The DePodesta Saga

I'm sure that the DePodesta firing will be analyzed and criticized ad nauseum by many stat-type sites.

But I figured that we should join in.

My first impulse was that the DePodesta firing was terribly unjustifiable. I do not have a conclusion and will not until the end of this article, but I'd like to take a look at 10 major transactions under DePodesta, just to see how he did.

I tend to think that if you give a GM a five-year contract, he deserves at least four to try and implement his plan, unless he makes some egregious and stupid move. Out of respect for the guy, you fire him before he's in his contract year (it's what the football Giants have done with head coaches for many years, I believe... they don't allow coaches to coach without a contract through the next season -- they either negotiate an extension or fire them).

DePodesta was hired on February 15, 2004. Here are 10 of the more significant moves that you could evaluate Depodesta on. We'll analyze both process and outcome, with process being more important.

1. 3/29/04: Traded Jason Frasor to the Toronto Blue Jays. Received Jayson Werth.

Frasor was a 25 year old reliever who seemed to put it all together in 2003 in the minors -- his strikeout rates exploded. In AA-Jacksonville, he struck out 50 in 36.2 innings. His combined K/9 that year was close to 13.

But he was 25 in AA, so his ceiling couldn't have been that high.

Frasor has been an above average middle reliever for the Jays over the last two years. His strikeout rates are OK and his control was OK last year. He's become a serviceable major league reliever, just as his 2003 minor league profile would have predicted.

Werth was a former catcher who battled injuries and underachieving to finally break through in 2004 with the Dodgers, hitting .262/.338/.486 in 290 at bats and flashing some good power. Most of Werth's positive performance record had been in a 104-game stint in AA-Tennessee back in 2001 - he hit .285/.392/.499 that year. For whatever reason, Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA nailed Werth in '04 within a few points: they projected .265/.333/.482; Werth hit .262/.338/.486. Of course, adjusted for context, it wasn't as good, but it's still interesting (Werth did that at Dodger Stadium rather than SkyDome).

Difficult to give Depodesta a ton of credit for this one, but Werth was a good bat for a year. Certainly not a bad trade, and you can't fault the process.

2. 4/3/04: Traded Andrew Brown and Franklin Gutierrez to the Cleveland Indians. Received Milton Bradley.

The Bradley saga has been talked about a great deal, at this point, but the Bradley acquisition was a solid one for the Dodgers. Bradley was coming off a .321/.421/.521 season, and his personality problems convinced the Indians that he had to go.

He didn't have a superb year in 2004, but his .267/.362/.424 line, along with great defense and youth (26 years old) made him a good pickup. He looked poised to take a step up but injuries cut short his season. He was hitting .290/.350/.484.

Gutierrez is a very good prospect and established that in 2003. A .513 slugging percentage in the Florida State League can get anyone that reputation, when you do it at the age of 20. He didn't hit nearly as much this year, but he was certainly a top prospect. I assume that his lack of plate discipline was one reason for Depodesta trading him. Minor league strength was probably another, and acquiring a good outfielder was another.

Good pickup here for the Dodgers. The price was somewhat high, but Bradley's a good player. A lot of guys in the media liked this pickup.

3. 7/30/04: Traded Paul Lo Duca, Guillermo Mota, and Juan Encarnacion to the Florida Marlins. Received Hee Seop Choi, Brad Penny, and Bill Murphy (minors).

I wrote this at the time:

"BIG deal for both teams. I look at this deal, though, and I really think that the nod goes to LA. Why? Well, Brad Penny's having a real good year, he's 26, and he bolsters the Dodgers' rotation. The stat I found most interesting was the upward progression of Penny's K/BB ratio; it's gone up every year since his being called up. Choi? He's a freaking on-base machine, and he's adequate at first. He's 25, and he's on-basing .388! with a very good slugging percentage. DePodesta's former boss would be / probably is quite jealous of such an acquisition. Murphy? Not too spectacular, but he strikes out a lot of batters in the minors. Haven't the Marlins gone through this Encarnacion thing already? Sounds awfully familiar. He'll help in their OF, a little, maybe, but he's having a pretty bad year, hitting all of .235, and not really getting on base all that much. Lo Duca's success is pretty well-known, but I've gotta assume that the Dodgers traded him b/c he's a 32 year old catcher whose stats have been plummeting since a very hot start. Mota? He's a good set-up man, but those tend to be pretty easily available....look at the Phillies today.

"DePodesta made out like a bandit here. Edge goes to the Dodgers; put them on the short list for NL contenders."

I was writing in a less formal environment in those days, but I agree with my premise. Choi still has never gotten a full chance, even with his career OPS+ of 107. Penny's a slightly above average starting pitcher.

We get attached to the strangest players... the gritty ones, the ones with character. Dodger fans did with Lo Duca, and, to a lesser extent, with Mota.

My opinion:

  • Fans come up with weird players to root for.
  • Fans overrate the importance of middle relief.
This deal made a ton of sense for the Dodgers. It built towards the future without dramatically hurting the then. Probably helping the then.

Penny's injury was the "unlucky part" of this. It didn't kill them, but they would have been better if he were healthy.

4. 7/31/04: Traded Koyie Hill, Bill Murphy (minors), and Reggie Abercrombie (minors) to the Arizona Diamondbacks. Received Steve Finley and Brent Mayne.

Hill has little power, little plate discipline, and a good defensive reputation. His results offensively speak for themselves; he's a career .231/.303/.316 hitter (granted, small sample size, but Hill's not going to blossom into a great hitter any time soon). This was his basic reputation at the time, at least statistically.

Bill Murphy's not a particularly good pitching prospect -- my presumption is that Depodesta traded for him b/c he was in the Moneyball draft and had a nice strikeout rate that year (with Florida). He then quickly spun him to the Diamondbacks. He's not a great prospect... fringe at best.

Abercrombie was 24 in the FSL. With a .305 OBP. Enough said.

Finley was a great pickup. He was hitting well in Arizona and ended up adding about 33 runs to the Dodger attack. He replaced Juan Encarnancion in the OF. Encarnacion was hitting .235/.289/.417 with the Dodgers and didn't do much better with the Marlins.

Great pickup.

Stopping here to recap. DePodesta was a buyer at the deadline in 2004 (he added Finley) but somehow improved his team for the future (he added Choi).

Depodesta's 2004 moves were bold and skillful. The moves were undeniably risky, but they were all quite sound and logical.

5. 10/28/04: Adrian Beltre granted Free Agency. Steve Finley granted Free Agency.

I'll use this date as the distinction (even though I think they probably did Beltre after this). Not signing these two was a very smart move. 2004 seemed like an outlier for Beltre, certainly not worth $13 million per season (based on the one major improvement). Finley was a 40 year old centerfielder who was not worth a large salary (which he got from the AL LA team). (By the way, I bought into Beltre having established a new level. It was stupid of me.)

Finley had an OPS+ of 73. Beltre's was a 90.

This is a win for Depodesta. The moves not made are often the best ones.

6. 12/15/04: Signed Jeff Kent as a free agent.

I didn't like this move too much at the time; Kent got 2 years at $17 million.

I don't know why I didn't like it, actually. Two year deals are pretty saavy business, and for one of the best hitting middle infielders in the game, the money was certainly worthwhile. I expected a step back and Kent didn't do that. The logic was certainly sound. Depodesta was trying to compensate for losing the runs from Beltre and Finley. Kent was great this year. He hit .289/.377/.512.

Two years was low-risk. They got one very good year from Kent. A step back in '05 would be OK, b/c it wouldn't be crippling.

Another very good signing.

7. 12/23/04: Signed J.D. Drew as a free agent.: I've said it in a few different places and I'll stand by it. J.D. Drew, when healthy, is one of the ten best players in baseball.

"When healthy" is a massive qualifier on any sports-related sentence, and J.D. Drew is as injury prone as they come. Throwing $55 million at that isn't necessarily the safest investment.

But I agree with it.

Why?

  • The Dodgers are a big market team. They can afford the risk of losing Drew.
  • Most likely, Drew will give the Dodgers a couple of top-flight seasons.
  • J.D. Drew is a .287/.393/.514 hitter on his career and, unlike Beltre, had established himself as a great hitter in seasons prior to 2004.
  • He was $10 million cheaper than Beltre.
  • By WARP, he actually was better than Beltre (4.3 to 4.1) in significantly less playing time.
It's easy to criticize this move, seriously. It smacks of desperation, to some extent. But I think it made sense.

8. 1/11/05: Traded Shawn Green and $10 million to the Arizona Diamondbacks. Received Dioner Navarro, Beltran Perez (minors), Danny Muegge (minors), and William Juarez (minors).

OK, $10 million is a lot to swallow, but it ended up being $6 million in payroll flexibility, with which they went out and signed Perez or Lowe, depending on what you're looking at.

Depodesta's goal was to lose Shawn Green, who is an above-average but not great player. Green once was elite, but he's settled into a norm a bit lower than that - his .286/.355/.477 at the BOB is about what you'd expect.

The key in all of this was Dioner Navarro, who has had one really good minor league season and very little else on his resume, thus far - his 2003 in the FSL and Trenton was superb (he was 19 and had good OBPs). He slipped back in 2004, though, and if he were 2 years older, few would consider him a prospect. He's still just 21, though, and he held his own in the majors in 2005, hitting .273/.354/.375. That's not great, but it does have value, and it's quite encoruaging from such a young player.

None of the other three were on John Sickels' Top 20 LA Prospects List.

You can criticize this one, if you look back with 20/20 vision. The Dodgers needed a bat this year and Green would have been a nice addition at a corner spot, especially with the million injuries.

Outcome? Not great. Process? Saving $6 million and adding a pretty good catching prospect? Not bad.

9. 1/11/05: Signed Lowe as a free agent.

I didn't like this signing much. Few metrics could convince me that it made sense to throw $9 million over 4 years at a pitcher who had a 5.42 ERA. Even his 4.28 FIP and .332 BABIP.

Lowe ended up improving greatly in '05 (by ERA), but he gave up a bunch of unearned runs.

My guess is that Depodesta knew that the Dodgers would be short in starting pitching and was desperate. Prospectus' evaluation stuck out at me: they said "Call the Lowe deal a case of Depodesta using the resources available to him in Los Angeles. Just don't call it an optimal use of resources."

I thought that they were a bit soft on this move. I didn't like it at all and I don't think it'll look too good two years from now.

But, to be honest, Depodesta was right. Lowe was their best starting pitcher this year. By far.

I won't credit the signing - I don't think it was optimal. But hell, it did vindicate DIPS theory a bit.

10. Acquired C Jason Phillips from the New York Mets in exchange for LHP Kazuhisa Ishii.

Ishii was a disaster for the Mets this year, so, in this sense, it was a good move. But Phillips wasn't much better for the Dodgers - he posted a RATE2 of 86 and a .238/.287/.363 line, his second straight terrible season. He was good in 2003, and some stuff the Hardball Times did noted that Jason Phillips' batted balls should have translated to a better line in 2004. Maybe Depodesta had similar numbers. But, for whatever reason, this didn't cause a bounceback in '05.

Depodesta's moves were, for the most part, inspired. There were flaws, certainly. Jose Valentin and Norihiro Nakamura at 3rd base was not a great solution. JD Drew IS injury prone and there wasn't a capable backup ready to take his place. The pitching WAS pretty weak.

But I'd say that most of what happened to the Dodgers in '05 was because of injuries. With the strength of their farm system, they could easily be the best team in the league by 2007 or 2008. It should have only gotten better from here.

Unless there were some SERIOUS personality "defects" with Depodesta, I have to believe that he was forced out by people in the Dodger organization who disagreed with him. It's a raw deal for a guy who didn't do a bad job, certainly not a job worthy of termination after one full offseason.

I think that if the Dodgers really flopped in 2006, it would have been acceptable to fire Depodesta, who shredded a division winner. But it wasn't like he destroyed the Dodgers' future with his "insane trades." They're quite well-off in the prospect department.

It's strong enough to make the idea of trading a couple for a mid-level starting pitcher seem awfully appetizing. And I won't be surprised if/when that happens.

I think the best perspective on this came from Dodger Thoughts. And I do think that the sports media in Los Angeles did have at least SOME role in Depodesta's firing; most people weren't happy with the hiring from Day 1. Just like it would be a bad idea for a baseball owner to read this article and hire Paul Depodesta, it is a bad idea to rely on the local sports media for baseball advice.

I'm still somewhat stunned by this. I spoke with a friend the other day and we were talking about Depodesta, and I said, "we'll know a lot more this time next year." I guess not.

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