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Gillick Is Not a Sure Thing

Times Staff Writer

The Dodgers might need to move quickly if they want Pat Gillick as their next general manager.

The veteran baseball executive is a leading candidate to fill the vacancy with the Philadelphia Phillies, who could make an offer tonight. Gillick, an advisor to the Seattle Mariners, said Sunday night that although the Dodgers have received permission from Seattle to contact him, they have not done so.

“They haven’t teed anything up,” he said. “I hopefully would have an opportunity to speak with the Dodgers. Maybe [today].”

The Phillies are expected to choose between Gillick and former Houston Astro general manager Gerry Hunsicker. Other candidates are Phillie assistant GMs Ruben Amaro Jr. and Mike Arbuckle, and Cleveland assistant GM Chris Antonetti, who will be interviewed today.

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Hunsicker, who resigned after the 2004 season after building much of the Astro team that advanced to the World Series this season, also is a candidate for the Dodger opening created when Paul DePodesta was fired Saturday by team owner Frank McCourt.

However, Hunsicker has not been approached yet. A Dodger spokeswoman said that Gillick is the only candidate the Dodgers have asked permission to speak to and that no candidates unaffiliated with teams had been contacted.

Hunsicker and Gillick -- who led Toronto to World Series titles in 1992 and ’93 and also had successful stints as GM in Seattle and Baltimore -- have impeccable credentials. Gillick might be more sensitive to public relations than Hunsicker, which may be a factor because the Dodgers thought DePodesta lacked strong communication skills.

Another candidate could be Washington National GM Jim Bowden, who last week got a six-month contract extension.

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“Jim has permission to explore any potential opportunities, because we’re not in a position to guarantee him anything beyond next week,” National President Tony Tavares said.

McCourt interviewed Gillick for the opening 20 months ago and hired DePodesta instead. Gillick, 68, said he is not bitter about being snubbed in favor of a 31-year-old with no experience as a GM.

“The owner has a right to make a call, and at that time the Dodger ownership thought they would be best served making the decision they made,” Gillick said.

Similarly, Gillick thought the Mariners were best served when he hired Bob Melvin instead of Bobby Valentine as manager in 2003. Valentine is considered a leading candidate to become Dodger manager.

Gillick said he wouldn’t necessarily need to meet with McCourt this time.

“Face-to-face interviews are good, but I went through the process with them 20 months ago,” he said.

Should he be in the position of choosing between offers from the Dodgers and Phillies, Gillick would weigh several factors. He lives in Toronto, making Philadelphia an easier commute, but grew up in California and attended USC.

The Phillies would want him to mentor Amaro, who is highly regarded as a future GM. The Dodgers might want Gillick to do the same with Orel Hershiser, who has expressed interest in joining the front office.

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Both teams are coming off disappointing seasons and feeling pressure to win in 2006. And both teams boast significant payrolls, yet pose significant challenges.

The Phillie payroll was $95 million last season, fifth-highest in baseball. However, they have $78 million committed to 11 players next season and the franchise operated deep in the red because attendance was disappointing.

The Dodgers had the second-highest attendance in the major leagues and made money this year, but industry sources said McCourt wants to trim payroll. About $86 million was spent on players last year, and about $70 million already is committed for next year.

McCourt has scaled back an earlier promise of a $100-million payroll, and now says somewhat vaguely, “We will spend what it takes to win.” But sources said DePodesta operated within a strict budget that is more likely to shrink than grow.

Gillick has won in small and large markets. He won five division championships with Toronto and led the club to its first World Series titles. He guided the Orioles to the playoffs in 1996 and 1997, and built Seattle into one of baseball’s best teams from 2000 to 2003.

The only criticism of Gillick is that he is cautious about making trades, earning him the nickname “Stand Pat.” However, his in-season acquisitions of pitcher David Cone in 1992 and outfielder Rickey Henderson in 1993 contributed to the championships in Toronto.

“Baseball is a humbling sport, I’ll tell you,” he said. “It looks easy from the outside, but on the inside there are a lot of challenges and issues.”


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