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Geoff Baker covers the Mariners for The Seattle Times. He provides daily coverage of the team throughout spring training, and during the season.

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October 16, 2008 12:08 AM

DiPoto, LaCava, Ng, Zduriencik make final cut

Posted by Geoff Baker

UPDATE 9:57 a.m.: We just posted an update to this blog stating that Jack Zduriencik of the Milwaukee Brewers is the previously unreported external candidate to interview for the M's job and has been called back for what is now a Final Four of interviewees.

Here's some news we've been saving for our morning paper. Larry Stone and I have a story in Thursday's editions that the final round of Mariners GM interviews will begin on Thursday and that Jerry DiPoto, Tony LaCava and Kim Ng are the three to make the final cut from the original list of published names of first-round candidates.

That means Peter Woodfork did not make the cut. Neither did Tony Bernazard, Bob Engle or Lee Pelekoudas. It's possible that one more name -- someone who wasn't initially reported on the first list of candidates -- could be interviewed. Sorry, we just don't have that yet. But of the names already reported on the past week, it's DiPoto, LaCava and Ng who made it through. In other words, it won't take until November for this decision to be made.

DiPoto and LaCava were both said to have flown in to Seattle on Wednesday.

In our newspaper story, we mention that the timetable of who was going to be interviewed on which exact day -- Thursday or Friday -- had yet to be nailed down. That's because Ng was in Los Angeles watching her Dodgers play the Phillies in Game 5 of the NLCS on Wednesday night. Had the Dodgers won and forced Game 6 on Friday in Philadelphia, Ng would have had to fly in to Seattle on Thursday's off-day, interview for the M's job, then head east right away.

Now that the Dodgers have been eliminated, Ng will have Thursday to get herself together and can fly in to Seattle a bit later and interview for the job on Friday. That means DiPoto and LaCava, who had been standing by in Seattle awaiting the results of Wednesday's NLCS game, now know they will both be interviewed on Thursday.

Am I surprised by who made it? Not at all. As I mentioned in Tuesday's blog post, it's the trio that makes the most sense from the initial list of names I'd seen. Woodfork would have been my fourth choice, but you knew they weren't going to interview two assistants from the same Arizona team in the final round.

Talk to anyone associated with Arizona and they'll tell you DiPoto had the edge. Woodfork is an excellent candidate and, at age 32, will have many more years to hone his skills. But DiPoto had more hands-on experience as a talent evaluator. He also had the experience of working with three different organizations compared to Woodfork's two. Yes, Woodfork did work in MLB's head office and is more skilled at contractual issues. But that isn't the area of skill most coveted by teams when they seek out a new GM. Many GMs use assistants for the detailed paperwork, waiver-wire issues and rules interpretations. Having hands-on experience in evaluating player talent will almost always trump that. The Mariners already employ Pelekoudas as an expert in rules issues. They also have lawyer and former college ballplayer Bart Waldman on-hand in the front office for legal interpretations and contractual issues, not to mention the nitty gritty of contract negotiations. So, the area Woodfork had the most experience in, trumping DiPoto, was a little redundant in Seattle.

It would be like bringing in a candidate with excellent skills in international scouting. The Mariners already employ the top international scout in the business in Engle. What would be the point of duplicating that skillset?

The area DiPoto is experienced in is the one in which Seattle is really seeking an upgrade: player evaluation.

Given that and his added experience at working with actual MLB teams -- the MLB head office isn't quite the same thing, especially when it comes to talent evaluation and experiencing different team philosophies firsthand -- choosing DiPoto over Woodfork was a no-brainer. Woodfork has a good-looking portfolio already. He just wasn't there yet compared to some of the other candidates.

From what I'm hearing, I'd say that, of the three we're discussing, it will come down to either DiPoto or LaCava. Of those two, DiPoto may be the more outwardly dynamic, and that might be the difference maker. LaCava probably trumps DiPoto in player evaluation. In fact, he was probably the most experienced candidate in this regard and has worked for four organizations -- the most of the three finalists we're discussing. But in terms of sheer energy and exuding personality, DiPoto is probably the more dynamic while the laid back LaCava is more quietly confident.

How much that will wind up mattering depends on what the M's are looking for. If they want a candidate who can sell the public on this team -- and let's face it, the M's may have a few more losing seasons before this ship can be turned around -- then that added dynamism may come into play. We'll have to see. For sheer experience at player evaluation, LaCava might have the field trumped.

Ng will have her hands full competing against both. Her hands-on experience might not be quite as high when it comes to player development and evaluation. But we hear she is very good at statistical evaluation. It will all depend on what the club needs.

But as far as a threesome goes, from the list of names reported on this past week, the M's could have done far worse than this. I think they are about to get their hands on some real talent for the front office.



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