BILL PLASCHKE

Dodgers, Don Mattingly need to find middle ground

If Mattingly's not the perfect manager, he's certainly a good one for this veteran team. But he needs to watch what he says, or he's gone, quicker than you can say Trey Hillman.

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 Don Mattingly

Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly, right, takes part in a news conference with General Manager Ned Colletti on Monday. Mattingly is not happy with his current contract. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times / October 21, 2013)

Don Mattingly has taken his shots, the Dodgers have fired back, the steam that had been building under their disillusioning October failure has been angrily blown off and will soon drift away into the quiet of winter.

Does everybody feel better? Good. Now, for the sake of this current roster's rapidly closing window on a championship, it's time for a compromise.

The Dodgers need to realize the importance of Mattingly's strengths and give him some security beyond his current one-year contract.

Mattingly needs to realize the importance of his weaknesses and embrace a new bench coach to help him with late-game decisions, even though this coach will replace fired friend Trey Hillman.

Both of these things should happen during the calm of baseball's World Series-mandated news embargo, after which the Dodgers should hold a news conference announcing Mattingly's new deal and introducing the new coach.

This is not only the most obvious solution, it's the only solution. Anything else, and Mattingly is gone. Anything else, and it becomes clear the Dodgers wanted him gone all along, and that would be a mistake.

No, the Dodgers don't need Mattingly walking Reed Johnson or pinch-running for Adrian Gonzalez. But, yes, for a variety of other reasons, the Dodgers still need Mattingly.

Armed with someone to guide his strategy as Don Zimmer or Larry Bowa helped Joe Torre, Mattingly has the potential to become another Torre. He is a great clubhouse presence who led the Dodgers to the postseason by deftly defusing explosives in every corner. He is the first manager to influence Hanley Ramirez to play hard and play hurt. He is the first manager to turn Andre Ethier into a team player. He kept wild child Yasiel Puig from turning the place into a circus. He helped turn former clubhouse lawyer Adrian Gonzalez into a quiet leader while navigating the changing role of injured but still influential Matt Kemp.

The Dodgers need him, and Mattingly needs the Dodgers. He thinks he can walk away from here and into a better spot? Really? Where? With the high payroll, huge fan base and Hollywood exposure, the Guggenheim-led Dodgers have become one of the best managerial destinations in baseball.

All of which makes it surprising that Mattingly would choose to blindside ownership Monday with thinly veiled public threats to leave. Mattingly stunned the organization by using a routine end-of-the-year news conference to express his distress over the one-year renewal of his contract. After working as a lame duck all season, Mattingly intimated he could not work another year under the same conditions.

"When you're put in this situation, the organization basically says, 'We don't know if you can manage or not,'" Mattingly complained.

It was so unlike the calm and considered Mattingly to pull such a power play that one wonders if he was receiving some advice from elsewhere. If so, it was bad advice, because it made the Dodgers suddenly wonder about his loyalty. Why would they give a multiple-year contract to a guy who they now believe is capable of publicly ripping them when times are tough? If Mattingly is suddenly fired, this outburst will be the breaking point.

On Tuesday, the Dodgers showed exactly what they think of his managing by firing his close friend Hillman. This was not a surprise, and not because Hillman was a bad bench coach, but because Hillman was just the wrong bench coach for Mattingly, who needs a more veteran presence unafraid to challenge him.

So what happens now? The immediate future of the Dodgers as a contender hangs in the balance.

Here's hoping the Dodgers realize that Mattingly was just speaking out of frustration, and that he's worth another year on his contract.

Here's hoping Mattingly realizes that he indeed needs a new bench coach, and embraces change while acknowledging to the Dodgers that this entire issue could have been handled internally.

Although the final game was only days ago, it seems some folks have already forgotten that these Dodgers finished just two games — or one Hanley Ramirez broken rib — short of advancing to the World Series for the first time in 25 years. This is not the time to change managers.

If Don Mattingly and the Dodgers won't agree on anything else, can't they agree on that?

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

Twitter: @billplaschke

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