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Dodgers Give Their Roster a Big League Makeover

August 01, 2004|Mike DiGiovanna and Jason Reid | Times Staff Writers

SAN DIEGO — In a whirlwind 18 hours before Major League Baseball's trading deadline, Paul DePodesta, the Dodgers' rookie general manager, put his indelible stamp on the club, swinging four deals involving 14 players and taking a sledgehammer to a team that leads the National League West and has the third-best record in baseball.

DePodesta continued his dramatic remake of the Dodgers on Saturday, following Friday's blockbuster six-player trade with Florida with three more deals, netting Arizona outfielder Steve Finley and casting off outfielder Dave Roberts to the Boston Red Sox and reliever Tom Martin to the Atlanta Braves.

But the big one got away when the Dodgers were unable to land Arizona ace Randy Johnson, considered by many to be the best pitcher in baseball. In addition, Colorado's Charles Johnson, the catcher expected to replace the outgoing Paul Lo Duca, jilted the Dodgers, declining to waive his no-trade clause.

But even with excitement building and attendance rising in Dodger Stadium during the team's torrid July run, in which the Dodgers had a major league-best 21-7 record, DePodesta still traded away one-fifth of his roster, including the popular Lo Duca, in an effort to better position the Dodgers for their first playoff appearance since 1996.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday August 03, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 21 words Type of Material: Correction
Dodgers -- Dodger pitcher Yhency Brazoban was misidentified as Yancy Brozoban in a Section A article Sunday about the Dodgers' trades.

"Would it have been safer for me to do nothing? No question," DePodesta said Saturday at Petco Park, before the Dodgers lost to the San Diego Padres. "But I don't think any of us felt that would be the best thing for this team or organization.... Is this a risky move? It is. But in order to achieve something special, you have to step out and do something bold."

The Dodgers will have a new pitcher at the front of their rotation in Brad Penny, a new center fielder in Finley, a new first baseman in Hee Seop Choi, and a new catching platoon of Dodger backup David Ross and veteran Brent Mayne, who was acquired from Arizona in the Finley trade.

Shawn Green will play first base and right field, and center fielder Milton Bradley will move to left. The Dodgers lost Lo Duca, a two-time All-Star, and Guillermo Mota, one of baseball's most dominant relief pitchers, in the Florida deal.

The burning question, to be answered over the next two months and the next few years: Will DePodesta's aggressive dealing make the Dodgers better this season and in the near future, or will it disrupt the chemistry of a team that seemed equipped to make a playoff run?

"There's obviously a lot that has taken place in the last day and a half, and there's been some people leave this clubhouse that I've obviously gotten very close to," Dodger Manager Jim Tracy said. "But we needed an impact starting pitcher, and I think we got that. We felt like we would like to add an impact bat, and I feel like we got that."

In Finley, who arrived at Petco Park in the first inning Saturday night, the Dodgers have a 16-year veteran who is a two-time All-Star, a four-time Gold Glove winner and a .276 career hitter who helped the Diamondbacks win the 2001 World Series.

The price was considerable: The Dodgers gave up their best catching prospect, power-hitting Koyie Hill; the highly regarded double-A pitcher they received from the Marlins on Friday, Bill Murphy; and minor league outfielder Reggie Abercrombie for Finley, who makes $7 million this season and will be free to sign elsewhere in 2005.

But the Dodgers also were able to outbid their NL West rivals, the Padres, for Finley.

"First and foremost, we wanted him," DePodesta said. "Is it an added bonus that we keep him out of that dugout over there? Sure."

DePodesta, 31, is a Harvard economics graduate who spent the last several seasons as an assistant to Oakland Athletic General Manager Billy Beane. In those years they repeatedly lost stars to wealthier teams but somehow managed to replenish the roster with undervalued players, leaning heavily on computer analysis to evaluate talent.

But in the last two days, DePodesta seems to have gone through a crash course in chemistry, as critics questioned whether it was wise to make such sweeping changes to a team that was playing so well.

"I think they had a pretty good team before the trade, that's my opinion," San Francisco Giant Manager Felipe Alou said, adding that so many moves so late in the season could be disruptive. "It could be, and it has happened before.... I've seen it happen. You think you're going to get better, and you get worse."

Said Atlanta Brave Manager Bobby Cox: "The Dodgers are putting all kinds of pieces together there real quick. Believe me, they know what they're doing."

Still, Friday's deal with the Marlins seemed to backfire on two fronts for DePodesta, who hoped to flip Penny to the Diamondbacks for Randy Johnson, the 6-foot-10 left-hander who has the ability to dominate a short postseason series.

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