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DePodesta on the Way Out

Dodger general manager, who has been searching for Tracy's successor, is expected to be fired. McCourt will make the decision.

October 29, 2005|Steve Henson and Tim Brown | 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.

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.

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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