Gaslamp Ball Interview with Paul DePodesta Part I

Update [2007-2-14 11:43:15 by Dex]: How could I forget? It's officially been two years since jbox and I started this blogging thing. It's been a great time, and we never would have thought that these first few posts would eventually lead to this... Thanks all!

The San Diego Padres unquestionably have one of the most impressive front offices in all of baseball. Sandy Alderson, Kevin Towers, Grady Fuson, Bill "Chief" Gayton and others are responsible for two division titles running. After a brief stint as the Dodgers GM, Paul DePodesta was added to the list as yet another great baseball mind in the front office. Gaslamp Ball was lucky enough to get a chance to sit with Paul DePodesta and pick his brain over fish tacos. Enjoy!

GLB: What do you do?

DePodesta: [laughs]

GLB: When you came in everybody thought Kevin Towers was gone. You were Sandy's guy and Grady seemed to have the draft under wraps. We thought Towers wasn't going to be around for long, but you've obviously been working together for a while, so what is it that you're doing?

DePodesta: First thing, there is no way I would have ever come here nor do I think there was any way Sandy would have asked me to come here if we would have thought that [Towers leaving] would be the case. I wouldn't have come here if Kevin wasn't one of my favorite GM's in the game. Otherwise, it wouldn't really be fun. I've known Kevin for a long time and Sandy and I were both adamant that whatever role we create for me that it be able to seamlessly integrate/co-exist with all the personnel currently in place. Not just in the short term but in the long term. And I think we've certainly been able to do that quite easily. My role, how I fit into everything... I think I'm somewhat like the front office rover. Our minor league system has rovers that go around to the hitting coordinator, pitching coordinator. I'm sort of helping out wherever they need me. I got here shortly before the trading deadline. Kevin utilized me during the trading deadline and even into August as we made the Branyan deal. Then going into the offseason I was certainly helping out with the major league club. Right now, I'm helping out in the office with the arbitration case on Todd Walker. Once the draft rolls around I'll be able to help out with Chief and Grady. As they need me, I'm sure I'll go out and see players that they assign to me. So I'm really sort of helping out in every area that happens to come up in the baseball calendar. I'm not necessarily responsible for any one area.

GLB: So for something like the Werth case, the press had said that you were actually handling those negotiations. Are you taking on those sorts of duties? Actively talking to players and things like that?

DePodesta: I am. You know in Oakland, Billy and I would split up all the negotiations based on relationships that maybe we had with an agent or maybe with a past player - I had been in Cleveland before going to Oakland -- and its similar here. Certainly Kevin is going to handle the important negotiations and the biggest ones. I'm talking about Greg Maddux, David Wells and Marcus Giles. Kevin obviously handles all of those. For my standpoint, I was involved in signing the minor league free agents. A handful of those players I knew personally or had dealt with their agents. Jeff Kingston signed a handful of those guys for similar reasons. So it really just comes down to who we think has the best chance of getting the deal done as easily as possible and in a handful of instances that will end up being me because of the places I've been, but certainly again, the most important ones Kevin will be handling as he always has.

GLB: How do you manage the risk associated with veteran players that may have had an off year last year, but have had success in the past? How do you know when their career is on the decline or over?

DePodesta: That's a tough one. You really have to rely on your scouts who've got a chance to get out there and see those players. See if maybe something has slowed down just a tick. If their swing has slowed a little bit or their arm speed has slowed just a tad. I actually remember talking to Buddy Black about this back when we were with the Indians. Sometimes a hitter will tell you what kind of stuff a pitcher has and suddenly they will start taking a little bit better swings against a guy. It's awfully hard to be able to predict exactly when it's going to happen. We'd all be better at our jobs if we knew exactly when the decline, especially the precipitous one, was about to occur. In general age isn't terribly kind to baseball players, as they get into their early to mid 30's.

GLB: What about David Wells and Maddux in particular? At some point these guys are going to start shutting down.

DePodesta: Clearly, with those guys, I don't think we expect either one of them to be in the form they were in their late twenties or early thirties when Maddux was winning a Cy Young virtually every year, but the great thing about both of those guys is that they are extreme strike throwers. They force contact. They force the hitter to beat them. Both showed, even last year, with some reduction of velocity that in their post peak years, they are still very competitive and they still certainly can help a team win, especially a team like ours that plays in a ballpark like ours. There are certain skills - and this is a generalized statement - that don't necessarily disappear. Being able to get on base is one of them. Throwing strikes is another. Having those two guys, just their strike throwing ability alone, in our ballpark and also our defense will be able to keep us in games and hopefully win a handful of games that they are starting. So I think with both of those guys, it will come down to them wanting to hang it up or an injury. Although in Maddux's case, knock on wood, his health track record is virtually impeccable.

GLB: So with those two guys, what do you see the rotation as being then? What we were thinking was something like Peavy, Young, Maddux, Clay and Wells. Space them out seeing as they'll probably be relying on the bullpen more than the others.

DePodesta: I could see that. I mean certainly it would make a lot of sense. One point is that ultimately that will be Blackie's decision as to how to line those guys up. Another thing is that rotation, or any rotation tends to lose its significance after the first couple of turns. Especially with so many off days at the beginning. If we have a guy, maybe because of the way he came out of spring training, maybe he could use an extra day or something like that. The whole rotation could be scrambled in the first week. It might matter in that first San Francisco series and when we come home against Colorado we'll have them lined up. And then hopefully, knock on wood, we'll have a chance to line them up again in October the way we want to. Or maybe coming out of the All-Star Break. Other than that, the schedule will dictate how we line those guys up. But it's a high-class problem having those five guys.

GLB: Could you tell us a little bit about Bud Black's interview? What solidified him as the candidate?

DePodesta: I think one of the most important aspects of any manager is being a relationship manager with his players. Really being able to motivate them and get the most out of them that you possibly can. In reality that's the job of all of our field staff in the minor leagues and the major leagues. Get the absolute most out of every player that you possibly can. And Blackie has such a great way with players and such a great way with people in general. It's really really difficult to dislike Buddy Black. [laugh] And yet there's a presence about him and a confidence and a sense of humor that I think is indicative of a leader. I think players really respond to him. He's not a yeller and screamer, but he's one of those rare guys who doesn't need to be. And we knew him beforehand, but that was certainly evident even in just the way he carried himself in the interview.

GLB: Bochy's a manager like that. A player's manager. Does Black bring something extra to the table?

DePodesta: Well, I can't really speak all that much about Boch because I was only here for a few months, so most of what I know about him is second hand. Obviously, he's a first class guy and people thought the world of him here, for good reason. You know, Blackie was a pitcher. In Anaheim, not only did they have tremendous success with their pitching staff, but incredible success with their bullpen, which is where most of the pitching decisions actually get made... In bullpen use. We think that'll be an advantage for us. He's also a pitcher that certainly can relate to position players, which again has its added advantage. I think also the fact that Buddy's been able to see the game from so many different perspectives. He was a very good major league pitcher. He came over to Cleveland and finished his playing career in Cleveland. That's actually where I met him. I was working in player development in Cleveland and then I was the advance scout in Cleveland. He did some advancing and some playoff advancing with me in '97. He was a pitching coach. He worked in the front office. He attended the winter meetings. He attended the GM's meetings. He has first hand knowledge of player negotiations, whether they be trades or free agent signings. He has a really firm understanding of how rosters are composed. And because of his background in player development, he understands the process and ultimately the expectations on the players from rookie ball all the way up to the big leagues. So I think the fact that he has that sort of global experience; I don't know exactly how that will translate to in game decisions, but I think overall just as an organizational leader, the fact that he's had that type of experience will really help him and certainly help us.

Come back tomorrow, when we ask DePo about the five tools of baseball. Is the fifth tool really Looks Good In Baseball Pants? We say it is. What does DePo say?

Paul DePodesta Preview, Part I, Part II, Part III

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