Should Tracy Stay Or Should He Go?
Darling you gotta let me know
Stay Tuned for the Clash
Los Angeles Dodgers manager Jim Tracy and his agents, Alan and Randy Hendricks, met with owner Frank McCourt and general manager Paul DePodesta last month and reportedly asked for an extension that has little, if any, chance of being granted on his terms. Tracy has one year left on a two-year deal that was signed last winter. The contract has an escape clause that allows Tracy the right to opt out within seven days of Sunday's final game in San Diego.
Tracy is obviously going for the jugular here. Either the Dodgers agree to his request or he leaves to pursue a multi-year deal elsewhere. However, there is a third alternative, one that is likely to be exercised sooner rather than later. According to Steve Henson of the Los Angeles Times, "the club plans to let the manager know by Tuesday whether he's fired or is given a contract extension." DePodesta previously said that the Dodgers would not wait until after the opt-out period to fire Tracy "out of respect for what he's done here."
DePodesta inherited Tracy when he was hired by McCourt before the 2004 season. He had no choice other than to give him an extension after the Dodgers won the NL West last year, but there was never a reason to think that Tracy was DePo's man. If anything, the Dodgers GM made a statement by negotiating a two-year deal rather than a longer-term contract last winter.
Tracy has a penchant for taking responsibility only for wins and not losses as Jon Weisman so eloquently editorialized on his Dodger Thoughts blog this past week. Tracy's attitude in this regard reminds me of Tommy Lasorda's not so eloquent retort when asked about trading the homegrown Dave Stewart, who went on to win 20 or more games in four consecutive seasons for the Oakland A's. "Ain't my (bleeping) fault, Campanis is the (bleeping) guy!"
Nothing is ever Tracy's fault. He has cited missing components (obviously referring to the departures of Adrian Beltre, Alex Cora, Steve Finley, and Shawn Green), lack of familiarity, injuries (Milton Bradley, J.D. Drew, Eric Gagne, and Cesar Izturis, among others), and too many rookies for the Dodgers' woes this year. Tracy said Wednesday's 4-3 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks, in which Luis Gonzalez hit a go-ahead two-run HR off Yhency Brazoban in the eighth inning, was indicative of the team's season.
"It's games like that that make the difference between being mediocre and being very good. We have 14 rookies out of 32 active players in there. . .I can't remember a team that was playing in October that had that many rookies."
Rob McMillin at 6-4-2 reminded Tracy and what he called his defective memory, "Let me introduce you to this team called the Atlanta Braves, with a roster containing thirteen rookies." I would also add that the extra players in September are more likely than not going to be rookies, so it's a bit misleading to suggest that Tracy was handed a team with first-year players comprising nearly half the roster.
Tracy, in fact, was singing a different tune while the Dodgers were in the process of matching the best start (12-2) in the club's history. Here is what he had to say after the Dodgers scored eight consecutive runs to beat the Milwaukee Brewers 8-6 on April 19:
"If you look at what we've been able to do in one-run games over the past couple of years, it's indicative of a ballclub that understands what it has to do to win games like that. . .It's a tremendous team win. When you look at my lineup card and see the number of players involved, I think that would constitute a total team effort."
Hmmmph. Sounds like the components, familiarity, rookies, et al weren't a problem back then. Of course, knowing the way Tracy is, I'm sure he was as much patting himself on the back for winning those one-run games and working the roster in a masterful way as anything else.
Regarding the so-called components, does Tracy really believe that the Dodgers would be better off with the likes of Beltre (.257/.304/.415) and Finley (.220/.269/.373), players who cost their new employers $17.4M for this year alone? Would he prefer Cora (.275/.315/.402) over Jeff Kent (.289/.377/.512)? Who knows, maybe Tracy thinks these players would have magically played better had he managed them.
Rather than speculating about players who are no longer with the organization, let's concentrate on a fellow who is on the current roster. Hee-Seop Choi. The way Tracy has handled him is indefensible. To wit, Choi hit six home runs in a three-game set with the Minnesota Twins in June and slugged another vs. the Kansas City Royals in the team's next contest, giving the left-handed-hitting first baseman seven HR in a matter of four games. He went 1-for-7 over the following two games, sat out against Mark Buehrle, a southpaw, then was inexplicably benched against right-handers Woody Williams, Tim Stauffer, and Brian Lawrence after being reinserted in the starting lineup for all of two games.
Just as it appeared Choi (with 13 HR and a .540 SLG in 161 AB) was about to break out and become the offensive force both scouts and statheads have long predicted, Tracy saw fit to let him ride the pine in four of the team's ensuing nine games. His use (or misuse) of Choi just underscores the philosphical differences between the field manager and the general manager. DePodesta traded for Choi in July 2004, ostensibly to play--yet Tracy has seemingly defied his boss by going with Robin Ventura, Olmedo Saenz, or Jason Phillips more often than the 26-year-old who at least could be the longer-term answer at first base.
Let's face it, Tracy and Choi simply can't co-exist. One of them has to go. But this isn't about Tracy and Choi. It's about whether Tracy and DePodesta can co-exist. Choi is expendable. But whether he realizes it or not, Tracy is expendable, too. DePodesta is in charge here, and he needs to find a manager who can command the respect of the players as well as implement his vision. Tracy succeeded in the former requirement but failed in the latter.
Tracy has won the support of the local press and appears to be doing his best to leverage his current popularity into a longer-term deal. I recognize that it doesn't hurt to ask, but I think he has boxed himself into a corner here. He is forcing management to make a decision on his future from a position of weakness rather than strength. Yes, Tracy will be paid his 2006 base salary of $700,000 if the Dodgers fire him and he doesn't find another job, but the timing is less than ideal from his standpoint. Tracy is a full-time resident of Southern California and has two sons, Chad, a junior at Pepperdine, and Mark, a senior at Claremont High, who are highly-thought-of catchers.
If Tracy had laid low, he would have kept his job and had the chance to earn another extension at the conclusion of his contract next year. He could have seen his kids through their final year in college (Chad is a lock to be drafted next June) and high school. Instead, Tracy went all in with a short stack, and the soon-to-be former skipper is going to realize that he doesn't really have the cards to win at this table. Oh, he will surely be invited to play another game elsewhere, but his time in Los Angeles is all but up.
DePodesta, in the meantime, has three more years on his five-year deal. The next manager is on him. He won't get another shot at doing it right. So, who will he turn to when the moment arrives? Well, he could hire third-base coach Glenn Hoffman or director of player development Terry Collins, if he wanted to stay within the Dodger family and pick somebody with previous managerial experience. DePo could go outside the organization and get an Orel Hershisher or Bud Black, two highly respected pitching coaches, or perhaps Ron Roenicke, the third-base coach of the Angels who spent five years as a minor-league manager for the Dodgers during the 1990s. He could also go back to his roots in Oakland and choose Ron Washington, who is in his tenth season as a coach with the A's.
What do you think? Should Tracy stay or should he go? If he goes, who would you hire to replace him?