The Paul DePodesta Era, Ten Years Later

This is totally what they look like, really. (via)

This is totally what they look like, really. (via)

Ten years ago today, the Dodgers named Paul DePodesta their general manager. Twenty months later, following a 91-loss 2005 season and endless (and largely unprofessional and indefensible) harassment from the likes of Bill Plaschke and T.J. Simers, DePodesta was gone, subjecting us to years of Ned Colletti doing things like signing Juan Pierre and trading Carlos Santana. (Colletti, to his credit, does seem to have learned from his mistakes in recent years, or at least has been reined in by Stan Kasten.)

Were I following the Dodgers on a rabid daily basis at the time, I would have probably been thrilled by DePodesta’s hiring, because it briefly seemed like the Dodgers were on the forefront of advanced statistical thinking. But knowing what we do now, it was really one of the first instances of the brutal tenure of Frank McCourt — remember, we all hated him even before the divorce — since McCourt forced the highly respected Dan Evans to essentially interview for his own job before shoving him out the door.

Still, the DePodesta era is largely remembered as a failure, mainly because of that 2005 season, and because GMs who do a good job don’t generally get pushed out the door so quickly. Then again, we all know that McCourt had absolutely no idea what he was doing, and since DePodesta was hired so late in the 2003-04 offseason, he was given all of one winter to remake the team, and never was allowed to hire his own manager. Yes, that 2005 season hurt, largely ruined by injuries — that’s when Eric Gagne imploded, remember — but the 2006 playoff appearance that Colletti claims was basically DePodesta’s team, wasn’t it?

Anyway, a quiet Sunday 10 years on is a good time to look back at how some of those larger deals play with the benefit of history.

Signings

In his short time in charge, DePodesta made four free agent signings of import.

Jeff Kent, 2/$17m

Kent was headed into his age-37 season, but had been productive in two years with Houston, and hit .291/.380/.497 with 43 homers and 5.5 WAR over the length of the deal. Just before the 2006 season, Colletti gave him another two years; he was good in 2007, then less good in 2008 while failing to get along with Matt Kemp and most of the young players. Still, the first contract was an unquestioned success.

Derek Lowe, 4/$36m

Lowe was coming off a weird 2004, in that he had a 5.42 ERA with Boston, but then was a playoff hero as the Red Sox broke their curse. In four years with the Dodgers, he was worth 13.6 WAR with a 3.59 ERA in 850.1 innings. That’s the kind of performance that would get you $100m today.

J.D. Drew, 5/$55m (with an opt-out)

Dodger fans hate Drew. They haaaate him. They hate him because he never “played with passion,” or whatever that means — this is why “gritty gamers” like Adam Kennedy are so popular, even though they aren’t, you know, good at baseball — and they hate him because he “abandoned the team” by opting out, as though players shouldn’t take the best deal available, especially when teams often show less loyalty.

This is, of course, ridiculous. Drew hit .284/.399/.505 with 35 homers in two years with the Dodgers, despite missing half of 2005 after Brad Halsey broke Drew’s wrist with a pitch. That’s 6.8 WAR for $21.8m. I’ll take that eight days a week, please.

Odalis Perez 3/$24m

This one worked out a little less well. Perez had been a reasonably effective pitcher from 2002-04 for the team, pitching to a 3.55 ERA over 604 innings, and then agreed to an extension headed into his age-27 season prior to 2005. From that perspective, the deal made plenty of sense, but Perez had a poor 2005 and was off to a brutal start in 2006 when Colletti dumped him on Kansas City for Elmer Dessens. Then again, Perez was a weird guy, canceling his charity program for not getting enough credit, and disappearing on Washington during camp in 2009.

Trades

Jason Frasor for Jayson Werth

DePodesta pulled this deal off barely more than a month after he took the job. Werth was worth (ugh) 3.4 WAR in two partial seasons for the Dodgers, but could just never stay healthy, mostly thanks to a serious wrist injury. It took until 2008 in Philadelphia before he put it all together, but the talent is obviously there — Washington gave him $126m and he’s been among the most productive outfielders in the bigs for a while. Frasor has been a reliable if unexciting reliever ever since, mostly with Toronto.

Franklin Gutierrez and Andrew Brown for Milton Bradley

When he wasn’t being a complete lunatic and awful person, Bradley was a pretty good ballplayer. As a Dodger, he hit .275/.358/.446 over parts of two seasons with 4.7 WAR before Colletti shipped him off for Andre Ethier. Gutierrez went on to success in Seattle; at the time, he’d played 18 games above Double-A.

Steve Colyer for Cody Ross

Similar to the Werth deal, the idea here was trading a relief prospect for outfield talent, and like the Werth deal, the outfielder didn’t blossom until he went elsewhere. Colyer had pitched in 13 games for the 2003 Dodgers and was out of baseball by 28. Ross never really did get a chance in Los Angeles, then was traded by Colletti to Cincinnati for essentially nothing in 2006. He’s since gone on to put up 14 WAR for several teams.

Paul Lo Duca, Juan Encarnacion, and Guillermo Mota for Hee-Seop Choi, Brad Penny, and Bill Murphy

Ah, the big one. This really requires a full article dedicated to it, but the amount of hand-wringing about how the Dodgers had “ripped out the heart and soul” of the team in Lo Duca was nuts at the time and seems moreso today. The real irony about all that is that the same people who are all “won’t someone think about the children?!” regarding PED usage are the same people who hated this so much… even though Lo Duca and Mota were known cheats (Mota, granted, wasn’t publicly busted until years later), and Lo Duca reportedly was getting shipments at the park during the 2004 season. You can’t play both sides here, and Lo Duca was a 32-year-old catcher with some clear indications that his success might not last; he only had one above-average season after leaving the team. The idea of trading him for a young pitcher with ace potential and a young power-hitting first baseman isn’t crazy.

Of course, Choi never really worked out — I will never forgive Jim Tracy for playing Jason Phillips ahead of him during the lost 2005 season — and that’s what people remember, not Penny giving the Dodgers three very good seasons between 2005-07. (Penny missing most of the rest of 2004 with arm trouble didn’t help, either.) If there was something to bash DePodesta on here, it was pulling the trigger without a clear replacement for Lo Duca — a reported deal for Charles Johnson was nearly done but fell through — leaving the team with Brent Mayne and David Ross for the playoff run.

Reggie Abercrombie, Murphy, and Koyie Hill for Steve Finley

Finley played only 58 regular season games as a Dodger. I assume I don’t need to tell you why this deal was awesome.

Shawn Green (and parts) for Dioner Navarro (and parts)

Green was about to be 32, but his once-elite power had disappeared after a shoulder injury, and he had only one great season left in him. Navarro, at 21, was so highly regarded that he was a big part of the Yankees getting Randy Johnson. He didn’t work out in LA — twice — but the intent makes sense.

***

This is not to suggest that the DePodesta era was perfect, because it was far from that. He was unable to retain Adrian Beltre after his enormous 2004 season, and so going into the 2005 season with only Norihiro Nakamura, Mike Edwards, and Jose Valentin as third base depth seemed like a disaster waiting to happen. (It was.) Really, the depth on that team was so painfully thin — D.J. Houlton started 19 games! Jason Grabowski and Oscar Robles combined for 523 plate appearances! — but injuries to Gagne, Drew, Bradley, Werth, and Perez doomed that team from the start. (On the other side, that top pick in the 2006 draft led to Clayton Kershaw.)

Under DePodesta’s term, the team drafted or signed Santana, Kenley Jansen, Scott Elbert, Javy Guerra, Cory Wade, David Price, Justin Ruggiano, Luke Hochevar, Trayvon Robinson, and Scott Van Slyke, though of course not all signed with the team. And when DePodesta left, Colletti had the benefit of cheap production from Logan White’s treasure trove of young talent, like Kemp, Chad Billingsley, Jonathan Broxton, and James Loney.

Ten years on, more of his moves made sense than didn’t, but the DePodesta era was probably never going to work out. McCourt was never strong enough to take unending heat from hacks like Plaschke, and DePodesta’s inability to work with Tracy or avoid that 2005 disaster buried him before he could get going. I do wonder what might have happened if DePodesta could have hired his own manager or had more than a single winter in charge; I have to imagine he’d have been more successful over the next several years than Colletti was.