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Wednesday, March 30, 2005; Page H15

Roughly nine months ago, the Dodgers had emerging superstar Adrian Beltre at third base, all-star Paul Lo Duca at catcher, a resurgent Shawn Green in right field and ace reliever Guillermo Mota dominating the eighth inning.

Now, they have none of those players. What, exactly, do the Dodgers have, then? A mess of a team that probably won't come close to repeating as division champion. A defensively downgraded infield at the precise moment when sinkerball specialist Derek Lowe comes on board. An injury-prone cornerstone hitter (J.D. Drew) to replace a younger, better one (Beltre).

Well, one suspects Washington area native Paul DePodesta should be given the benefit of the doubt. Dude graduated from Harvard and everything. And for all the criticism he got for last July's deadline trade that sent away Lo Duca and Mota, the Dodgers still won the division.

And in DePodesta's defense, he works for an owner, Frank McCourt, who seems loath to spend. Still, the decision to let Beltre walk was a real head-scratcher because it was not about the money -- as proven when the Dodgers turned around and gave similar dollars to Drew.

The Dodgers have almost nothing they can count on these days, not even closer Eric Gagne, who missed nearly a month of spring training with a bum knee. Top starting pitcher Brad Penny, too, might miss the start of the season. Turnover is a given in baseball, but DePodesta has turned over nearly half the Dodgers' roster since taking over 15 months ago. The question is: Does he know what he's doing?

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