We’ve learned a lot about Grady Little in the last week.
We’ve learned that this nice, patient man will react to a crisis, even if it requires difficult decisions.
We’ve learned that a Major League manager, regardless of his overall demeanor, realizes the bottom line is winning and he has the job of making it happen.
It remains to be seen if Little’s lineup changes will pull the Dodgers out of a slump that included three consecutive games when they didn’t score. But he wasn’t above trying something drastic – benching veteran, high-salaried players and moving rookie James Loney into the No. 3 slot in the batting order.
I have previously commented in this space that I prefer Little’s even disposition to the screamers who manage other teams. I think that works best in a long season.
But there are times when even a patient man must go into action.
After the Dodgers failed to score for a third consecutive day Little presented a lineup without Nomar Garciaparra and Luis Gonzalez, two of the biggest names on the team.
Russell Martin was moved from third to second in the batting order, pinch-hitting specialist Olmedo Saenz was brought into the lineup and batted third and the Dodgers responded with a 5-4 victory over the Reds.
The next day Martin batted second again, but the youthful Loney replaced Saenz at first base and batted third. Loney’s two-run homer in the ninth inning produced a 2-1 win over the Cardinals.
Little then said Loney would continue to bat third and it would be determined if he’s suited for that role.
In benching Gonzalez and Garciaparra, Little explained: “If the players we’ve counted on in our off-season and spring plans aren’t getting the job done we’ll try something else.”
Both veterans were soon back in the lineup but a shakeup, however unorthodox, is frequently what a team needs to change its course of direction.
In studying the 2007 Dodgers, it should be remembered the team had right fielder J.D. Drew signed for three more years and were willing to pay him more than $30 million.
But Drew had the right to opt out of his contract and had an aggressive agent, Scott Boras, who reasoned that another team would pay more as Drew was coming off a 100 RBI season.
Boras was right. The Red Sox signed Drew for five years and the deal could be worth $70 million.
“He’s good at his job,” said Dodgers’ General Manager Ned Colletti. “That’s all I want to say about it.”
Filling in the blanks, I can report that Colletti was very unhappy. He felt he had signed an important player in good faith. Sure the rules permitted Drew to leave, but you’d think a player coming off a successful season would want to stay, especially when he had a lot of money guaranteed.
But the rules of free agency permit an agent such as Boras to take the player away. It’s legal but it makes me yearn for the past when the players weren’t accorded such freedom.
So the Dodgers began the season with a gaping hole to fill. They signed Garciaparra, something they weren’t likely to do had Drew stayed.
They hoped youngsters Andre Eithier and Matt Kemp could develop faster than expected.
The young guys are coming along, but they can’t be expected to match Drew’s production.
Garciaparra remains a clutch hitter, but his home run production has fallen off. And second baseman Jeff Kent, a future Hall of Famer, has recently missed games with a hamstring problem.
The Dodgers aren’t far from the top in a race with the Padres – who’ve won the division the last two years – and the emerging Diamondbacks. But the Dodgers are in danger of missing the playoffs. That’s the reality of the moment.