Dodgers Without a Trace(y)

When Paul DePodesta and Jim Tracy "agreed to disagree" and parted company, it left the club without a manager, a situation that DePodesta said he would remedy as soon as possible. He will be looking for a manager, as he pointed out, "who would be on the same page with me." It seems that page is his page and none other but since he is the man in charge and ultimately responsible when things go good or bad, that is probably the way to should be.

The young GM is leaving for Italy to attend the marriage of his sister, but when he returns he will have a wide range of in-house candidates to pick from, complete with major league experience as well as others who might be available.

The three strongest possibilities are (in no particular order) Class AAA manager Jerry Royster, third base coach Glenn Hoffman and Terry Collins, the director of player development.

Other candidates might include Angels pitching coach Bud Black, Oakland third base coach Ron Washington, former Mets manager Art Howe and Padres first base coach Davey Lopes.

If we were handicapping these entries, Collins would be the favorite. DePodesta has declined to talk about the qualities he is looking for in a manager but Collins was hired by DePodesta and promoted to his position.

As the Director of Player Development, he is responsible for developing and evaluating all the players in LA's strong farm system and has regularly garnered praise from the second-year GM. In addition he compiled a record of 444-434 in six seasons managing in the big leagues with Houston (1994-96) and the Angels (1997-99).

"I'm honored to have my name involved," Collins said. "I work in a whole different department than the major league team, but are we on the same page? The answer is yes. Our communication is really good."

In a telling move, DePodesta contacted Collins on before he left, informing him the job would be open and saying he would get back to him next week. The Dodgers are pleased with the job Collins has done with the minor league system.

Collins managed the Houston Astros from 1994 through 1996 and the Angels from 1997 until he was fired late in the 1999 season. He posted winning records in his first five seasons, finishing second in the division each year.

Collins, 55, interviewed for openings in Seattle and with the New York Mets last off-season and for the Kansas City job at midseason.

Royster managed a talent-strapped 51s club to a 57-86 record and a last-place finish in the Pacific Coast League before he was called up to help coach the big-league club in September. Surviving that should say a lot about his credentials.

Royster, 52, is a former Dodger infielder who managed 147 games in 2002 with the Milwaukee Brewers. He inherited a team with questionable talent and went 53-94. He has spent nine seasons as a minor league manager.

"I definitely have interest in the opening," he said. "It's actually a dream job. It's something that anyone who is aspiring to be a manager, you'd want to be the manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers. And for me, it's home because that's where I started my career."

Royster played 16 big-league seasons, three with LA (1973-75), coached for the Colorado Rockies and managed 147 games for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2002, when he served as the interim skipper.

Hoffman has spent six seasons as the Dodgers third base coach and guided the club to a 47-41 record in 1998 when he became the interim manager on June 21.

Although his time on the job was brief, his .534 winning percentage is higher than Dodgers Hall of Fame managers Tom Lasorda, Ned Hanlon, Monte Ward, Wilbert Robinson, Max Carey, Casey Stengle and Burleigh Grimes and also tops the mark set by Davey Johnson in 1999-2000.

Davey Lopes, an All-Star second baseman for the Dodgers 1972-1981 who still holds the club's career record for stolen bases, managed a weak Milwaukee team 2000-2002 (Jerry Royster took over from him) and recorded a 144-195 record.

Currently a coach with San Diego, he has interviewed for every managerial job since Connie Mack retired and each time has been given the "don't call us, we'll call you" answer. GMs looking for a fine baseball mind and a no-nonsense guy in the clubhouse, this is your man.

Howe and Washington were both with Oakland when DePodesta served as an assistant GM there. Howe managed the A's from 1996-2002, but sources say he didn't see eye-to-eye with DePodesta and can be considered only a long shot.

Washington, meanwhile, has been on the A's coaching staff since 1996 and is known for being an old-school straight-shooter who is a favorite with players.

He was instrumental in helping American League MVP Miguel Tejada and also tutored third baseman Eric Chavez, who gave one of his four Gold Glove awards to the former Dodger to thank him for his help.

Washington, who made his big-league debut with LA in 1977, has been interested in managing for a long time. He is a strong motivator and is well-schooled in the "Moneyball" approach developed by Oakland GM Billy Beane and DePodesta, who was Beane's assistant for several years.

Orel Hershiser, the former Dodger pitching great who has been mentioned in several published reports, is probably a long shot, sources said. Hershiser is the pitching coach for the Texas Rangers.

He is an extremely astute baseball man and would make a great manager and -- sometime soon -- a great general manager.

Whoever is chosen will be at the mercy of the talent that DePodesta adds -- or don't add -- for the 2006 season. And two of the Dodgers top stars are not so convinced that there will be the additions needed.

Eric Gagne, signed through 2006 with an option for 2007 that he or the team can buy his way out of, said he has no interest in being part of a rebuilding project.

"We should be like the Yankees. The Yankees don't rebuild. They go out and get what they need to win," he said. "We have the resources to be like that; 3.6 million fans came out this year. We get, what, $40 million from TV revenue without doing a thing.

"I don't want to be here if we're just going to play kids and rebuild. Yeah, I put my name on a contract, and I respect that. But the Dodgers' logo was on top of that contract -- not the Milwaukee Brewers or the (Triple-A) Las Vegas 51s."

Jeff Kent has also said he doesn't want to be part of a rebuilding project. He said he will be in a "wait-and-see mode" this offseason as they replace Jim Tracy as manager and address the deficiencies exposed by overwhelming number of injuries suffered. He could ask for a trade to a team he feels more likely to contend in 2006.

DePodesta said "that conversation will take place" but didn't expect it to involve any trade request. "I certainly don't blame him for feeling that way," DePodesta said. "But we're not going in that direction (a non-competitive rebuilding mode), so I don't feel the need to address a hypothetical."

But one of Tracy's parting comments indicated he didn't think the Dodgers will be serious contenders in 2006. That, Tracy said, is why he wanted a contract extension.

"Is it fixable? I definitely think it is," Tracy said. "But if the question is can it be done overnight or even in one season? I don't know that the answer to that question is yes."

Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh Pirates said Tracy was a strong candidate for their managerial opening. So far, Pirate General Manager Dave Littlefield has interviewed only Atlanta Brave third base coach Fredi Gonzalez.

"I'm aware of Jim Tracy and I have a great deal of respect for him," Littlefield said. "I would have interest in him now that he is available."

But sources say the Pirates did have a conversation with Tracy's Houston-based agents, Alan and Randy Hendricks. Tracy is believed to be the leading candidate -- possibly the only candidate.

At one time it would have been unthinkable that a Dodger manager with a year left on his contract would opt out of what was once one of the top two managerial jobs in the major leagues and seek a position with a team like Pittsburgh that finished the season with a 67-95 record, last in the N.L. Central.

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