LOS ANGELES — Do you want me or not?
That was the question manager Don Mattingly put forth to upper management in a tense and awkward news conference Monday at Dodger Stadium.
Mattingly revealed that the team option in his contract for 2014 became guaranteed when the Dodgers beat the Atlanta Braves in a National League division series. However, the manager quickly added, "That doesn't mean I'll be back."
Mattingly and general manager Ned Colletti sat only a few feet apart on the dais, but it was apparent a sizable chasm had developed between Mattingly and the front office that Colletti represented.
Mattingly said he wanted to return the Dodgers next season, but made it clear he didn't want to be a lame-duck manager again.
"This has been a frustrating, tough year, honestly," Mattingly said. "With the payroll and the guys that you have, it puts you in a tough spot in the clubhouse. We dealt with that all year long. Really what it does, it puts me in a spot where everything that I do is questioned because I'm basically trying out or auditioning to say, 'Can he manage or can he not manage?' To me, it's at that point where, three years in, you either know or you don't."
Translation: Offer me a multi-year contract. Or else.
Last winter, Mattingly predicted how his contract status would affect him and his team, which is why he asked the Dodgers to exercise his option before the season. They didn't. So, naturally, when the Dodgers were in last place in May, there was rampant media speculation Mattingly would be fired.
Uncertainty over Mattingly's future even affected postseason story lines. The ill-fated decision to lift Adrian Gonzalez for pinch-runner Dee Gordon in the eighth inning of Game 1 of the National League Championship Series became more than a questionable decision, as analysts wondered if the move could cost Mattingly his job.
All of this could have been avoided had team President Stan Kasten budged from his stance of refusing to comment on Mattingly's situation.
Kasten operated under the mistaken assumption that if he didn't address it, it wouldn't be written or talked about. The tactic might have worked in smaller cities in which Kasten previously ran teams, but backfired spectacularly in America's second-largest media market.
Not wanting to cause any distractions for his team, Mattingly played along with Kasten during the season, according to a person familiar with the manager's thinking. But Mattingly became upset in the days that followed the Dodgers' elimination, as no one reached out to him to address his or his coaching staff's future.
Kasten usually loves talking in front of television cameras, but conveniently excused himself from the Monday news conference. Later, he declined an additional opportunity to defend his handling of the matter. As such, Colletti was left in the uncomfortable position of answering questions on his behalf.
Another potential source of contention came to light when Mattingly was asked if he wanted to retain his entire coaching staff.
"If it was up to me," Mattingly said in the affirmative, folding his arms and looking away from Colletti.
Colletti was asked if he felt the same way.
"We'll talk about everything internally," Colletti said.