GLENDALE, Ariz. — Don Mattingly made one thing clear Tuesday before his team’s first full-squad spring training workout: The Dodgers still reign in L.A.
Drawing on his long tenure in New York — where the Yankees ruled and the Mets always took a back seat — Mattingly isn’t concerned with making comparisons to the neighboring Angels and their impressive winter: They landed blockbuster free agent slugger Albert Pujols on a $254 million, 10-year contract. Pitcher C.J. Wilson also was acquired for five years and $77.5 million.
“It’s kind of like the Mets and the Yankees,” Mattingly said. “No matter what the Mets did, they’re going to have their years that they play well but the Yankees are the team. I don’t want to badmouth the Angels at all. And I know Mr. (Arte) Moreno does a great job down there in Anaheim and Mike (Scioscia) does a great job and they’ve had a great run.
“We’re the Dodgers and it’s not going to change,” he added. “We need to play baseball. At the end of the day, if we do things right, we worry about ourselves, we take care of our business, you don’t worry about what another team’s doing. Not even negative at all because they did a tremendous job down there, but at the end of the day, the Dodgers are the Dodgers.”
“An L.A. Tradition” is the team’s 2012 marketing slogan — to be seen in the coming weeks on billboards and T-shirts.
If anybody doubted this club’s swagger after a couple of down years, just steal a glance at slugger Matt Kemp. Getting ready Tuesday morning at his corner locker — a space previously occupied by Manny Ramirez and Rafael Furcal — the National League MVP runner-up switched on his music, pulled on a Dodger Blue headband and later began dancing for his teammates.
And he agrees whole heartedly with his manager.
“Definitely, there’s only one Los Angeles team. That is the L.A. Dodgers,” Kemp said. “They’ve got a great squad in Anaheim and I’m sure when they come to play us and we go to play them, the stadium is going to be rocking. It’s going to be exciting to play those guys and to see Pujols over there. Good thing he’s over in the American League now. Now he can’t kill us in the National League.
Actually we still have to play him. We don’t get rid of him, some of those other guys do.”
Kemp received a $160 million, eight-year contract last fall that matches the seventh-highest deal in baseball history and richest in franchise history. He led the league in home runs (39) and RBI (126), while finishing third in batting average at .324. He also stole 40 bases.
He’s predicting a 50-50 year for 2012 — 50 homers, 50 steals. The feat has never been accomplished.
“That’s just something I said. I think everybody just kind of ran with that,” Kemp said. “If I could even just get close to 50-50, that would be a great season. Anything’s possible, man, that’s just the way I look at it.”
Los Angeles general manager Ned Colletti said he is eager for the financially troubled franchise’s sale to get through this spring so everyone can move forward.
Mattingly and Colletti addressed the team in a pre-practice meeting at Camelback Ranch, where Hall of Famer Tommy Lasorda was taxied to the field by golf cart and signed autographs.
Colletti brought up to the players the fact that there are many unknowns with a sale expected to be finalized by April 30.
“At this stage, it will be good to get another chapter going,” Colletti said. “It’s been a different couple years. Change is coming. Again, our focus has got to be on the field and figuring out how to win games because we’ve got nothing else we can really worry about or affect change to.”
In the sale process agreed to last year by Major League Baseball and current Dodgers owner Frank McCourt, MLB will consider groups for approval before McCourt selects the winner of the auction. The price tag is expected to exceed $1 billion.
“They shouldn’t be worried about it,” Colletti said. “Nobody knows what’s going to transpire in the next month or two. But it’s really irrelevant to winning the game. The focus has to be on preparation and getting ready to play.”
Ace and reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw, not surprisingly already selected as the Dodgers’ opening day starter, figures if everybody on the roster makes even small strides, Los Angeles will be in a much improved position.
“The guys that we have coming back from last year, either do what they did last year or just stay healthy and we’ll be great,” Kershaw said. “And the guys that we added can only help us, so I think we’ve got a good shot, especially if we build off the last month and a half, two months of the season. Just remember what that felt like and we’ll be OK.”
That’s something Colletti spoke about in a four-minute message to the players.
While Los Angeles went 82-79 in Mattingly’s first season in 2011 for third place in the NL West, the Dodgers were 34-20 over August and September to show some positive strides.
They were 14 games below .500 on July 6 and finished at a season-best three over. The club had losing months from April through July before things began to click.
“Build off the last two months,” Colletti said of his words. “To play as well as we played being as far out as we were, it’s not easy to do. We played the top two teams in every division to do that. I told them to grow close because we have a lot of new guys in the room, a lot of new free agents and young players. Sports is really about competitive edge.”