Hart Seems to be Leading GM Candidate

As the search for the Dodgers' next general manager grinds on, former Cleveland and Texas GM John Hart appears to be emerging as the leading candidate. Josh Rawitch, the Dodgers director of public relations, reports that Hart expressed interest in the position and is expected to go forth with a formal interview. But Rangers GM Jon Daniels told the Dallas Morning News last week that Hart indicated he'd remain in an advisory role with the Rangers in their last conversation.

Mer by Thursday, the end of the Major League Baseball general managers' meetings. The Rangers believe Hershiser will take some kind of position with Los Angeles.

Hart stepped down as the Rangers' GM on Oct. 4 to become a consultant for the club, forfeiting the final year of his contract and what was believed to be about $2 million in salary. It is improbable that McCourt would pay that figure to a GM, especially since he owes former GM Paul DePodesta for three years and about $2.2 million.

In the meantime, vice president and assistant general manager Kim Ng and vice president, scouting and player development Roy Smith are representing the Dodgers at the general managers meeting at Indian Wells.

Ng has been an assistant general manager since 1998, when New York Yankee General Manager Brian Cashman hired her, and for the Dodgers since 2002, when Dan Evans hired her.

Smith, who pitched for Cleveland, Minnesota and Baltimore over eight seasons beginning in 1984, heads the Dodger scouting and development departments. He became an assistant general manager in Pittsburgh after the 1998 season.

Ng represented the Dodgers at the same meeting two years ago, when Frank McCourt bought the Dodgers and eventually replaced Evans with DePodesta.

Smith and Ng will lay groundwork for the search for one big bat, either in the outfield or at a corner infield position, and a starting pitcher. Whoever the next Dodger general manager is, the club needs are clear.

Instant Replay discussed-- General managers are debating the issue of instant replay during their week-long annual meetings, which opened Monday. It isn't on the official agenda for the meetings, which typically serve as a period to lay groundwork for possible trades and free agent signings. But with all the controversial calls, many of which were proved incorrect by network TV, it's certain to be a heated subject before the executives head home Friday. A sampling at the meeting showed a wide range of feelings. Atlanta Braves' John Schuerholz said he was certainly not in favor of it. Houston Astros GM Gerry Hunsicker said he thought there's a place for it. New York Mets GM Omar Minaya says it was worth discussing.

No offers for Valentine-- Bobby Valentine said he had not been offered a job by any team in Japan or the major leagues. "I haven't been offered a contract to manage anywhere next year, so any talk on where I might manage would be premature," Valentine said Tuesday at a luncheon. Valentine, who has drawn interest from the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and the Los Angeles Dodgers, led the Chiba Lotte Marines this year to their first Japan Series title in 31 years. Valentine confirmed at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan that he has no deal signed with Lotte for next season. He also denied reports that the Marines had recently made him a new three-year offer. It has been reported that Valentine will meet with Devil Rays officials at baseball's annual winter meetings in Palm Springs, Calif. next week. Valentine, 55, also pointed out that he has had a good relationship with former longtime Dodgers manager and current team adviser Tommy Lasorda for 37 years and that his wife, Mary, is the daughter of former Dodgers pitcher Ralph Branca.

Customers surveyed-- The Dodgers are surveying randomly selected ticket buyers in which some of those telephoned are being asked if they can identify the owner of the team and, if so, what their perception of McCourt is. A team spokesperson said that it is part of a list of 60 questions, of which only a handful are chosen for each call. "There is a difference between corporate ownership and family ownership," said Camille Johnston, the Dodgers vice president for communications. "Our goal is to determine how many of our customers know that we're a family-owned organization."

Dodger Blue Notes-- Ken Gurnick of MLB.com reported on the Dodgers coaching staff: "There are indications that the team is interested in retaining Manny Mota, the popular coach and broadcaster, but there has been no announcement. Jim Tracy has taken coaches Jim Colborn and Jim Lett with him to Pittsburgh, and John Shelby is rumored to be considering an offer to join them. Third base coach Glenn Hoffman signed to do the same job for the San Diego Padres. Hitting coach Tim Wallach, bullpen coach Jon Debus and bullpen catcher Rob Flippo are the other members of last year's staff, and are all free agents." …Don Welke, one-time senior scouting director and more recently the Rangers' international scouting crosschecker last year who helped create new inroads in Latin America, is leaving the organization to join Philadelphia as a professional scout. Welke and new Phillies GM Pat Gillick have a longtime relationship. …The Topps Company announced its George M. Trautman Awards on Tuesday, awarded annually to the Player of the Year in each of 16 affiliated leagues. The 2005 winners represent 14 different Major League teams. Former Dodger minor leaguer Shane Victorino (Phillies) garnered the award in the International League with his breakout year at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Victorino hit .310 and had a .377 on-base percentage with 93 runs scored, 70 RBI, 25 doubles, 16 triples and 18 homers. He hit .294 with a pair of homers in 21 games of the National League season. Rookie League recipients included Dodgers prospect Eduardo Perez in the Gulf Coast League. Perez won the Gulf Coast batting title with a .352 average, adding 16 doubles, six homers and 37 runs batted in.