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Gaslamp Ball Interview with Paul DePodesta Part III

Have we really been chatting for three days? How have we not finished these fish tacos? Power through. There's more to be learned in this final installment. Grab a fish taco while you're at it...

GLB: I'm not sure if it will be the rule again this year, but when Barry Bonds was here, they didn't allow access to the Padres Store viewing area and some other areas in the park, basically to keep Bonds from getting heckled. What are your thoughts on that? Will it happen again this year?

DePodesta: That would be a question for Sandy ultimately. Some of that actually last year may have had to do with Major League Baseball security as much as it had to do with San Diego or Petco Park security. We certainly want our fans to be as much a part of the action as they possibly can and I think just the layout of Petco Park in general is a testament to that. That being said, the number one concern, when so many fans come through our gates every year, is security. And not just for our players, but also our fans. We want Petco to be as safe an environment as possible and as family friendly an environment as possible. Everybody can come and have a good time and almost feel like they're home and experience some of the thrilling moments that they've had already in this ballpark's history. I think in general, we probably err on the side of caution in order to respect that security, but again, sometimes it's not even always our call or exclusively our call. Sometimes it's mandated to us from MLB.

GLB: When you see the fans our there really giving Barry Bonds hell, are you thinking it's a good thing, or are you a little more worried?

DePodesta: Well I was born in Philly... [laughter] ...So there may be a different standard for heckling that I grew up with up. Listen. We want to have a home field advantage. There's no doubt. We don't want other teams to want to play here. As great a place as San Diego is to live and to visit, we don't want [other teams] enjoying their time here. That being said, we also don't want them to be fearing for themselves by any stretch of the imagination. There's no doubt, I think, that we prefer a vocal crowd, one who is actively supporting the home team. I think we probably prefer active and loud support of the home team as opposed to active and loud booing of the opponents, but an involved crowd certainly is a benefit to us.

GLB: How much thought is put into team chemistry when you're building a team? When you look at stats, it's easy to overlook chemistry and San Diego seems to have always had good chemistry.

DePodesta: Yeah. Fortunately, we had some teams that I was a part of in Oakland that had terrific chemistry... It's a good question. I mean, chemistry's really difficult. There's no doubt that it's important. I think the main question is a chicken and egg question. And if you ask a lot of players - at least players that I've asked both current and former - they'll tell you that team chemistry is a three game winning streak away. Typically winning cures all. Losing, especially in highly competitive atmospheres, errodes chemistry. I think an example of that is the Minnesota Twins, who've been an absolutely terrific organization. They've done a great job in the last eight or ten years. They've been a perennial contender and they've been known as being an incredibly strong fundamental team. A very tight knit team with good chemistry. In 2005, they suffered some injuries. They ended up falling out of the race and things seemed to be falling apart in their clubhouse. Guys were kicking the manager's door. You were reading all these different stories of unrest. I think that's what happens when you have high expectations and you fall short of them. These are highly competitive people who expect a lot of themselves and the people around them. So, put it this way. I don't think it's something you can control and it's very difficult to try and create. I know in the past, in situations I've been in, and even here, we always like to look for players who've been there before, who've experienced greatness, to some degree know what it feels like, and to another degree know what it takes to prepare. I like guys who have high expectations; who go into Spring Training expecting to play in October. But again, bringing together twenty-five of those guys doesn't ensure that you're going to have great chemistry... I think if you have a couple of key veterans, they can really set the tone. I think Trevor Hoffman here is probably as great a reason for the solid team chemistry here over there years as anybody. He's a relentless workaholic. He's understated. He's selfless. He's everything you'd want in a star. I think all the other players look to that and realize that it's easy for them to fall in line behind Trevor. It's hard to find those kinds of guys and when you do it's hard to measure what they bring because they do end up impacting an awful lot of other people in the clubhouse.

GLB: Do you look a lot at VORP, WARP, Win Shares? How up to date are you on the Baseball Prospectus and Bill James stuff that's out there?

DePodesta: We look at everything. Again, I don't think we pretend to have the holy grail. So we'll look at anything out there that we think is reasonable and maybe provides us more information. Whenever we make a decision on players, it's almost like trying to paint a painting. It depends on who the player is and what his experience level is, his age, etc., but to some degree, the player's stats or his past performance can fill in the border and maybe give you an idea of what the picture would look like. However, without a scout putting that performance in context, the picture's still going to be very blurry and incomplete. So we try to look at every source we possibly can. Certainly our scouts, our stats, our medical people, people who maybe know the player personally, our coaches, maybe what our instructors think that they might be able to do or maybe what this player could potentially do better. We're going to try to look at every single one of those things. Now, when every single one of those avenues ends up leading us to the same place? You have this really nice, clear picture of what this player is. Those are the ones where you sleep really well at night, because everything agrees. It's the ones where you get conflicting signals from all these different sources of information. Those are the ones you have to dig deeper on and try to find what the real story is. Not everybody is that clear and that perfect. That's the way we try to approach it. We're not going to rule out anything that we think is going to help us.

GLB: How much do you want your scouts to know about the latest statistical analysis?

DePodesta: I think there's a fine line. I know Jeff Kingston has done a great job in our front office - and Chief Gayton for that matter - of making our scouts aware of some of the statistical analysis that's out there. At the same time, from my perspective, I would never want those statistics clouding the judgement of our scouts. The scouts are there to tell us what the stats can't. What I wouldn't want any scout to do is to describe a player based on his statistics. That's something we can do from the office. We have scouts in the field because there are things you can't necessarily see on paper or see in the statistics that are incredibly relevant. Again, that context of competition, and even how they're putting up the numbers is as, or more important, than the numbers themselves. As valuable as it is to know what players have done in the past, our real job is to predict what they're going to do in the future. So those numbers in the past may be a good guide, but the context as to how those numbers were achieved is probably just as, if not more valuable, in helping us predict the future, than the numbers themselves. If that makes any sense.

GLB: It does. [pause while we look for a new question] Extra picks...

DePodesta: [excitedly] Hmm!

GLB: Yeah. What are you doing with all those extra picks?

DePodesta: We're looking forward to it! I think we, as a baseball operations staff, did a nice job of accumulating all of these picks. I think we surprised a lot of people in the industry by being able to do what we did. Part one of the plan has been executed. Now we have to execute part two. That's the tricky part. We need to go out and get the right players. We're very excited about it. I know the whole staff is excited about it, the guys that are already out there seeing players. College baseball season has already started. It's going to be exciting. We only have one pick in the first round and our second pick isn't going to be till around the 40th pick, but then in the next fifty picks or so is when we have the bulk of our picks. I think we have about another seven picks in that range. So we're not going to be picking from the elite, the top ten guys you'll read about in Baseball America, but I think we have a chance of getting some very solid players, if last year's draft was any indication. Grady and Chief were able to get guys like Chad Huffman and Cedric Hunter and Wade LeBlanc and those kinds of guys who are already very solid prospects for us in that area of the draft. We're very excited. I think if we take advantage of it, it can really help solidify the foundation of our organization for a long time. The Padres player development system has gotten knocked around a little bit by the major publications over the last couple of years. We think last years draft - even the last two years - has gone a long way towards rectifying that image. Then this year, hopefully, will be another big step in doing that. I think we're realistic enough to know we're not going to hit on every single guy. Nobody ever does, but will all of those picks, hopefully, we could hit on a couple of key guys who can be important pieces for us for a long time.

GLB: Could you do a quick SWOT analysis for the Padres?

DePodesta: [laughs]

GLB: Could you at least tell us a few of the weaknesses we'll be facing?

DePodesta: I discussed it a little earlier, but I think everybody to some degree is at mercy to the injuries that they incur. That's something I always worry about. It's something that's very difficult to control. I think that an injury to the wrong guy here or there could hurt us. I feel like we're a very balanced team. I think all of us feel that way. We have a good, very balanced lineup. We're a solid defensive team. I think we're a very good rotation, one to five. I think we're a very deep bullpen, anchored by one of the best closers in the game. So I don't think there's any glaring weakness. I don't think there's one [place] on our team where other teams look and say, "Boy, they have to do better there if they expect to win." We may not have that dynamic, Albert Pujols, Ryan Howard type presence in the middle of our lineup, but really don't think we have very many weaknesses. In that sense, if we can stay healthy, knock on wood, we certainly expect to be in this thing till the very end because of that depth. Our three-four-five hitters might not stack up with Boston or the Yankees, but we feel like our six-seven-eight hitters are going to be better than just about everyone we face. It's similar to our rotation. Our three-four-five guys are probably going to be better than almost any other three-four-five in the league. I think our depth, in that sense, is really going to serve us well over the course of 162 games and more than make up for whatever we may lack in star power. With some of our young guys, who's to say what they may end up doing? Who's to say what Adrian Gozalez is going to do this year? He may end up being one of the more prolific middle-of-the-order bats in the league this year. Who knows? What he did his rookie season is outstanding stuff.

GLB: The last couple of years, it feels like we've had such a hard time driving in runs. We'd get the bases loaded and we'd bring in one. Is it going to be tough again this year?

DePodesta: I hope not. It always seems that way. Then, you play in a ballpark, like Petco, that certainly favors the pitcher, it can seem even tougher and even more frustrating when it comes to scoring runs. I think because of the depth of our line up this year - the fact that one through eight, there's no real weak link - I think we're going to be in good shape as far as that's concerned. I don't think we're going to have five guys who hit thirty homers. I don't know that we ever will playing in this ballpark, but there isn't a soft spot in their lineup that teams can take advantage of. They can't pitch around our four-five guys to get to six-seven-eight knowing that there are outs coming their way. We could be one of those teams this year that has a different hero every night. There were times last year that was the case when things were going good and they were scoring some runs...

GLB: Is there any sort of Padres policy towards blogs? Some other organizations were claiming that there's a MLBAM policy about not communicating with blogs.

DePodesta: That's not something I'm aware of. Certainly, they have their own blogs. They get player particiaption and front office participation on those, but it's not a policy I'm aware of.

[general chit-chat]

DePodesta: So you're both from around here?

GLB: Born and raised.

DePodesta: Good spot. I'm hoping my kids can say the same; that this is where they grew up even if they weren't born here.

GLB: So you're hoping to stick around for a while then?

DePodesta: Definitely. Definitely. Honestly, on both a professional and personal level, I really couldn't imagine a better scenario. I have a hard time believing I would ever leave. I'll put it that way.

GLB: Any dreams of being a GM again?

DePodesta: Not really. The most important thing in my experience is being with the right people. That's what makes it fun and I've been ridiculously lucky in terms of being with great people throughout my career.

GLB: At this lunch?

DePodesta: [laughs] Absolutely! I think culminating with this lunch.

GLB: It all led to this!

DePodesta: [laughs] I mean, you know, in Cleveland and Oakland and in this particular office... For me, this is like an all star cast of baseball people. Sandy. Kevin. Fred Uhlman Jr.'s been here for a long time. Grady. Chief. A lot of these guys I knew. It's the first team I've worked for where I walked in the first day and immediately felt comfortable. It was the only place where I knew people previously so to some degree, knew what I was getting into. Some of the other guys here that don't get a lot of recognition. The guys like Jeff Kingston. Josh Stein, who's a San Diego native. Chris Long. Some of the work that's being done here is pretty exciting. It's an extraordinary group of guys. In that sense, I consider myself lucky and wouldn't want to leave. Wouldn't want to leave the group... Which is probably part of the reason I broke out the range finder. [laugh]

GLB: [hearty laugh]

DePodesta: But no, really, I think it's a special group. When I was first in Cleveland, when I was just an intern, before becoming an advance scout, John Hart was the GM. Dan O'Dowd was the assistant GM. Mark Shapiro was the farm director and Josh Burns was the assistant for baseball operations. All those guys are GMs. I had a short time as a GM as well. I think you recognize when you're in those types of situations. When you're just surrounded by so many people who have a chance to go onto various leadership positions within the industry. I feel that way here. Even with our young guys. I think our young guys who don't get a lot of recognition have a chance to impact this game for a long time. I'll be happy to be able to say, "I knew them when". It really is a special group.

GLB: To make it this far, you've been pretty driven, but you also turned down the Blue Jays GM job at one time. What happened there?

DePodesta: Well, aside from driven, to be honest with you, I was very lucky. I was lucky to get the Indians internship first of all. My primary responsibility my first spring was driving a 15-passenger van, to give you an idea of where it all began. Incredibly lucky that Billy asked me to be the Assistant GM at Oakland at such a young age. I was 25 when he offered me the job. In a lot of respects, people may have thought that sped it up for me. I think in reality that really slowed it down for me, because I thought, I could do this for fifteen years and still be young, you know, as far as industry standards go. So, I'm in no hurry! I'm in no rush to get anywhere. I'm in a great place. I'm learning from an incredible executive. When the Toronto opportunity came around, or when any opportunity came around for that matter, I was never anxious to leave Oakland. Ever. I was still having fun. I knew I still had more to learn. And there's also the balance between your personal life and your professional life. In that particular instance, I was getting married in about three weeks and the idea of being both a first time husband and a first time GM in the same year didn't sound like a very compelling idea at the time. Now I have two kids that mean the world to me. So everything you go through sort of ends up changing your perspective a little bit. I think when you're as lucky as I've been in terms of being in the right situation and being with the right people, there's really no reason to be anxious or driven to move to the next job or the next spot. I think four teams is enough on my resume. [laughs] Hopefully this is it.

GLB: How did these questions compare to what you usually get?

DePodesta: [laughs] Much more interesting.

A thousand thanks to Paul DePodesta for sitting and chatting with us! It was one of the best baseball experiences we've ever had.

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