The Inside Pitch

The first year of Paul DePodesta's reign as general manager of the Dodgers has been littered with what could be characterized as missteps. The GM elected to tear apart a first-place team at the trade deadline in pursuit of Diamondbacks ace Randy Johnson. He didn't land the Big Unit and wound up trading an All-Star catcher (Paul Lo Duca) and outstanding setup man (Guillermo Mota) for an injured pitcher (Brad Penny) and unproductive first baseman (Hee-Seop Choi).

Prospects brought Steve Finley, but DePodesta had to go back to the Diamondbacks and get catcher Brent Mayne included in the deal when DePodesta's plan to acquire Charles Johnson as Lo Duca's replacement was scuttled by Johnson's no-trade clause.

Finley became a two-month rental when the Dodgers made little or no effort to re-sign him after the season (and were roundly criticized at the winter meetings by Finley's agent, Tommy Tanzer, for their handling of the situation). Another 2004 hero, Jose Lima, was also cut loose.

Even though DePodesta called him the team's top offseason priority, Adrian Beltré was allowed to leave when the Dodgers waited too long to make a contract offer and then were soundly outbid by the Seattle Mariners.

On the heels of that setback, DePodesta became enmeshed in another attempt to get Randy Johnson out of Arizona, this time as part of a three-way trade that would have sent him to New York. The Dodgers would have given up four major league players (Shawn Green, Brad Penny, Kazuhisa Ishii and Yhency Brazoban) for just two (Javier Vazquez and Mike Koplove) plus prospects in search of payroll flexibility at this late date in the offseason.

That deal collapsed when DePodesta pulled the Dodgers out -- a decision seen by many in L.A. as the best he's made as GM. The Dodgers quickly signed OF J.D. Drew to a free agent contract, spending the money they had earmarked for Beltré and finally giving the team some forward momentum in the offseason.

But the 32-year-old DePodesta was not willing to admit he was a rookie GM who might be making rookie mistakes.

"Not really. There's nothing I regret at this point," DePodesta said. "I don't necessarily feel that way. I went through a whole season. I've been through the (in-season trade) deadline, so I've been through one deal-making phase. Especially as it pertains to this (collapsed three-team trade) -- no, not at all. We were most deliberate about this.

"At the end of the day, it wasn't going to come together and make sense for us."

NOTES, QUOTES
--The Dodgers signed veteran infielder Jose Valentin to a one-year, $3.5 million contract. Valentin, 35, has been primarily a shortstop during his major league career, but the Dodgers see him as part of the solution to filling the void left by third baseman Adrian Beltré. The left-handed Valentin is expected to platoon with right-handed Antonio Perez (who has also spent most of his career in the middle infield). Valentin hit just .216 last season but had 30 home runs for the White Sox and has averaged 27 home runs per season over the last five years.

--The Dodgers re-signed LHP Wilson Alvarez. Alvarez was a free agent but agreed to a two-year, $4 million contract to return to the Dodgers. Alvarez, 34, was 7-6 with a 4.03 ERA last season while filling a swing-man role for the second year in a row for the Dodgers. He is likely headed to the same situation in 2005 though, as it stands now, Alvarez is the Dodgers' best option for the fifth starter spot.

--The Dodgers chose not to offer arbitration to 2B Alex Cora, allowing the infielder to become a free agent. With the free-agent signings of Jeff Kent and Jose Valentin, Cora clearly became relegated to a utility role, one the Dodgers were not willing to pay more than his 2004 salary of $1.3 million to fill. C Tom Wilson and LHP Scott Stewart also became non-tendered free agents.

--IF Olmedo Saenz and RHP Giovanni Carrara each reached agreement on one-year contracts with the Dodgers, avoiding arbitration.

--The Dodgers offered arbitration to OF Milton Bradley, but GM Paul DePodesta said he was "very, very close" to signing Bradley to a one-year contract. DePodesta said earlier this offseason that he hoped to avoid the negative process of an arbitration hearing with Bradley. The volatile outfielder is seeing a therapist for counseling on anger management and other problems this offseason. Nonetheless, he had another run-in with law enforcement in Ohio during Thanksgiving week and spent three days in jail last week as part of his sentence for an earlier incident.

BY THE NUMBERS: 966-742 -- Number of games played by Adrian Beltré and J.D. Drew during their first six full seasons in the big leagues.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Heck, yeah, I was injury prone." --- OF J.D. Drew, blaming his many physical setbacks primarily on a knee problem that required surgery in October 2002.

ROSTER REPORT
First-year GM Paul DePodesta clearly didn't think much of the roster he inherited last February. Since that time, he has turned over more than half of the Dodgers' 40-man roster with more changes certainly in store this winter. Free agents Steve Finley and Adrian Beltré have signed elsewhere. Shawn Green is being shopped in trade talks, and DePodesta is ready to listen to "any compelling offer for any player," making it likely that the Dodgers team which reports to Vero Beach in February will be all but unrecognizable from a year ago. A ragged starting rotation needs at least two new arms. A gaping hole at catcher has yet to be filled. The signing of OF J.D. Drew replaces one bat in the middle of the lineup. But the signings of veterans Jeff Kent and Jose Valentin signal a move toward a more power-oriented lineup at the expense of defense, one of the team's strengths in 2004.

ARRIVALS: 2B Jeff Kent (free agent from Houston); INF Jose Valentin (free agent from Chicago White Sox); OF J.D. Drew (free agent from Atlanta); OF Ricky Ledee (free agent from San Francisco); RHP D.J. Houlton (selected in the Rule 5 draft).

DEPARTURES: 3B Adrian Beltré (free agent, signed with Seattle); INF Robin Ventura (retired); INF Jose Hernandez (free agent, signed with Cleveland), RHP Jose Lima (free agent, signed with Kansas City), OF Steve Finley (free agent, signed with Anaheim); RHP Hideo Nomo, C Todd Hundley, RHP Paul Shuey all not were offered salary arbitration; 2B Alex Cora, C Tom Wilson and LHP Scott Stewart were not offered contracts.

BIGGEST NEEDS: The loss of Adrian Beltré and Steve Finley to free agency created a void in the middle of the Dodgers' lineup. GM Paul DePodesta focused on replacing that production "in the aggregate, not position by position" by signing OF J.D. Drew, 2B Jeff Kent and INF Jose Valentin. By allocating his early offseason resources to offense, though, the GM has left himself with a weak starting rotation that desperately needs at least two fresh arms before spring training. The Dodgers' rotation all but collapsed in the final two months of the 2004 season, and only RHP Jose Lima (who left via free agency) acquitted himself well in the team's brief playoff cameo. Brad Penny (biceps nerve irritation) will enter 2005 with health questions to answer. Other than that, the Dodgers' rotation projects to be filled out by Jeff Weaver, Kazuhisa Ishii and unproven Edwin Jackson. Catching, meanwhile, became a black hole after the midseason trade of Paul Lo Duca left it in the hands of David Ross and Brent Mayne. That must be addressed for 2005.

FREE AGENTS: LHP Odalis Perez, C Brent Mayne, RHP Hideo Nomo, RHP Paul Shuey), C Todd Hundley (not offered), RHP Elmer Dessens (resigned).

Re-signing Beltré was the Dodgers' top offseason priority, GM Paul DePodesta repeatedly said. But he failed to get that done, losing the MVP runner-up to the Seattle Mariners. DePodesta has tried to replace the power loss of Beltré with the signings of 2B Jeff Kent, INF Jose Valentin and OF J.D. Drew. Addressing significant needs in the starting rotation and at catcher will be harder to do now that the free-agent market has thinned and the Dodgers' resources have been directed elsewhere.

ARBITRATION ELIGIBLE: RHP Eric Gagné, RHP Brad Penny, OF Milton Bradley, IF Olmedo Saenz, RHP Giovanni Carrara.

Gagné was an angry man last winter when he lost his arbitration case despite having just won the Cy Young Award. He would like the Dodgers to come to him with a multiyear contract offer but has little or no leverage to make that happen. It ranks fairly low on the Dodgers' offseason priorities. Bradley's status as an angry young man is well documented, and the Dodgers would like to reach a one-year contract agreement with him to avoid the negative aspects of an arbitration hearing. Saenz and Carrara reached one-year contract agreements before the arbitration deadline. IN LIMBO: 1B-RF Shawn Green, LHP Kazuhisa Ishii.
Green is entering the final year of a six-year deal that will pay him $16 million in 2005. Green's production (particularly his power numbers and clutch hitting) has dropped off in the last two seasons, leaving him seriously overpaid. The Dodgers would love to get out from under the last year of that contract, and that was their main motivation in trying to include Green in the failed three-way trade with the Diamondbacks and Yankees. The free-agent signing of J.D. Drew just increases the Dodgers' desire to unload Green. In Ishii's case, the Dodgers have tired of the erratic left-hander's inconsistency and would gladly move him. But Ishii can veto trades to a list of 10 teams and may have limited market value.

MEDICAL WATCH: OF Jayson Werth (strained tendon in right elbow, hoping to rehabilitate without surgery), RHP Darren Dreifort (recovering from hip and knee surgeries, not likely to play in 2005).

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