Although freshly-minted Dodgers GM Paul DePodesta has yet to execute what might be classified as a spit-take inducing blockbuster, he has quietly placed his imprimatur on this year’s model with a flurry of recent deals. The Dodgers are squarely a better team for his efforts…

3/30/04 – Acquired IF/OF Jason Grabowski from the A’s for cash considerations

A nice exploitation of the A’s’ crowded 40-man, helped along by the Dodgers’ deeper coffers. Grabowski has little defensive utility (although he can stand at the corner positions and even don the tools of ignorance in the event of sweeping calamity) but is an outstanding bat to have on the bench. Throughout his career he’s put up solid power numbers and demonstrated good patience at the dish. You could fill a drained swimming pool filled with worse lefty pinch-hitters already on major league rosters. At 27, there’s no reason he can’t settle into a nice stretch of expediency similar to Dave Hansen circa 1999. Few teams have as much need for potent pinch-hitters as the Dodgers, and now they have one. And cash to the Dodgers is like dog hair on dark shirts to me: more at my disposal than I know what to do with.

3/31/04 – Acquired OF Jayson Werth from the Blue Jays for P Jason Frasor

Both teams involved know how to leverage surpluses to address shortfalls. And that’s what the two erstwhile Oakland execs have done for each other. L.A. gets Werth, who could be a quality fourth outfielder providing excellent defense and the corners and a passable glove in center. I’m not as optimistic about his upside as some; he’ll soon be 25, and his record of performance in the high minors is a mixed bag. He’d likely out-hit Dave Roberts if given the left-field job, but I don’t envision Werth as a productive everyday player. In a bench role, however, he should be a good one.

As for Frasor, he’s a 26-year-old hurler who, in his first taste of relief detail as a pro, pretty much carpet bombed the Florida State and Southern leagues last season (51 combined innings, 86 strikeouts, 18 walks, two homers allowed). The Jays’ pen is a source of consternation, and Frasor is certainly a guy with value to them. An eminently defensible deal for both sides, but one likely with only modest impact at the highest level.

4/1/04 – Acquired CF Cody Ross from the Tigers for P Steve Colyer

This deal and the next are the ones that hew closest to the status of thievery probably addressed somewhere in the Patriot Act. In Colyer, DePo surrendered a fairly vanilla minor league reliever with sub-optimal control. What they got was a 23-year-old center fielder who slugged .507 in Double-A and .515 in Triple-A. The downside is that Ross tore his ACL late last season, but he’s young enough to rebound without it hurting his baseball chops much. He’s not an elite defender, but that kind of power potential in an up-the-middle defender shouldn’t be parted with so lightly by a system that’s as barren as the showroom floor of your local De Lorean dealer. The safety net for the Dodgers is that if Ross’ knee injury does sap his range afield, then his development track suggests he’ll have the offensive game to handle a corner position. Not a bad haul for Steve Colyer, but it still doesn’t rise to the level of larceny that transpired when the Dodgers…

4/3/04 – Acquired P Aaron Looper and P Ryan Ketchner from the Mariners for IF Jolbert Cabrera

In 2003, Cabrera had a fairly strong season for a reserve middle infielder toiling in Chavez Ravine (.282/.332/.438), but at age 31 and with nothing in his performance to that point to portend that kind of performance, Cabrera gives the Mariners something only marginally more palatable than Ramon Santiago.

Coming the Dodgers’ way are two young arms, one of whom will probably do nothing but add depth to the corps and one who might just be a burgeoning star. Looper, age 27, is a minor league reliever of modest repute and performance. He shows some command and decent strikeout abilities, but there’s not much to suggest he’ll be anything other than a fringe arm within a system that’s waist-deep in hurlers.

But Ketchner is something else altogether. Admire with me, won’t you, these digits: 351 IP, 3.18 ERA, 368 strikeouts, 93 walks, 277 hits, 16 homers allowed. All that plus a 4.8 strikeout-to-walk ratio last season in the generally hostile Cal League. And Ketchner’s still only 21 years of age. The Dodgers have plenty of arms, but, especially in light of TINSTAAPP, you don’t pass up an opportunity to grab a flipper like Ketchner for almost nothing.

As for the M’s, they have an embarrassment of riches in terms of high-upside arms, but why dip into it for something like Jolbert Cabrera?

4/4/04 – Acquired IF Antonio Perez from the Devil Rays for IF/OF Jason Romano

A challenge trade of sorts–one modestly promising minor league utility infielder for another. Back in 2000, I was high enough on Perez to draft him in one of my keeper leagues. His star has certainly dimmed since then, but he’s still an upgrade over Romano. It’s doubtful Perez will ever be a regular in the majors, but his career line of .272/.370/.429 suggests he can be a right and proper infield caddy at the highest level. Compare his work to Romano’s career line of .282/.345/.411 and throw in Romano’s dubious ability to play short, and you’ll see why DePodesta made this deal.

4/5/04 – Acquired CF Milton Bradley from the Indians for OF Franklin Gutierrez and a player to be named

The lone major trade of DePo’s young tenure is one that made horse sense for both teams. The Tribe endeavored earnestly to ignore and address Bradley’s mounting peccadilloes, but even a forward-thinking organization can’t entirely discount matters of personality. Somewhat counterintuitively, the Indians were wise to deal with a GM as smart as DePodesta, who, despite Bradley’s waning credibility, still realized what a talent he was and, if pressed, was prepared to barter fairly for him. That’s what happened. Tribe GM Mark Shapiro walks away with the whiff of the earnest disciplinarian about him and a top-shelf power prospect in Gutierrez (who, at the age of 20, slugged an impressive .513 in the hurler-philic FSL) to boot. If the PTBN is anyone of consequence, it’s an even better deal for the Indians.

As for the Dodgers, they get a genuine middle-of-the-order hitter who happens to capably man a key defensive position. Back in his native SoCal, Bradley can convalesce his rep, enjoy the charms of troop-friendly Jim Tracy and get back to wielding his considerable talents on the diamond. Everybody wins.

All six deals, from the L.A. perspective, range from tremendous to patently sensible. It all adds up to a fine start for the GM who, a month ago, many print grumps were dismissing as a callow propeller-head with no business running such a vaunted franchise. The Dodgers were already putative contenders in the down-cycled NL West. That’s even more so the case now that DePo has hit the trade market running.