LOS ANGELES – After Grady Little's agonizing departure as manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers on Tuesday, all that is left to complete a coast-to-coast transition for Joe Torre is for him to reach agreement on the three-year offer that sources said owner Frank McCourt and general manager Ned Colletti put on the table. Although negotiations could grind on for another day or two, nothing should stand in the way of Torre becoming the next Dodgers manager.
Sources said Torre is fighting for more money for his coaches, who were paid well above average with the New York Yankees. Pitching coach Rick Honeycutt and first base coach Mariano Duncan are the only current Dodgers coaches who could be retained, and Torre's staff likely would include Don Mattingly and, perhaps, Lee Mazzilli, Larry Bowa and Jose Cardenal, all of whom were on his Yankees staff.
Little's resignation, first reported by Yahoo! Sports, capped three weeks of uncertainty. A season-ending disagreement between Little and Colletti resulted in an uneasy silence between the two, that distance spurring the club's recent attempts to replace Little last week with Joe Girardi and this week with Torre and, perhaps, other candidates. The Dodgers believed they had reached an agreement with Girardi at the end of last week, with the announcement to be made at the conclusion of the World Series. Instead, the Yankees matched the Dodgers' offer of $7.5 million over three seasons, and Girardi accepted.
Colletti then shifted his emphasis to Torre, who on Oct. 18 declined a one-year, incentive-heavy offer to manage a 13th season for the Yankees, calling it, "insulting." Torre, who took the Yankees to 12 consecutive postseasons and won four World Series titles, is expected to command significantly more in compensation than Girardi, whose one season in Florida, while successful, ended in conflict with owner Jeffrey Loria and his dismissal.
"We're talking to some people, that's all I'm going to tell you," Colletti said during a conference call Tuesday evening. "We'll talk about where we go from here at a later date."
Said Little: "I've got my own personal reasons. It was a mutual resignation."
The Dodgers have been portrayed as eager to cast aside Little in the wake of their second-half collapse, and as the attractive options of Girardi and Torre became available. In fact, Colletti expected Little to return for a third season until recently, according to sources, when he came to believe Little was having reservations about returning.
According to a source, Colletti met with Little and his coaching staff in the manager's office on Sept. 30, shortly after the Dodgers ended their season with an 11-2 loss to the San Francisco Giants. The loss left the Dodgers in fourth place, eight games behind the Arizona Diamondbacks. They'd been in first place on July 26. Two weeks later, they were in fourth place, and a month later the clubhouse had degenerated into daily bickering and finger-pointing, with high-profile veterans and young players debating the other's role in the collapse.
In that setting, Colletti opened the meeting by blaming himself for personnel decisions that might have left the team thin in the starting rotation and everyday lineup, then put equal responsibility for the 82-80 record on Little and his staff. Little, according to the source, "didn't take it well."
Little defended himself and his staff, saying they'd worked harder and gotten more out of the team in 2007 than they had in 2006, when the Dodgers won the National League wild card, ultimately losing in a division series to the New York Mets.
"It went downhill from there," the source said.
When the meeting was over, Little went home to North Carolina with the impression Colletti would rather he not return, but would have him back because he was under contract for 2008, the option for which was exercised in March. Colletti believed Little would take two weeks to consider his future with the Dodgers. By the end of three weeks, when he hadn't heard from Little, Colletti began the process of identifying a potential replacement, turning first to Girardi, whom he knew when both were employed by the Chicago Cubs.
By then, however, Little had decided he was of the mind and heart to manage the Dodgers again in 2008. He called Colletti, they talked through the pointed parts of the meeting, and told him so.
Colletti, by then, had what he believed to be an agreement with Girardi's agent, and couldn't be sure of Little's enthusiasm for the job. When he was notified of Girardi's decision, therefore, Colletti engaged Torre in conversations, still unsure if he was in a full-scale manager search or simply hedging against Little's hesitation.
On Tuesday there was no more guessing. Little, who holds a .552 winning percentage in two seasons with the Dodgers and two with the Boston Red Sox, stepped down.
"There's a lot of belief I've been dealt an injustice here," Little said. "That couldn't be further from the truth. My plans? To play with my grandkids."