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General Managers Do a Little Dodger Talk

Ng, Smith lead club's contingent at meetings of baseball executives in which the two key vacancies in L.A. are a topic of discussion.

November 08, 2005|Tim Brown | Times Staff Writer

The evening was cool and the lobby filled with general managers, which is why they call them the general managers meetings, the annual gathering of baseball executives trying to put one over on the next guy in the navy blazer.

Outside, on a patio overlooking a vacant fairway in Indian Wells, the Dodger interim general managers had stepped through the bustle and into a discussion of their last week together, and the weeks ahead, running a department that nine days before was run by Paul DePodesta.

DePodesta was home in Santa Monica, though there were rumors he might drop in later in the week to see old friends, and Kim Ng and Roy Smith were in the desert, chumming a free-agent market that begins in earnest Friday, and laying the groundwork for trades that might give new players to a general manager they don't know of, and a manager they don't yet have.

They don't know their payroll budget, but assume they will have enough to add a major free agent, and maybe two, to a roster that lost 91 games, but has nearly five months to heal itself.

Ng has been an assistant general manager since 1998, when New York Yankee General Manager Brian Cashman hired her, and for the Dodgers since 2002, when Dan Evans hired her. Smith, who pitched for Cleveland, Minnesota and Baltimore over eight seasons beginning in 1984, heads the Dodger scouting and development departments. He became an assistant general manager in Pittsburgh after the 1998 season.

While the surroundings were new Monday night, they'd both sat in this very position before. Ng rode out a lame-duck winter two years ago, when Frank McCourt bought the Dodgers and eventually replaced Evans with DePodesta. In the summer of 2001, in the transition between Pirate general managers Cam Bonifay and Dave Littlefield, Smith served as interim general manager.

"I was a journeyman pitcher," Smith said with a wry smile. "And being a, let's say, mediocre pitcher, it serves me well. It's the same feeling."

So, handed the baseball, Smith and Ng will press the Dodger course of one big bat, either in the outfield or at a corner infield position, and a starting pitcher. Whether the next Dodger general manager is John Hart or Ng or someone not yet identified, their needs are clear, and that, they agreed, would be DePodesta's course, their course, or the next person's course.

Very few deals are made at these meetings. The blockbuster trades more often occur at next month's winter meetings, stoked by weeks of negotiating and the advent of the free-agent period, a process that starts now.

The lobby was awash in talk about the Dodger openings at general manager and manager (Hart remains involved, Jim Bowden has not been contacted and declared himself out, no word on whether McCourt contacted Theo Epstein, San Francisco assistant general manager Ned Colletti is a potential candidate, Ng's candidacy is gaining momentum) and the Red Sox opening at general manager (Bowden and Jim Beattie are candidates, and Epstein's return is a distant possibility that makes Boston hearts flutter).

Through the middle of it, Pat Gillick arrived as the new hire for the Philadelphia Phillies, said he's not yet considering trading Jim Thome to make room for National League rookie of the year Ryan Howard, and that the Phillies were simply a better fit for him than the Dodgers. He spoke to McCourt shortly after DePodesta was fired, then accepted the Phillies' offer.

"I was down the road with [the Phillies] pretty good," he said. "I just thought that in my situation, at my age, the Phillies' situation was a little farther along with the team on the field."

Out on the patio, the Dodger contingent said it talked to McCourt often, just as DePodesta would have, updating the events of the day.

"This isn't any different than if Paul was here," Ng said.


Angel bench coach Joe Maddon will interview here today with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. He is a finalist to become manager.... Most general managers spent the day in an arbitration meeting, where they collectively determined the general values of their arbitration-eligible players.... Thome has a no-trade clause, which Gillick admitted makes a trade "difficult." He added, "You just have to try to work it out the best you can. We're not thinking of trading Thome right now, I'll tell you that much."

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