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Without a Trace?

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There has been plenty of speculation recently on the future of Dodgers Manager Jim Tracy. Apparently Tracy can opt out of the two-year contract he signed last winter, and some feel he might.In today's LA Times, Bill Plaschke adds yet another volume to his DePodesta Hate-Fest, claiming that Tracy should opt out if he isn't guaranteed a long-term contract and more influence in personnel decisions.

And what, praytell, has Tracy done to earn a long-term contract? What has he done to earn himself such influence that only managers like Bobby Cox and Tony LaRussa have been granted?

The truth is that we like Jim Tracy. He has been humble for most of his career. He has deftly handled one controversy after another, beginning with Gary Sheffield's trade/contract demands, and continuing up through Milton Bradley and Jeff Kent's scuffle. He has worked under four different general managers, and two different owners. He has generally positive force in the clubhouse. And seems to command a decent amount of respect from his players.

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Tracy has been a good manager. But he's never proven to be a great one.

For all of his accomplishments, he's also made some mistakes. In 2001, with the Dodgers in a pennant race, he decided to go with a 4-man rotation in September. All that did was wear out a tired pitching staff, and the Dodgers successfully pitched themselves out of the playoffs, going 21-28 in August and September. In 2002, Jim Tracy again led the Dodgers to late-season failure, taking a team that led the NL West in late-August to finish six games back of the division-winning Giants and 3.5 games behind the Wild Card winning Giants.

In 2003, Tracy had the best bullpen in the Major Leagues since the Korean War (we're not kidding about that... look it up), yet absolutely nothing he did worked on offense. The team was foiled by its .303 on-base percentage and .243 batting average, and finished six games behind wild card winning Florida. Some blame Dan Evans for the 2003 Dodgers' poor offense, and that is fair to an extent. If you do that, then you also have to credit Evans for building an absolutely amazing pitching staff. But Tracy should take some responsibility for that team's offensive failings. After all, he is the manager.

Last season was Tracy's best as the Dodgers won 93 games, and its first playoff game since 1988. It was enough to get him a two-year contract extension, which we praised at the time. We thought that Tracy would continue to act like the "yes man" he was hired to be by Kevin Malone, and would let DePodesta dictate the team's philosophy while he handled on-field operations.

It hasn't quite worked out that way this season. Emboldened by people like Plaschke, who think DePodesta is an idiot, Tracy has gone out on his own limb a few more times in 2005.

He hasn't gone crazy, but his refusal to work either Antonio Perez or Hee Seop Choi into the lineup is puzzling. Granted, Perez (a .316 hitter) has shown a complete ineptness at fielding any position besides second base. So why not move him to second base? When Jeff Kent was signed, he said he'd be willing to play 1B, 2B, or 3B. Why not hold him to his word? Kent has been something of a defensive liability at 2B, but has shown he can still hit the cover off the ball. Would moving him to 1B really hurt his offense that much? If anything, wouldn't playing 1B be easier on his body, allowing him to be even more effective at the plate? And why has playing third base gone completely out of the picture? If Kent is really willing to do whatever it takes to win, then a position should change should be considered.

As for Choi, it seems like all this guy needs is for a manager to show some confidence in him. Tracy hasn't liked him from day one. His hitting has been inconsistent, but he has shown flashes of absolute brilliance. Why is it so hard to just let him alone, have Tim Wallach work with him, and see if the kid can really play? Instead, he got yanked from the starting lineup before midseason, and we have to watch Jason Phillips flail away at first base. If the most viable option over Choi is Jason Phillips, then either Choi or Kent should clearly be playing 1B.

Also this season, Tracy has done a relatively poor job of judging his pitchers' limits. Yes, we know Jeff Weaver's temper tantrums are difficult to withstand, but if he gives up another 3 runs in the 6th or 7th innings, we'll throw a temper tantrum of our own. How many times this season have the Dodgers let games get away from them when a starting pitcher gives up big hits in the middle-late portion of ball games? It seems like it's happened far too often. Granted, the bullpen hasn't been great either, but you have to know when your starters have had enough.

Like we said, we still do like Tracy. But this post is seeking to add balance on the Dodgers manager which has been missing from many articles you've been reading lately.

So should the Dodgers offer Tracy a long-term contract? No. He hasn't earned it. A two-year contract is actually very long by Dodger standards, when you consider that Walter Alston and Tommy Lasorda signed one-year deals they're whole career. But Tracy has only had one great season, and a few other respectable ones. This season is probably his worst managerial job, and LAist would argue that's even putting aside the personnel issues. Smart teams don't offer long-term contract to managers after seasons like this one.

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If Tracy wants to opt out, that's his own personal decision to make. While Plaschke reports that as many as six teams might need managers in this offseason, does Tracy really want to go to his hometown of Cincinnati and try to win a division there? He's much better off in LA.

While it would be tough to say "good-bye" to Tracy, if he wants to stay, he has to recognize and adhere to the philosophy of the ball club. It's a similar model to what the Red Sox did with Terry Francona in order to win the World Series. It's what Oakland has done for years with Art Howe and Ken Macha, and it's worked extremely well for them. Tracy has input, but at the end of the day, after all of the discussions have concluded and a decision has been reached, it's up to the manager to communicate with his players and execute the organization's strategy on the field.

If Jim Tracy cannot do that, and cannot buy into DePodesta's vision, then perhaps he should leave. It's up to him to decide how he wants to treat 2006.

Within the next few days, LAist will have another post that will evaluate Paul DePodesta's short tenure with the Dodgers. The young general manager has come under considerable scrutiny, and some have even speculated that he will be let go after this season. In the near-future, LAist will also consider statements from Plaschke, such as "by rebuilding with cheap minor leaguers instead of expensive free agents, the Dodgers could get worse before they get better" (Have fun with that one, Baseball Prospectus). LAist will offer its own opinion as to how the Dodgers can get better.