Will Evans go out with a bang?
Imagine you don't know who your boss will be a month from now. Imagine the dread that comes from knowing the new boss may clean house when he arrives.
You still have your old authority, but for how long?
For two years, every move you have made has been done in broad daylight, in the town square, dissected by every passerby. The first ones you made were hailed as brilliant, but lately you've been snakebit. Nothing has worked.
You've got to change that, and you've got to change it fast.
Welcome to Dan Evans' world.
The Los Angeles Dodgers general manager, a studious sort with a gift for analysis, a passion for baseball and a willingness to sleep on the office couch, has one year left on his contract but only the illusion of job security.
Lots of guys don't get second chances to run baseball franchises. Maybe he will, maybe he won't. All he knows for now is that he remains the Dodgers' GM as long as the proposed sale of the franchise from News Corp. to Frank McCourt is pending approval.
It was originally hoped that the deal would be approved at a meeting of Major League Baseball owners next week in Chicago. But these things are seldom approved quickly, so it should not be a surprise that this one didn't get on the Nov. 20 agenda. The only date that matters is Jan. 31, 2004, which is the contractual deadline for the deal to close.
So Evans waits and works. His task is obvious: How does he improve the balance of a team that won only 85 games despite having the best pitching in the majors last season?
It also scored the fewest runs.
Executives with other major-league clubs have been told that Evans has the approval to make trades and free-agent signings as long as he does not significantly raise the payroll. It was almost $116 million last year, second in the major leagues.
Evans inherited a difficult situation because of the deals made by Kevin Malone, his predecessor. There was the $105-million contract with Kevin Brown and -- even worse -- the $55-million one with Darren Dreifort. But Evans did himself no favors by taking Todd Hundley off the Cubs' hands last winter.
Now he's faced with the question of how to maximize the few bargaining chips he has, with the biggest being left-hander Odalis Perez. Acquired by Evans from Atlanta in the Gary Sheffield deal, he was arguably the Dodgers' best pitcher in 2002 but turned in a lackluster performance in 2003 (12-12, 4.52 in 30 starts). He also criticized the lack of run production -- a de facto shot at Evans -- and declined to pitch when he had a chipped fingernail.
Say adios, Odalis.
The Dodgers used eight different starting first basemen last year, and the two who played the most (Fred McGriff and Robin Ventura) have since filed for free agency. They started nine different left fielders without anyone establishing themselves for 2004. Shortstop Cesar Izturis played well defensively, but hit .251-1-40.
Evans could import help at any of these positions. There have been rumors about possible interest in Nomar Garciaparra, who grew up in the Los Angeles area, but left field and first base are the two areas where Evans should be able to import run-producers.
If Evans had the flexibility to take on a little payroll, he could make a huge splash by using Perez and perhaps Izturis and one of his young relievers to pry Magglio Ordonez and offensive-minded shortstop Jose Valentin away from the Chicago White Sox, who are forced to pare down payroll before they can re-sign their own free agents, who include Carl Everett, Robbie Alomar and Tom Gordon. The Sox are listening to offers for the ultra-reliable Ordonez -- Manny Ramirez without the migraines -- because he figures to explore free agency after 2004, in which he's due $14 million.
But the White Sox's outfielder Evans appears focused on is Carlos Lee, who set career-highs in 2003 with 31 home runs and 113 RBI. A trade of Lee and Valentin for Perez and Izturis makes sense.
Evans also has some interest in Sox first baseman Paul Konerko, who averaged 26 homers and 95 RBI in 1999-2002 before slipping to .234-18-65 last season. The White Sox would love to move Konerko, who is owed $16.75 million over the next two years.
Evans is also exploring trade possibilities with St. Louis, which is looking to swap some hitting for pitching. There have been rumors of a Jim Edmonds-for-Perez trade, but it's not clear if Evans is willing to take on such a large commitment. Edmonds is due $34 million over the next three seasons. J.D. Drew is a more realistic target, but he has never driven in more than 73 runs in a season.
Evans has some options, if not a whole lot of time.
Phil Rogers is the national baseball writer for the Chicago Tribune, which has a Web site at www.chicagosports.com.
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