Operations 'whiz' DePodesta fits in fine with Padres
July 13, 2007
You can tell plenty about a baseball executive by what he has on his desk. Paul DePodesta doesn't have The Sporting News in front of him in his Petco Park office. It's sterile. Surgeons can operate in it. There's a computer, of course — and a fresh copy of The Wall Street Journal.
“But it's unread — so far,” says the Padres' young special assistant for baseball operations. “It will be read by the end of the day.”
The Journal is filled with numbers, and numbers are a big part of what DePodesta does. The former Dodgers general manager, who cut his Moneyball teeth working with GM Billy Beane in Oakland, crunches them. He went to Harvard, graduating cum laude in economics.
He's a whiz, and he fits in perfectly here under CEO Sandy Alderson, who grandfathered Moneyball with the A's, and GM Kevin Towers. Baseball, far more than any other sport, is a numbers game, and these people, hardly dummies, rely on them. But, when asked for the true meaning of Moneyball, DePodesta, now all of 34 years of age, doesn't see it as written in Beane's book.
“I have a very different view,” he says. “Most people look at Moneyball and say it's all about on-base percentage and walks. I look at Moneyball as the never-ending quest for new ideas. The whole idea is to try and get to the next horizon.
“Part of the fun of this game is that we'll never figure it out. We're never going to get it right. What we try to do is become a little less inefficient in our decision-making. That's Moneyball. It doesn't mean we're going to make the World Series every year. Hopefully, we will be competitive every year. It's no guarantee for success.”
As you may know by now, Alderson is not a fan of big-salary, long-term contracts, but DePodesta says that, if Moneyball is about money, it's about how it's spent.
“From a philosophical standpoint, we're not averse to spending money,” he says. “If we value something at $100 million and we can get it for $50 million, do it. There is no absolute number. The focus is on getting value.”
As an example, the Padres recently acquired outfielder Milton Bradley in a trade with Oakland. Bradley has had a troubled past, but he's a good player who plays hard, and he is value. DePodesta brought Bradley into L.A. Don't for a minute think Towers didn't pick his gray matter before the deal was done.
“Kevin generally asks me what I think,” DePodesta says. “He doesn't always go my way. Kevin first brought up Milton to me. He asked me what I thought. Kevin was driving it as much as anybody.
“I believe in Milton. It was a pretty easy decision for us. We believe in Milton as a person. It came down to three clubs (the Rangers and Royals were the others) and all three had some connection with Milton. I think that's really telling. All three wanted him. He can make an impact. He can change our club. This guy's still in his late 20s. I don't necessarily think we've seen the best of what he can do.”
Maybe we haven't seen the best of what DePodesta can do. He's more than a desk jockey, you know. The fellow started out as an advance scout with the Indians. He knows baseball.
“We've benefited tremendously from Paul,” Alderson says. “He does more than crunch numbers. He scouts players. From the quantitative side, he's been a major contributor to that type of analysis. The analytical approach has been pursued in the past, but Paul brings something special to that.”
I'm sure DePodesta takes his computer on the road, as he does his arms and legs, but he gets out and about, especially before the draft.
“I've done a fair amount of scouting,” he says. “I felt like a cross-checker this spring. I started scouting when I was 24. Analysis helped me organize my thoughts.”
When Alderson brought in DePodesta, the dark-corner thinking was that Towers was on his way out. Not long after, Alderson extended his GM's contract. But DePodesta heard the rumblings.
“Part of the allure for me here was Kevin, and coming to a place where I already knew a lot of people,” he says. “But it takes a little time for people to realize there was no other agenda.”
DePodesta doesn't rule out trying his hand at another GM job one day, but he's in no hurry. His wife, Karen, has family here. They're happy.
“As long as I feel challenged and we continue to do new things, then, yes, I absolutely can be content here,” says DePodesta, who won't discuss his Dodgers days. “I'd consider it (a GM job), but only if it were in a near-perfect situation. I had a sense for how good I had it (in Oakland). I have that same sense here. This is good for me professionally and personally. It's a great balance, lifestylewise. I'm not anxious to leave.
“Anybody who gets into this end of the business with the idea of securing fame and adulation has seriously misplaced motivations.”
So true. For now, DePodesta is content under the radar.
As he puts it: “I'm happy being Paul.”
That's Paul DePodesta, the scouting numbers cruncher.
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