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DePodesta's revenge

Vilified GM's Dodgers are surprising everyone

Posted: Monday April 18, 2005 12:12PM; Updated: Monday April 18, 2005 4:28PM
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Paul DePodesta (left) was heavily criticized for his controversial moves, including paying an exhorbitant $36 million for Derek Lowe.
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Nobody wanted to give Dodgers general manager Paul DePodesta a chance, almost from the start. Last year, when he tore apart a shaky first-place team in the middle of the season -- oh, Paul Lo Duca, come back! -- the new GM was ripped from all corners. In the offseason, as DePodesta watched apparently helplessly as some of the Dodgers' best talent was stolen away, he was attacked again.

The press vilified him. Fans ridiculed him. Those inside the game simply shook their heads in wonder. No GM in the game was second-guessed more.

Now the Dodgers are in first place in the NL West and have the majors' best record, and if DePodesta isn't laughing his head off, he sure as heck should be.

The Dodgers have jumped out to their best start since 1955 (9-2), thanks to solid early-season pitching (a 3.55 team ERA) and -- get this -- the most productive offense in the game. They lost big bats in Adrian Beltre, Steve Finley and Shawn Green this offseason, but L.A. still has scored more than 6 runs a game, best in the bigs.

How have they done it? It's this simple: DePodesta's moves are working out.

Jeff Kent, ripped for being a stiff at second base when DePodesta signed him this offseason, has played flawlessly in the field. And he's hitting .415 with four homers and 13 RBIs.

Jose Valentin, the replacement for Beltre at third, cost the Dodgers an Opening Day win with an error. Defensively, he's definitely no Beltre. But he's pretty good with the bat so far, hitting .367 with two homers and eight RBIs, and he's played enough third base in his long career that he'll be all right over there.

J.D. Drew, who was supposed to replace some of the pop lost when Beltre signed with Seattle, Finley went to Anaheim and Green was traded to the Diamondbacks, had a terrible start to the season. But in the past six games, the talented outfielder is hitting .315 with his first homer and his first three RBIs.

Derek Lowe, signed to bolster the pitching staff, had a complete-game three-hitter against the Padres on Friday and has a 1.77 ERA.

Others are chipping in. Odalis Perez, the free-agent lefty the Dodgers didn't let get away, leads the team with a 1.59 ERA and is 2-0 in his two starts. Milton Bradley is hitting .333, as is slick-fielding shortstop Cesar Izturis. Just about everything is working in L.A.

Late in March, I sat in a golf cart with DePodesta overlooking Holman Stadium in Vero Beach, Fla., talking pitching, the Dodgers' tumultuous offseason and the future of the team. DePodesta had to scramble when the market for starting pitching got silly, then he was taken off guard by the money the Mariners threw at Beltre (five years, $64 million).

That move probably forced DePodesta to pay more for Kent (two years, $17 million) and Drew (five years, $55 million) than he wanted to. But he adjusted, as all good general managers do. Because of moves he's made in the past year or so -- including the highly controversial one that sent catcher Lo Duca to Florida -- the Dodgers are in position to contend in the NL West for the long run (and remember, they won the West last year). They're in better financial position, too, than they've been in years.