Thoughts On Ned Colletti And The Orioles
In a story tailor-made to stoke the always-smoldering embers of internet outrage and snark, Ken Rosenthal reported over the weekend that the Baltimore Orioles have interviewed Ned Colletti.
The reactions came fast and furious and were mostly either ambivalent or negative. I saw someone write that the Orioles interviewed Colletti “for some reason,” and a lot of other handwringing about how his supposed legacy is one of spending money like a lottery winner on terrible players and having zero championships to show for it.
(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)
For some reason, Colletti seems to be a lightning rod for this sort of reaction from some baseball fans. So let’s all take a deep breath, calm down and take a look at the situation shall we? First, the facts:
According to Rosenthal, the O’s interviewed Colletti and are “believed to be interviewing others.” So the O’s have not hired Colletti, they’ve simply started the interview process. This is a good thing, right?
Another fact: We don’t know what position Colletti interviewed for. Is it a general manager position like he held for nine season with the Dodgers? Is it a position above the GM? We don’t even know if the Orioles know what position they would want him for. For all we know, the Orioles are talking to a bunch of baseball people to get their thoughts on how a modern day front office should be structured.
The other thing we don’t know is if Colletti even wants to work under Orioles owner Peter Angelos or whoever is going to control this team moving forward. The Orioles need a new vision. We don’t know if they have one yet. Perhaps they are looking to hire someone to formulate a vision, or perhaps they are looking for someone to fit their vision. If the latter is true, Colletti would have to decide if he is that guy.
I was around the Dodgers a lot from 2014-16. First as an editor and writer for SportsNet LA – the regional sports network that airs their games – and then as a field producer for the game broadcasts. I got to know Colletti a little bit and here are some things I can tell you about him.
– He loves baseball. I think he could talk baseball all day and never get tired of it.
– He’s a good guy. From everything I witnessed, he treats people well. He certainly treated me well and I never had anybody tell me otherwise.
– He’s comfortable being the face of a franchise, but is also a delegator and doesn’t hesitate to give credit to his people. For example, when I once asked him about the lead-up to drafting Clayton Kershaw No. 7 overall in the 2006 draft (his first with the Dodgers), he gave all the credit to VP of Amateur Scouting Logan White and Texas area scout Calvin Jones, who were there before he arrived.
– He understands the importance of international scouting and most certainly would push the Orioles to boost their efforts in that area.
– While he definitely has old school sensibilities, he’s open to new ideas. He’s not inflexible.
That’s what I know from my personal dealings with him. Now to the critiques.
Bad use of money? That was the owner
A lot of people like to say Colletti had it easy. He just threw around all of that Los Angeles money, giving ridiculous contracts to bad players. That’s why he never built a championship team, right? That is a gross oversimplification of what happened, and far from fair.
Fact is, the Dodgers were not big spenders during the first seven years of Colletti’s nine-year reign, not when you consider their market size. In 2006, Colletti’s first season, the Dodgers ranked No. 6 in MLB in Opening Day payroll. In 2012, they were down to No. 12. The reason was that owner Frank McCourt was in over his head financially. Not only did he have no idea how to run a baseball team, he probably never should have been approved to buy the team in the first place. When he acrimoniously split from his wife Jamie, things got even worse (at one point Fox loaned McCourt $30 million just to cover payroll). Commissioner Bud Selig became so concerned with the financial viability of the club that in April of 2011 he actually appointed a representative – Tom Schieffer – to run the team’s finances.
In that kind of environment, Colletti’s Dodgers still made the playoffs three times in his first four seasons as general manager.
Colletti’s two most famous deals were both with the Red Sox.
In 2008, he acquired Manny Ramirez at mid-season from Boston, sending Andy LaRoche and Bryan Morris to Pittsburgh in a three-team deal. That trade was a huge success, as Ramirez hit .396 with 17 home runs and 53 RBIs in the regular season, and over .500 in the playoffs, though the Dodgers were eliminated by the Phillies in the NLCS. Ramirez would finish fourth in the NL MVP race despite playing only 53 games for the Dodgers. Think about how remarkable that is.
The other big trade came in 2012 under the Guggenheim Group ownership, which opened the purse strings in order to win back disgruntled fans and make the Dodgers the fat cats they are today. That blockbuster deal brought Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett, Nick Punto and cash from Boston for not much – Ivan De Jesus, James Loney, Allen Webster and two players to be named later, who turned out to be Rubby De La Rosa and Jerry Sands). It’s safe to say this deal was a huge success as well, laying the groundwork for the team’s recent run of success.
Free agents deals
When it comes to free agent signings, it’s more of a mixed bag for Colletti. While trading for Ramirez was a huge boost, the ensuing two-year, $45 million contract he received was derailed by a 50-game suspension for PEDs.
The Dodgers got great value from the big contracts for Kershaw (seven years, $215 million, could opt out this fall) and Zack Greinke (six years, $147 million, opted out after three seasons), but not so much with deals for Andruw Jones (two years, $36.2 million), nor the extensions for Andre Ethier (five years, $85 millions) or Matt Kemp (eight years, $160 million) – though in an odd twist, the Kemp deal has looked much better this season.
On the other hand, late-bloomer Justin Turner was an absolute steal, signed for $1 million in 2014 after he was dumped by the Mets.
Kenley Jansen was signed before Colletti came around (though he was there for the former catcher’s conversion to closer), so Colletti’s most notable international signing is probably Yasiel Puig, but he’s not the only one. He also brought an underrated pitcher to L.A. in Hiroki Kuroda and signed two guys who are very solid when healthy – Hyun-Jin Ryu and Julio Urias. He’s also had some pretty bad misses, including Alex Gonzalez and Erisbel Arruebarrena.
But for some context, you have to understand that international scouting, historically a huge point of emphasis for the Dodgers, was pared down to almost nothing under McCourt. This is what Colletti wrote about it in 2015:
A little before May 1, 2012, when Stan Kasten and the Guggenheim Group took over the Dodgers, Stan asked me what our priorities needed to be. I focused on two things. One, we had to make our big league club better. And of equal importance to me was getting back involved in Latin America. I said we could not wait another year, or even another month or two. We had to do it now and they agreed.
A couple months later we signed Yasiel Puig, and that in turn led us to signing Julio Urias. We also increased the size of our international scouting department from four scouts to roughly three times that many. We brought in Bob Engle as our Vice President of International Scouting to handle duties that had previously been run by Logan White, who was already in charge of our domestic scouting. … We’ve increased our department from one of the smallest to perhaps the largest in baseball.
This is one potential huge sticking point I could see with Colletti and the Orioles. He understands the importance of international scouting, especially in Latin America. I could see him making this a point of emphasis in any discussion with the Orioles, who have been so ambivalent to that area of the game.
Would Ned Colletti be a good choice to join the Orioles? It depends. I know that seems like a copout, but it’s hard to say if the fit would be right without knowing who would be reporting to whom, how the front office would be structured and how they plan to dig out of this hole.
I don’t see Colletti coming on if the Orioles plan to continue to ignore the international market, and I could be wrong here, but I don’t see him coming on to report to Brady Anderson.
Colletti might not be the sexiest choice. He’s not in the mold of Theo Epstein. But the fact is that he’s a sharp guy who loves baseball. He has done well under adverse circumstances and there is no reason to think he can’t succeed under good ones.
Sure, you can point to the fact that he hasn’t won a World Series, but neither has anyone running the Dodgers since 1988. Neither, for that matter has Peter Angelos. And keep in mind, the Dodgers’ roster that came within a game of a championship last fall was largely built by Ned Colletti.
Bob Harkins is a former editor and writer for Time Warner Cable Sports in Los Angeles, where he helped cover the Dodgers and Lakers. Prior to that, he was a senior editor and writer for NBCSports.com, leading the site’s coverage of Major League Baseball for nine seasons. He always believed that Major League catcher was the toughest job in sports -- until he wrote a series on professional rodeo cowboys. Talk about tough!