"Dodger drama?" I hear you ask. (I know. I know. Work with me here...) Seemingly from out of nowhere came a rumor yesterday morning that Paul DePodesta, the general manager, was about to be fired. I was concentrating on other things, so I hadn't heard, but Vee gave me a heads up. I tried to log onto Dodger Thoughts to confirm it, but the site was down. Their hosting service decided to pick yesterday to install a barely functioning router. Eventually, the site came back, and despite the outages and slowness, folks were posting in droves. The Dodgers officially announced DePo's firing at 2 pm PDT.
The official reason is that DePo was fired because of the Dodgers poor performance this past season. Coming off a playoff appearance in 2004, great things were expected this year, and the Dodgers failed miserably. Nonsense. The thing is, if that's reason, why did Frank McCourt wait until three weeks after DePo let manager Jim Tracy go to do this? DePo was in the process of interviewing managerial candidates. Why let him do that if his job was in that much jeopardy?
I think the real reason DePo got canned was because he wanted to hire a sabermetrically correct guy like Terry Collins or Torey Lovullo (ye gods!), and McCourt (egged on by Tommy Lasorda) wanted Orel Hershiser or Bobby Valentine. They came to an impasse between philosophy and public relations, and philosophy lost.
Understand that McCourt is only in this for his ego. He wants to be George Steinbrenner. He talks about Dodger tradition, but the fact is that he'd really rather be running the Red Sox than the Dodgers. Unfortunately for him, and fortunately for Sox fans, the Yawkey trust nixed his bid to buy the Sox, feeling, quite rightly as it turned out, that he didn't have the financial resources to do a proper job. Fox, OTOH, didn't especially care whether whoever bought the Dodgers could maintain the team, just as long as they got their dough. So McCourt and his wife, Jamie, are running the show as an exercise in self-aggrandizement. A lot of long time employees in the front office have gotten the axe, usually in the most clueless manner possible. Ross Porter, who broadcast Dodger games for close to thirty years, was fired via e-mail. Jamie fired most of the in-house PR staff last week, and replaced them with Tipper Gore's ex-press secretary's PR firm. Apparently the old Dodger hands weren't spinning the second worst season in LA Dodger history in the best possible light.
It didn't help that the mainstream LA press kept hammering DePo, painting him as a computer geek who knows nothing about baseball, an emotionless cipher. Add to that the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim's blatant attempt to grab a chunk of the Dodger's home turf. In their teeny little minds, the McCourts believe that they are the Dodgers, thus any bad PR is an attack on them personally. Actually, that last is mostly true, because most of the bad PR has been self-inflicted.
To be fair, DePo didn't help himself. The reports are that he withdrew more and more as the season went on. It's alleged that his communication skills are lousy, and that he's another guy who sees nothing wrong with delivering bad news via e-mail. He is seen as the stat nerd who doen't see players as people, but as Strat-O-Matic cards, and doesn't understand that the interpersonal relationships between players can sometimes matter a great deal to the success of a club. The majority of fans are likely happy to see him go. He didn't do things their way, and they didn't understand his way. Meanwhile, the sabermetrics guys are infuriated.
My problem with DePo is not that he's a sabermetrics guy, but that I don't think he's all that good as a GM. I mean, I'm a sabermetrics guy, but I don't think I should be a GM. For the most part, I think he does a good job of identifying good players (despite signing Jose Valentin), and was especially adept of unloading players just before they had terrible seasons. OTOH, I think he has no clue on how to construct a team. The LoDuca trade is a key example. The problem with the trade was not that he traded the team's leader, but that he traded a good catcher and didn't get anyone even remotely qualified to replace him in the middle of a pennant race. Dodger fans were ecstatic when he finally picked up Jason Phillips in spring training, a completely mediocre backup level player, but who was a godsend compared to the incumbents. The same thing happened a third base. DePo was probably right to let Beltre walk, but he never provided any kind of adequate replacement. Jose Valentin was a terrible signing, one that could've been predicted sabermetrically. It smacked of a panic move. Meanwhile, he signed Jeff Kent, a great signing, but one that overloaded the team at second base.
DePo also entrusted the outfield to the emotionally fragile Milton Bradley, and the physically fragile JD Drew, two potentially great players, but also two players who couldn't be counted upon to play complete seasons. A team can take one calculated gamble in the outfield. Taking two of them is reckless. Yeah, nobody could've foreseen that Drew would get hit by a pitch and break his wrist, but the number of surgeries he had for other ailments after it was clear that his season was done makes it pretty clear that it was only a matter of time before something else took him out of the line up. As for Bradley, I'm still rooting for the guy, because I think he's sincerely trying to get his act together, but I think McCourt wants him gone.
DePo also seemed to be out of his depth in his negotiations, both with agents and other GMs. Arizona and Colorado played him like fiddle during the Lo Duca debacle. Scott Boras outmaneuvered him at every juncture during the offseason.
So what next? The other thing that has become apparent is that Tommy Lasorda is now McCourt's primary baseball advisor. The rumors have Lasorda favorites Hershiser and Valentine coming to work at Chavez Ravine, although nobody's sure in what capacity yet. The most likely scenario is that an old line GM (Pat Gillick is mentioned a lot) will take over with Hershiser coming in as an assistant and GM in training. Bobby Valentine becomes the manager. Gillick would stablize the ship, then retire with Orel taking his place. I could live with that. Another rumor has Jamie McCourt hot to hire the first female GM in baseball, which means DePo's assistant, Kim Ng, might get a shot at the job. Everything I've heard about Ng is positive, but I don't think the McCourts will go that way, because once the novelty wears off, she's likely to be viewed by the press the same jaundiced eye they did DePo, except now with more misogyny. Remember, it's all about public relations.
Sigh. Walter O'Malley must be corkscrewing in his grave...