NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- When chairman Mark Walter addressed the Dodgers' company-wide organizational meeting last month, he spelled out the expectations of an ownership group that has enjoyed spectacular success in other endeavors.
Manager Don Mattingly calls it "responsibility" and "accountability." In other words, the pressure to win is on in a way that Mattingly can relate to his days with the Yankees.
"Any time the payroll looks like ours [possibly north of $200 million in 2013], there will be a lot of expectations, and we've got to be ready to live up to them," Mattingly said at his Winter Meetings media briefing on Tuesday.
"We've got to be accountable, got to play the game the right way, be prepared. We don't want the situation we were in last year, having to win every day for the Wild Card or a one-game playoff. I'm sure every article written will have something about our payroll. At the end of the day, we have to put a team together and get back to the simplicity of doing the little things right a lot.
"Guys have to be ready for the questions. I can hear it now. As the payroll has grown, the comments are totally different. The fans say you're overpaid, you're spoiled. Wow. That's just part of reality, the way it's going to be. We have to be ready to take that head on."
Even though the health of some of his best players (Matt Kemp, Carl Crawford, Chad Billingsley, Kenley Jansen, Ted Lilly, etc.) is uncertain and targeted acquisitions of Zack Greinke and Ryu Hyun-jin are incomplete, Mattingly wouldn't trade his current position from a year ago, when he went into a season shorthanded and a midseason influx of acquisitions didn't produce a winner.
"I can't say it was tough [a year ago], but it just didn't seem to work really well," he said. "One-third of our roster flipped at the Deadline, and only a 35-day window with Josh Beckett and Adrian Gonzalez. It will be nice to get everybody in camp together, lay a foundation of how we want to play and get in shape and work together, the team-building stuff you do in Spring Training. Last year it was put guys together and see if it works out.
"The first year , you know you've got to do everything right. In a sense last year we were better early in the season knowing that things would change, but it's better this year knowing you have talent and you're not going in saying everybody has to have a career year."
Mattingly said he remains committed to starting Hanley Ramirez at shortstop, as long as Ramirez is committed to improving his defensive angles, which he was working on while playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic with extra coaching from Tim Wallach and Jose Vizcaino.
Ramirez also wants to play the position for the national team in the World Baseball Classic, although the competition for shortstop with former Marlins teammate Jose Reyes could move Ramirez to third base again. Mattingly said he didn't discourage Ramirez to play, even though it will interfere with Spring Training. But Mattingly said he'd rather have Ramirez in camp playing shortstop than playing third base in the World Baseball Classic.
Is Mattingly still OK with career Minor Leaguer Luis Cruz at third base after an impressive half-season with the Dodgers?
"I'm not really concerned at third if Hanley is working out at short," Mattingly said. "Cruz had a great year. Will he do that again? We'll see. You can't always count on that. There's Jerry Hairston, Nick Punto, Juan Uribe. We're still looking at other options. If short is steady, I'm good at third. If short is not steady, then we've got issues."
Mattingly, who flew in for last week's meeting with Greinke, said he also has spoken to outfielder Andre Ethier to assure him he would not be traded after that rumor surfaced last month.
He said he's been texting with Kemp, who he predicted will be "ready to go by Spring Training," if not at full speed, after shoulder surgery. He said he's optimistic the club "dodged a bullet" with Billingsley's elbow injury, but acknowledged enough concern by management that contributed to the club's pursuit of free-agent pitching.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com.