Evans Goes About His Business

Times Staff Writer

Dan Evans is focusing on the Dodgers' future as general managers gather here Monday for weeklong meetings, though the club might be moving on without him.

Evans came under fire internally last season as the Dodgers regressed, and the club's top baseball official could be ousted if Boston real estate developer Frank McCourt completes a proposed deal to buy the franchise from News Corp.

The Dodgers are operating without a budget, the offense is in need of an overhaul and Evans is under the microscope after most of his moves last winter backfired. Other than that, it's business as usual at Chavez Ravine.

"I know there's a lot of speculation out there, but I'm certainly not going to add to it," Evans said about his job status. "I've been given no reason or indication to do anything but focus on the job we have to do as a staff to improve the club, and that's what we're trying to do."

Although Major League Baseball has permitted McCourt and News Corp. to begin the transition process pending owners' approval of the sale, McCourt cannot set budgets or direct Evans in shaping the 2004 roster. At least not officially.

Corey Busch, heading the transition team for McCourt, has been briefed on Evans' off-season plan, as has outgoing Chairman Bob Daly, and team sources said Evans has an idea of what the budget might be next season.

Despite the uncertainty, Evans says he plans to approach the meetings "no differently than any that I've attended" since becoming general manager in October 2001.

Evans and Kim Ng, assistant general manager, will continue trade discussions with other clubs, laying groundwork in an attempt to complete deals this week or later in the winter. They also have been speaking with agents for free agents.

The Dodgers want it known Evans still has authority.

"The last thing that the potential owners want is for Dan Evans and the baseball staff to have their hands tied," said Derrick Hall, senior vice president. "Standing still would not be a sensible solution."

As far as making major moves, however, such as offering big contracts to top-tier free agents, Evans knows not to do anything that might upset McCourt, team sources said. So, what does Evans want to do?

"Obviously, the focus is on our offense," he said. "Our job is to become a more well-rounded club."

The Dodgers had the majors' top pitching staff and the National League's least-productive offense. They scored 17 fewer runs than the lowly Detroit Tigers, the biggest reason they missed the playoffs for the seventh consecutive season.

The Dodgers went 92-70 in 2002, finishing six games behind first-place Arizona in the NL West and 3 1/2 games behind San Francisco for the league's wild-card berth. They were 85-77 last season -- 15 1/2 games behind the first-place Giants. Florida finished six games ahead of the Dodgers in the wild-card race.

The deal that brought catcher Todd Hundley from Chicago helped the Cubs win the NL Central title and come within a victory of reaching the World Series, as Mark Grudzielanek and Eric Karros made significant contributions.

Hundley sat out most of the season after undergoing back surgery, batted only .182 in 21 games and is guaranteed $6.5 million next season. With the payroll room he cleared in moving Grudzielanek and Karros, Evans acquired Fred McGriff and Daryle Ward, major disappointments who won't return. The team has holes in left field, at first base and on the bench.

On the other hand, many of Evans' pitching moves have turned out in the Dodgers' favor, including not re-signing Chan Ho Park, Texas' $65-million headache, and instead signing the dependable Hideo Nomo. Evans used the draft pick the Dodgers received as compensation for the Rangers' signing of Park to select left-hander Greg Miller, the organization's minor league pitcher of the year.

Evans acquired smooth-fielding shortstop Cesar Izturis and setup man Paul Quantrill, who might leave in free agency, for pitchers Luke Prokopec and Chad Ricketts. Moreover, Evans has presided over the rebuilding of the farm system.

Baseball America ranked the club's 2002 draft as the fourth-best in baseball, and this season's group was ranked No. 1.

Projecting how players will progress through the minor leagues is difficult, and history has proved these rankings are often inaccurate. Other clubs, however, are impressed with the Dodgers' top pitching prospects.

"Our goal as a staff is trying to get into the postseason and also building a club that's just not a one-season success, but a team with lengthy success," said Evans, who is guaranteed $500,000 in 2004. "People need to know that we are putting together players that are going to be contributors to the major league scene."

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