roster, and this is how to ride a down franchise into a dynasty.
Those pitchers the Yankees and Red Sox are fighting over? Maybe Billingsley becomes something like that. Maybe Kershaw and Broxton do. Maybe one of them, if they're very lucky, does. That's valuable, right? That's worth holding to, right?
"I think when you see what it's costing to acquire a player, how much the core of your team is going to be uprooted … you make that type of decision," Colletti said.
Yeah, another pitcher, even a front-of-the-rotation starter, a third baseman who brings a middle-of-the-order bat, a center fielder who might bring the same, would make the Dodgers better today. And, last we saw, the Dodgers were losing a lot yesterday. But, at what cost? "The price of filling that need makes you re-examine what you have," he said.
What he saw was Loney driving in 32 runs in September, Kemp batting .350 in August and September, for the moment squeezing out Kemp striking out in more than a quarter of his at-bats.
"Neither one of those players are accomplished, complete players," he said. "But, when you see what they can do, how do you know that can't happen? Not that you talk yourself into it, (but) you say, 'You know what, they might be right here.'"
He meant here, with the Dodgers. Not here, in Nashville.