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Thursday, February 12, 2004
New GM likely first step

By Tim Kurkjian
ESPN The Magazine

The sale of the Dodgers finally is complete. One of the great franchises in baseball history is in the hands of Boston land baron Frank McCourt, who, from all accounts, is a good guy, a smart guy, a guy who is committed to restoring the Dodgers to prominence after eight seasons without a division/pennant winner, their longest such drought since the 1930s.

Frank McCourt
Frank McCourt might have to cut payroll while remaking the Dodgers.

It's not going to be easy, or quick. McCourt and his investors are not impossibly rich as are some owners. His team is largely mediocre, deep in pitching, epically bad on offense.

The payroll, McCourt says, will not be sliced this year, meaning it will stay at roughly $100 million. A swift, extensive impact through trades or free agency does not appear likely. It's too late for that. The Dodgers had their chances but for one reason or another could not acquire Brian Giles, Richie Sexson, Magglio Ordonez, Nomar Garciaparra, Derrek Lee or Vladimir Guerrero over the last six months, leaving the Dodgers with a team that scored only one more run last year than the Red Sox scored in the first half of the season.

That inactivity likely will cost general manager Dan Evans his job, perhaps before the beginning of spring training next week. His probable replacement could come from Oakland: A's assistant GM Paul DePodesta was, sources say, very impressive in his interview. Oakland GM Billy Beane has twice been denied permission by A's ownership to talk to the Dodgers, but there's a remote chance he could end up in L.A.

The sale of the team, which took longer than expected given the close examination of McCourt's finances, somewhat handcuffed the Dodgers in their attempts to acquire a hitter. And, as Evans promised when he took the job 2½ years ago, he would not sacrifice young pitching in return for immediate help on offense. Admirable and logical indeed, but when your team scores 574 runs -- fewer than the Tigers -- and 333 fewer than the Braves, a hitter must be acquired. Last year, the Dodgers tied the NL record (with the 1907 Cubs) for the largest ERA gap -- .56 -- between the league ERA leader and second-best in the league, but they finished 15½ games out of first place. In today's game, teams have to score a lot of runs to win. The 2003 Dodgers scored fewer runs than the '66 Dodgers, who played in a completely different era than the offensive age that we have today.

Odalis Perez
Odalis Perez could be headed to the White Sox.

The Dodgers do have pitching to deal. They have seven starting pitchers: Hideo Nomo, Odalis Perez, Kaz Ishii, Darren Dreifort, Edwin Jackson, Wilson Alvarez and Jeff Weaver. Plus, they have some interest in Greg Maddux, but at the moment, that appears to be a secondary option. An Odalis Perez-for-Frank Thomas trade has been rumored, but can Thomas play first base every day? The Dodgers could move right fielder Shawn Green to first base and go after an outfielder. Or two. They need at least two more big bats.

The seven-man rotation is a bit deceiving. Dreifort is not a certainty to be healthy given his history of injuries. Jackson was wildly impressive last year, but he has made three major league starts. Alvarez was shockingly good in his return to the big leagues last year; can he do that again? And Weaver is coming off an utterly miserable season in New York.

Changes likely won't happen until the front office situation is resolved. Maybe DePodesta, a brilliant guy who has learned well from Beane, will be the man who begins the turnaround of the Dodgers. But whoever runs the Dodgers will have to do it without outrageous sums of money. It's possible that the payroll will be pared to roughly $85 million in 2005, which still would be more than any team in the NL West.

It's time for the Dodgers to start to winning again. They have the right man to do it in McCourt, even though he's not loaded with money. After their changes in the front office, they should be able to move forward. Good days are ahead. It's just going to take some time.

Tim Kurkjian is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and a regular contributor to Baseball Tonight. E-mail tim.kurkjian@espnmag.com.