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Evans Has Answers for His Critics

General manager of Dodgers says his hands have been tied by the bloated payroll and poor farm system he inherited.

August 04, 2003|Jason Reid | Times Staff Writer

ATLANTA — General Manager Dan Evans remained hopeful Sunday after watching the Dodgers play, which isn't easy these days.

The Dodgers ended a five-game losing streak with an 8-4 victory over the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field, finishing 2-7 on what players described as a make-or-break trip for a team with fading playoff hopes.

Adrian Beltre's three-run home run (No. 10) highlighted a four-run first against Russ Ortiz (15-5), recently acquired Robin Ventura hit his first career inside-the-park homer and the light-hitting Dodgers had 10 hits -- their most of the trip.

But the Dodgers (55-55) are still tied for third in the National League West, 13 1/2 games behind the first-place San Francisco Giants. And they're seventh in the NL wild-card race, trailing the leading Philadelphia Phillies by 6 1/2 games.

Evans is under fire for assembling the league's worst batting order, seemingly playing it cool during the team's 5-15 slide before the All-Star break and failing to provide significant help through trades.

Moreover, some in the organization are privately criticizing Evans for his questionable off-season acquisitions of first baseman Fred McGriff and reserve infielder-outfielder Daryle Ward. Last week's addition of a struggling left-handed batter, Ventura, when the Dodgers needed a productive right-handed hitter, only provided more ammunition for critics.

But Evans is trying to stand strong in the storm, focusing on his commitment to rebuilding the farm system. Evans acknowledges the Dodgers are in rough water, but criticism won't prompt him to change course.

"People can say what they want, and I understand criticism comes with the job," said Evans, in his second full season as a general manager. "I'm totally comfortable with the criticism, but people just have to understand the complexities of what we've been dealing with. What happened in April, May and June didn't just happen in April, May and June. This is part of not having players to come up and offer us choices. This is part of existing contracts that limit our flexibility.

"I've been very careful not to talk a lot about some of the things that we've been hit with here, because we knew what we were inheriting. That's fine; our staff and I are up to the challenge. But you just can't create players. You just can't create financial flexibility in an environment that doesn't allow it. I'm not going to make excuses, but that's the reality that went into the decision making."

The long Dodger slide has put Evans' decisions under the microscope.

The Dodgers are 11-26 since being tied atop the NL West with the Giants on June 22.

The Dodgers are last in the league in batting average (.239), on-base percentage (.297), runs per game (3.4) and home runs (74). They are also last in slugging percentage, hits, walks, runs batted in and total bases.

"What we never could have forecasted was our entire offensive unit having such a tremendous struggle for an extended period of the season. No one could have forecasted that," Evans said. "All along, we never thought we would be an offensive juggernaut. But we thought that we were going to be scoring enough runs to give ourselves an opportunity to win games.

"To be last in so many specific offensive categories ... it's been very frustrating for everyone. And to not have the ability to go and get a guy from the minor leagues to help us, or to be able to trade for a guy because of the existing circumstances, we needed our existing players to perform.... It really hurts me, it devastates me, the way we're swinging the bat."

Evans inherited a farm system in disrepair and a bloated payroll. News Corp.'s decision to treat the $117-million luxury tax threshold as a hard salary cap has further complicated his job.

"Coming into this season, we probably had the most complex situation that this franchise has ever had," Evans said. "We had a period in December where we had less than $3 million [to acquire players].

"We also had a complex situation within Major League Baseball where the landscape changed. People were unwilling to take on money because of the changes in the basic agreement. There were some possible trades that we couldn't make."

McGriff and Ward fit into the cost-conscious plan to improve last season's below-average batting order.

McGriff, 39, has been on the disabled list twice and played in only 67 games, batting .249 with 10 homers and 35 RBIs. The 17-year veteran might miss the remainder of the season because of knee and groin injuries.

"Fred had never been on the disabled list in his career," Evans said. "He was starting to get going, and he was on track for the type of production we wanted from the position. You can't forecast someone getting hurt."

The Dodgers had high hopes for Ward, but he is among the team's biggest disappointments. After batting .183 with no homers and nine RBIs in 109 at-bats, the Dodgers sent him to triple-A Las Vegas on July 24.

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