Though DePodesta says he felt uneasy about the writer potentially revealing the A’s unique strategy to the team’s competition, that was what Lewis did. By 2003 the rest of the baseball world had learned about the A’s innovative approach to talent evaluation—and DePodesta’s game-changing method of analysis.
“[Paul] was a major part of what Oakland was doing,” says current Mets GM Sandy Alderson, who served as Beane’s predecessor with the A’s and helped mentor Beane on baseball analytics. “He was part of a group that broadened the scope of sabermetrics and the development of more sophisticated approaches [to talent evaluation].”
One person who took notice of DePodesta’s influence was Los Angeles Dodgers owner Frank McCourt. As Beane’s right-hand man, DePodesta had helped orchestrate A’s squads that made the playoffs again in 2002 and 2003, and McCourt wanted DePodesta to help his team achieve that same type of success.
So the owner decided to offer DePodesta the Dodgers’ general manager job, and DePodesta accepted.
Forst was promoted to fill his role as assistant GM—a position he still holds today—while DePodesta had again beaten his former mentor to the top of the ladder.
“I wasn’t surprised,” says Byrnes, who was named GM of the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2005 and now serves in that role for the San Diego Padres. “Paul’s success in Oakland was so dramatic. At that time there were probably fewer small-market teams in the race, much less going to the playoffs. They did it over several years—it was very significant.”
Indeed, after having started out driving vans, Paul DePodesta had at long last made it to the top of the baseball hierarchy.
DePodesta was introduced as the new general manager of the Dodgers on February 16, 2004. Just 31, he was the third-youngest GM in MLB history at the time of his hiring.
“It was a tremendous opportunity,” DePodesta says. “They’re a storied franchise, one that was on the West Coast, which was great for my family.”
In Los Angeles, DePodesta was immediately at the helm of a team in one of the biggest markets in the league, and compared to his time with the A’s, it felt like he had nearly unlimited resources at his disposal.
“I think one of the challenges in Oakland was the constant turnover of players, and that was going to continue indefinitely,” DePodesta says. “To go somewhere you had the chance to build something, and then actually sustain it, was very appealing.”
DePodesta immediately put his newfound resources to good use. Following a 2004 season in which Los Angeles won the National League West—the first time the Dodgers had made the playoffs in eight years—the GM went out and signed J.D. Drew, Jeff Kent, and Derek Lowe to contracts worth a combined 12 years and $112 million. It was a far cry from his days with the A’s, when he had been forced to watch stars like Jason Giambi and Johnny Damon depart for huge contracts with other organizations.
“He did a lot of good there,” Byrnes says. “Improved them in a lot of areas.”
But as DePodesta had learned working under Beane, large contracts do not guarantee success. The Dodgers stumbled to a 71-91 record in 2005, and the L.A. media began to blame the general manager for the team’s failures.