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DePodesta on the Way Out

Times Staff Writers

On the heels of a fourth-place finish and in the midst of a managerial search, the Dodgers are expected to fire General Manager Paul DePodesta, perhaps as early as this weekend, highly placed sources in the organization said Friday.

Barring a change of heart by Frank McCourt, all that is left is for the Dodger owner to meet with DePodesta and make an announcement. DePodesta did not speak with McCourt as of late Friday, although the owner and his wife, team President Jamie McCourt, were in their offices into the early evening.

Neither DePodesta nor McCourt would comment. Dodger spokeswoman Camille Johnston said she could not confirm that DePodesta, who has three years remaining on his contract, would be fired. However, a conference call DePodesta had scheduled with reporters to discuss the managerial search was canceled and McCourt postponed a dinner with Terry Collins, who had been considered the leading candidate.

DePodesta had philosophical differences with former manager Jim Tracy, and the new hire was to be a final piece in transforming the Dodgers into his vision. DePodesta presided over organizational meetings for three days this week, giving lengthy reports to scouts about every player on the major league roster.

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But he did not meet with managerial candidate Orel Hershiser on Tuesday. Hershiser, the Texas Ranger pitching coach and former Dodger, instead had a lengthy dinner with McCourt and senior advisor Tom Lasorda.

DePodesta’s departure would bring an abrupt close to a turbulent chapter in Dodger history characterized by complex statistical analysis and Ivy League credentials.

A Harvard graduate, DePodesta was only 31 when McCourt hired him shortly after purchasing the team in January 2004. DePodesta had been the assistant general manager of the Oakland Athletics, a small-market team that thrived in part because of innovative roster building. Athletic General Manager Billy Beane declined an invitation to be interviewed then, and recommended his protege.

The Dodgers flourished in DePodesta’s first season, winning the National League West Division title, making their first postseason appearance since 1996 and winning their first playoff game since 1988. But DePodesta stunned Dodger fans and many players by trading popular catcher Paul Lo Duca and two other players at midseason, providing the first hint that he was less concerned with team chemistry than assembling the pieces he believed necessary to win.

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The off-season brought an avalanche of changes. Popular outfielder Shawn Green was traded and power-hitting third baseman Adrian Beltre was allowed to leave as a free agent. The Dodgers spent $144 million on free agents -- second in baseball to the New York Mets -- and among the signings was second baseman Jeff Kent, who led the Dodgers in most offensive categories.

Yet many observers believed DePodesta should not have re-signed enigmatic pitcher Odalis Perez and that he overspent for outfielder J.D. Drew and pitchers Derek Lowe -- both of whom are represented by agent Scott Boras.

The Dodgers jumped out to a 12-2 start, but injuries and poor play soon derailed the season, and the team’s record of 71-91 was its worst since 1992 and second-worst since moving to Los Angeles in 1958. Among the injured were closer Eric Gagne, outfielder Milton Bradley, shortstop Cesar Izturis and Drew -- whom DePodesta had signed to a five-year, $55-million contract despite a history of injuries.

The holes were filled mostly by rookies -- 20 first-year players were used, the most in baseball -- but few stood out. No Dodgers were on Baseball America’s first or second All-Rookie teams.

When Bradley and Kent feuded near the end of the regular season, leading to confusion and enmity among the players, it was McCourt -- not DePodesta -- who addressed the clubhouse in a closed-door meeting.

The low-key, introverted DePodesta gained a reputation for not communicating well, both within and outside Dodger Stadium. Although he is personable and articulate, he has never seemed entirely comfortable in the public eye, whether talking to the media, players or Dodger administrative employees.

Losing was new for DePodesta. The teams he worked for every year since breaking into baseball as a low-level front-office employee with Cleveland in 1997 had posted winning records. Yet he seemed to gain resolve, saying the last week of the season, “This experience has made me feel taller. I’m more convinced than ever that the Dodgers eventually will be a dynasty.”

As the season wound down, he pondered whether to fire Tracy, who could barely conceal his resentment toward the plethora of roster changes and had given the Dodgers an ultimatum: Either extend his contract and give him a raise, or he would opt out of the last year of his current deal.

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On Oct. 3, the day after the season finale, the Dodgers announced they had “parted ways” with Tracy, who was hired to manage the Pittsburgh Pirates eight days later. DePodesta soon announced a list of five managerial candidates, and it became clear that the leader was Collins, the Dodger farm director.

McCourt gave DePodesta a vote of confidence during an interview with The Times on Oct. 6, but he also made it clear he would not tolerate another losing season.

“The tremendous success we had last year and the huge disappointment this year just reinforced that it is a path, a plan, an overall approach to win consistently,” McCourt said. “You can’t get too high with the highs and too low with the lows. We’re not as smart as we seemed in 2004 and not as dumb as we seemed this year.

“You’ve got to be steady and have a plan and be smart enough to adjust the plan, but stay the course.”

Now it appears the course has changed dramatically. Collins’ interview with McCourt was perhaps the last step before he would be hired. However, the interview is postponed until Monday.

The Dodgers announced Friday they have eliminated from consideration triple-A manager Jerry Royster, San Francisco bench coach Ron Wotus and Cleveland minor league manager Torey Lovullo. That leaves only Collins, Hershiser and fired Detroit manager Alan Trammell among those who have interviewed. But the Dodgers also have made contact with former Met manager Bobby Valentine, whose team won the Japan Series this week.

DePodesta personifies the new wave of well-educated young executives who have not played in the major leagues. The trend hasn’t abated if the recent hirings of 28-year-old Cornell graduate Jon Daniels by the Texas Rangers and 35-year-old Josh Byrnes by the Arizona Diamondbacks are an indication.

But given his displeasure with DePodesta, McCourt is likely to seek a general manager with a verifiable track record.

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Pat Gillick, who interviewed for the Dodger job before it was given to DePodesta, is vying to become general manager of the Philadelphia Phillies. Gerry Hunsicker, the architect of the World Series runner-up Houston Astros, quit after last season and has interviewed with the Phillies as well.

John Hart this month resigned from the Rangers. Jim Bowden has interviewed with the Dodgers before, and while he recently received a six-month extension with the Washington Nationals, he was a candidate in Arizona.

Other potential candidates include Mark Newman (senior vice president, New York Yankees), Kevin Towers (general manager, San Diego), and Dennis Gilbert (special advisor to the chairman, Chicago White Sox).

“I have gained an appreciation of how difficult it is to win, that’s fair to say,” McCourt said three weeks ago. “It’s a huge task to win, and we have set the bar higher to win on a consistent basis. I’m mindful and respectful of the task and aware of how high we set the bar here.”

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BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX

DePodesta’s big decisions

Major transactions involving Paul DePodesta since he became Dodger general manager Feb. 16, 2004:

* March 30, 2004 -- Acquired outfielder Jayson Werth from Toronto for right-hander Jason Frasor.

* April 3, 2004 -- Acquired infielder Antonio Perez from Tampa Bay for outfielder Jason Romano.

* April 4, 2004 -- Acquired outfielder Milton Bradley from Cleveland for outfielder Franklin Gutierrez and right-hander Andrew Brown.

* July 30, 2004 -- Acquired right-hander Brad Penny, first baseman Hee-Seop Choi and left-hander Bill Murphy from Florida for right-hander Guillermo Mota, catcher Paul Lo Duca and outfielder Juan Encarnacion.

* July 31, 2004 -- Acquired catcher Brent Mayne and outfielder Steve Finley from Arizona for left-hander Bill Murphy, catcher Koyie Hill and outfielder Reggie Abercrombie.

* Dec. 9, 2004 -- Signed free-agent second baseman Jeff Kent to a two-year contract.

* Dec. 16, 2004 -- Third baseman Adrian Beltre turns down Dodgers’ offer of a six-year, $60-million contract plus an option to sign a five-year, $64-million contract with Seattle.

* Dec. 22, 2004 -- Signed free-agent outfielder J.D. Drew to a five-year contract.

* Jan. 7, 2005 -- Re-signed left-hander Odalis Perez to a three-year contract with a club option.

* Jan. 11, 2005 -- Signed free-agent right-hander Derek Lowe to a four-year contract; acquired catcher Dioner Navarro and three minor league pitchers for outfielder Shawn Green and cash.

* Jan. 17, 2005 -- Signed shortstop Cesar Izturis to a three-year contract with a club option.

* Jan. 20, 2005 -- Signed right-hander Eric Gagne to a two-year contract with a mutual option.

* March 20, 2005 -- Acquired catcher Jason Phillips from the New York Mets for left-hander Kazuhisa Ishii.

* May 9, 2005 -- Purchased the contract of third baseman Oscar Robles of the Mexican league.

* Aug. 9, 2005 -- Acquired outfielder Jose Cruz Jr. from Boston for a player to be named.

Sources: Los Angeles Times and Dodgers

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BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX

Dodger GMs

According to several Dodger sources, Paul DePodesta is about to be dismissed. A look at Los Angeles Dodger general managers:

E.J. “Buzzie” Bavasi, 1958-68

* Dodgers won World Series in 1959, 1963 and 1965. Teams won four pennants under his guidance.

Fresco Thompson, 1968

* Moved fast up the executive ladder, then died in 1968 shortly after becoming executive vice president and general manager.

Al Campanis, 1968-87

* Dodgers won the World Series in 1981 and appeared in the World Series in 1974, ’77 and ’78. The team won the division in 1983 and ’85.

Fred Claire, 1987-98

* Put together the improbable 1988 World Series winner after losing 98 games the year before. Dodgers won the division in 1995 and a wild-card berth in ’96.

Tom Lasorda, 1998

* After the new Fox ownership group fired Claire, former manager Lasorda was hired as GM on an interim basis.

Kevin Malone, 1998-01

* Had a 2 1/2 -year tenure of questionable baseball decisions (Kevin Brown) and unusual moments (argument with a fan in San Diego) before resigning.

Dave Wallace, 2001

* After Malone resigned, assistant general manager Wallace, the former pitching coach, oversaw baseball operations on an interim basis.

Dan Evans, 2001-04

* Picked up James Baldwin, Terry Mulholland, Mike Trombley and Omar Daal. But is also credited with assembling the core of the 2004 division winner.

Paul DePodesta, 2004-05

* The general manager schooled in the “Moneyball” philosophy won a division title in his first season and had little go right in his second.

MAJOR ACQUISITIONS

* Milton Bradley by trade

* Brad Penny in trade

* Hee-Seop Choi by trade

* Steve Finley by trade

* Jeff Kent through free agency

* J.D. Drew through free agency

* Derek Lowe through free agency

MAJOR DEPARTURES

* Paul Lo Duca by trade

* Guillermo Mota by trade

* Juan Encarnacion by trade

* Steve Finley through free agency

* Adrian Beltre through free agency

Sources: Los Angeles Times, Dodgers, baseball-reference.com and baseball-almanac.com


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