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An Interview with Paul DePodesta

Here's that interview I talked about a few weeks ago, I'd like to thank Paul for taking time out of his busy holiday and team schedule to answer some questions and note to owners; hire this guy as your next general manager, you won't regret it.

QUESTION: The question everyone wants to ask you, I'm sure; do you still carry the statistics filled computer with you?

DEPODESTA: I now use a Diffie-Hellman key exchange so that I don't have to walk around with it chained to my wrist anymore.  The reality is that my use of a computer wasn't novel at the time, and there isn't a front office person, scout, or field staff who doesn't utilize a computer these days.

QUESTION: Not too long ago the new Pirates' general manager Neal Huntington did a Q&A session with and answered a question about the metrics they use to judge players, I'd like to pose that same question to you: what are some of the statistics  you to evaluate potential targets?

DEPODESTA: This reminds me of the old SNL skit with Phil Hartman playing then Secretary of Defense, Dick Cheney, holding a press conference.  The questions posed about the Gulf War went something to the effect of: "When are we going to start the ground attack?" and "I understand there are passwords being used by our troops on the front lines.  What are some examples of those?"  I'm kidding of course, especially as it relates to the sensitivity of the material.  That being said, we have a number of proprietary measures of performance that I'm not going to share.

QUESTION: What's the biggest difference between working with Billy Beane and working with Kevin Towers?

DEPODESTA: There are many more similarities than differences.  Both are tireless, creative, enjoy their jobs and are determined to find a way to win.  Most importantly, neither of them takes themselves too seriously.

QUESTION: Staying on Beane, what type of relationship do you two currently share, and how often do you communicate with each other?

DEPODESTA: Billy and I remain close.  Though he provided me a startling opportunity and taught me an incredible amount, our friendship has never centered solely on baseball.  Our relationship has always been more fraternal than professional, and I think that will always be the case.  

QUESTION: Before you took the job in San Diego was there any discussion of you possibly rejoining the Athletics?

DEPODESTA: I had both professional and personal reasons for choosing to come here to San Diego.  My wife and her family moved to San Diego from Mexico City years ago, and her family still lives here.  Now that we have young kids, it was important for us to be around family.

QUESTION: In Moneyball it was exposed that you essentially "found" Kevin Youkilis, but the A's scouting department ignored him - do you ever wonder "what if?" and since are there any notable players that you've really wanted but missed out on through the draft or otherwise?

DEPODESTA: Though I appreciate the mention, I didn't "find" Kevin Youkilis.  Our scouts wrote some very positive reports about him, even calling him "an A's type of player" as I recall.  Michael Lewis chose him as a focal part of the story because he was representative of a philosophical debate.  But make no mistake - our scouting department had not ignored him.  As far as other notable players... there were more players whom I wanted who failed than the other way around.  Predicting Major League success for amateur players is a tough, tough job, which is why we put so much effort into it every year.  

QUESTION: A lot has been made - perhaps unnecessarily - about how the book essentially gave the entire world a look at how the organization pursued players; in hindsight do you regret doing the book at all?

DEPODESTA: Michael originally visited us in order to write a story for the New York Times Magazine.  After the amateur draft he informed us that he was going to turn it into a book.  We never offered, nor did Michael need, our consent.  We really had no control over the matter.  The reality is that the book didn't really expose our secrets.  Most of what was described in the book had been well known within baseball circles.  

QUESTION: One of the more talked about theories in Moneyball was how Beane liked having a manager who essentially had no real control outside of in-game strategy - I don't see Bud Black as fitting that mold - so I ask do you like that idea or did the Padres look for a more pro-active manager after Bochy left?

DEPODESTA: That's really a misperception.  Billy always involved the staff in our player personnel decisions.  Billy held the final say, as all General Managers should, just as the Manager should hold the final say when it comes to any and all on-field decisions.  In both cases, it works best when all the parties involved are able to value the opinions of everyone else, and we certainly have that here in San Diego.  

QUESTION: Your Padres traded Scott Linebrink for three arms mid-season, one of those was Joe Thatcher - just two years ago he was pitching in the Frontier League - what did scouts see in him that made him attractive to you, and do you think he's more than just a LOOGY?

DEPODESTA: We thought Joe could potentially help us down the stretch as well as for many years going forward.  He had been effective at every level, and we believed his deception had a good chance to continue to play well at the ML level.  Obviously, we were thrilled with his performance.

QUESTION: What type of advantage does playing in a park like PETCO have in terms of being able to approach the free agent or trade market and not being overly concerned about getting top talent necessarily?

DEPODESTA: I don't know that our park allows us to compete without talented players.  Our park, like many others, has nuances that we can try to exploit.  That being said, we only play half of our games in Petco, so it's not as if we can afford to build a team that can only be successful in Petco.  Guys like Jake Peavy and Chris Young have been incredibly successful away from Petco simply because they're terrific pitchers.

QUESTION: I understand that the Jack Cust deal was actually consummated through e-mail, now excuse my ignorance, but I was under the impression that most deals were done via phone; can you take us through the process of how a trade is made, from negotiating to announcing the deal?

DEPODESTA: Every deal is different, and it depends on the parties involved.  There are numerous close relationships between people in Oakland and people in San Diego, so that type of deal would be easier to begin, negotiate, or end via email.  As I recall, though, there were definitely some phone conversations that took place as well.  It is not unusual, though, for a GM to start a discussion via an idea email to another GM.

QUESTION: One of the players the Padres selected in the Rule 5 draft was Callix Crabbe - a second baseman / outfielder from the Brewers' organization - to me, he's what people commonly refer to as a "Moneyball" player, or at least the types that were undervalued at the time of the publication - do you still look for that specific player who fits the old model?

DEPODESTA: My definition of a "Moneyball" player is much different than the common usage.  I don't see it as having anything to do with walks or on-base percentage or really any statistic.  To me that really misses the point.  A "Moneyball" player is an undervalued player for any reason whatsoever.  So, yes, we still look for undervalued players.  However, there isn't a universal scale of value in baseball, as no player holds precisely the same value for all 30 clubs.  Often times "undervalued" simply means finding players who may have more value for us than they would for the player's current team.  It doesn't imply that the current team has somehow overlooked the value of the player.  That other team has a different composition of personnel and under that composition the player doesn't have as much value as he would have in our composition.  We're all trying to manage portfolios of players that need to be somewhat balanced across various attributes as well as between short-term and long-term goals.  

QUESTION: Along those same lines, a lot was made of the Kevin Kouzmanoff deal, people called him a Beane player - I suppose a DePo player would be more like it - how big of a factor were you in pursuing him, and do you think he can stick at third?

DEPODESTA: He fits my definition of a "Moneyball" player much more neatly that the accepted definition.  Kouzmanoff has never been a huge walk guy or on-base specialist, but Cleveland had significant depth at 3B, and we were thin comparatively at the time at that position.  In short, the Indians knew full well what Kouz could do, but he had more value to us.  There is no doubt in my mind that he'll stay at 3B.  I think he surprised a lot of people with his defensive capabilities, and he'll only continue to get better.

QUESTION: As a Rays' fan, I've seen my share of talented players with attitude and character issues - and we've seen Milton Bradley with both the A's and Pads, so I ask how much does make-up play into the scouting process and overall desirability of acquiring players?

DEPODESTA: I think makeup is critical.  This game is a grind, and consequently it takes tremendous mental toughness to succeed.  Makeup is often what separates the Championship players from the rest of the pack.  Nobody on talent alone is a Championship player.  The chemistry element, which I think you're hinting at, is much trickier.  I don't know that anyone has figured out the alchemy involved there.  I don't think many people would doubt its' importance, but I for one question our ability to manufacture it.  You're talking about very complex interactions.

QUESTION: Another Rays' related question - I believe it was in June when the two teams were playing a story came out about Heath Bell. Basically the Rays and Padres both wanted him from the Mets and naturally he landed with the Pads and has been very good, but the peculiar part was Towers stating - and I'm paraphrasing here - in an article something along the lines of "You guys have more prospects, if you wanted him you could've had him." That was the first time I've heard a general manager be so blunt I suppose, isn't there a fear at times about giving sound bytes and potentially losing future trading partners?

DEPODESTA: I'm not sure there is a GM with better relationships around the game than KT, and it certainly is important.  I think everyone in those positions knows about the danger of sound bytes, and I'm sure it's happened to every single GM in the game at some point or another.  

QUESTION: How does it feel to be basically a trailblazer in the world of baseball, consider a generation is coming into the game with your name and personality infused in their minds as to what an executive is supposed to be?

DEPODESTA: I doubt that is really the case.  And if they're going by what they've read, they really don't know my personality at all.  One thing that probably gets lost is how important it is to see players.  My first three years in Cleveland were spent charting games, pitch-by-pitch, and writing reports on players.  I charted over 1,000 games in those early years and written countless reports, and a lot of that time was spent learning alongside veteran baseball people like Dom Chiti, Grady Fuson, JP Ricciardi, Roy Smith, Bob Johnson, and many others.

QUESTION: Paul, you're one of the most successful men around, you have two kids and a wife, and essentially a great job - what's left for you to accomplish?

DEPODESTA: Our third child is due in April, so my wife and I need to learn how to play zone... Seriously, we're far, far away from figuring this game out, so there's still a lot of learning to do.  And, I'd like to win a ring one of these days.

Thanks a ton Paul, one of baseball's best and brightest and I wish him and the best of luck for the upcoming season.