Interview With Former GM and Baseball Lifer Dan Evans
Dan Evans is a talent evaluator, a baseball lifer and in all likelihood has forgotten more about the game of baseball than you or I will ever know.
The 56-year old Evans has worn just about every hat possible throughout his 35-year career as a baseball brain-trust, the former Los Angeles Dodgers General Manager now looks after scouting as the Director of Pacific Rim Operations for the Toronto Blue Jays.
I had the privilege to ask Dan a few questions in a recent interview about some of the more memorable moments of his impressive career. I even attempted to illicit some information in regards to current Blue Jays prospects but to no avail.
Evans broke into the majors as an intern with the Chicago White Sox in 1981 and soon realized thereafter he was destined for a life in baseball.
“I was extremely lucky, and received an internship with the Chicago White Sox in January 1981, the same day that Carlton Fisk elected to join the organization as a free agent. I was a junior at DePaul University, unsure what I wanted to do, but leaning towards a career in law. The opportunity arose the day before, when a representative from the White Sox called the University’s newspaper, The DePaulia , and I went to Comiskey Park the next day for an interview. I loved baseball, and saw it as a fun opportunity to earn four credit hours. The club had literally just been sold to Jerry Reinsdorf’s group, and was looking for help in their baseball and public relations departments. The early stages of the internship really fueled my passion to work in the game permanently, and I had the fortune of having great mentors such as Roland Hemond, Dave Dombrowski, Tony LaRussa, Bill Smith, Chuck Shriver, Jack Gould, Charley Lau and Ken Valdiserri, who took the time to endlessly help me grow as a person and baseball staffer. Prior to the internship, I worked multiple part-time jobs to pay for college, played club baseball, and was an Editor of the DePaulia. DePaul University was an incredible experience for me, I’m forever thankful, opening my eyes to the adult world in one of the greatest cities in the world, and the newspaper allowed me to explore so many areas that I ordinarily would not have had access to. I am grateful that my Dad, Mom, and one of my Grandmothers instilled my love of baseball and that my father recognized the incredible opportunity I had with the White Sox and encouraged me to chase my dream.”
As part of the White Sox front office, Evans was involved in the drafting process of pitcher Mark Buehrle in the 38th round of the 1998 amateur draft.
“Mark Buehrle was a by-product of an exceptional White Sox scouting staff that consistently delivered quality players. John Kazanas did a great job on Mark, with brilliant decision making by Duane Shaffer and the late George Bradley. I was surrounded by tremendous scouting talent during my White Sox days, and they gave me a strong foundation that has been a key ingredient in my career. I remember seeing Buehrle pitch an incredibly efficient completegame shutout for our Burlington affiliate in his first pro season and his talent just jumped out at me. Our scouting and player development group had been together for an extended period and they had built a lot of internal trust. We weren’t fixated on velocity but instead focused on execution and feel. Buehrle just had that special feel to get guys out, and was mostly under the radar externally, but we knew that we had a highly effective big league starter. Our minor league pitching coaches did a great job further developing Buehrle’s game, and when he reached Double A Birmingham in 2000, it was evident that he was going to be in our rotation for a long time. He was named to the Futures Game in 2000 at Turner Field, and we had a great first half, entering the AllStar break with the American League’s best record and a 10.5 game Central Division lead. We thought that we needed one more reliable arm in our bullpen, and felt it would be a terrific opportunity to bring Buehrle up and break him into the big leagues as a reliever. I spoke with Mark and his father after the Futures Game, told him that he would be rewarded with a promotion, and would fly to Nashville…only to continue flying to Chicago and make his big league debut. He was stunned, but it turned out to be a really good move, getting Buehrle totally comfortable in a big league clubhouse and uniform after never having been to Major League spring training previously. I thought he was going to be an incredibly consistent and successful big league starter, but 214 wins and an incredible streak of 15 years with 30 or more starts later, I can easily say he exceeded my expectations. I’m glad that we were able to be in the same organization again the last three years in Toronto.”
Evans would move on from Chicago and accept a position as the Executive Vice President and General Manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, a post he held from 2001 through to 2004.
“My time as General Manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers was a special period in my life and career. It’s one of the greatest franchises in professional sports, loaded with history, a great fan base, and was a tremendous challenge from the onset because the franchise had strayed from its roots in player development and scouting and had lost its rudder. I had tremendous support from Chairman Bob Daly, President Bob Graziano, and the Fox ownership, and they allowed me to develop a blueprint for success, relying once again on a strong scouting and player development system. The organization was rated #28 overall when I arrived, and two years later we had transformed the Dodgers to the #2 rated team. I loved going to work, as we had the best collection of front office, scouting and player development talent I have ever worked with, so many people whom I had admired through the years and brought a professional, passionate, and aggressive approach to righting a great franchise. Talented people like Kim Ng, George Genovese, Terry Collins, Logan White, John Boles, Joe Amalfitano, Bill Bavasi, AJ Preller, Rick Honeycutt, Ken Howell, and Roger McDowell joined an already talented staff led by Dave Wallace. At one point I had 5 former GM’s and 8 former big league managers on the staff it was awesome. I also focused on bringing many of the Dodgers who felt they had been cast aside by a previous administration, people like Sandy Koufax, Fernando Valenzuela, and Duke Snider. I’m pitching and defense oriented, and our acquisitions focused on changing our overall look to that style. It quickly came together, and the bullpen that we built was the National League’s most dominant since World War II while our defense soared to an elite level. We went to the final weekend with a chance for the postseason. Our scouting staff, led by White, took on an aggressive new persona, and once again heeded the voices of area scouts and brought a surge of talented players to our organization. Matt Kemp, Russell Martin, James Loney, Chad Billingsley, and A.J. Ellis are among the guys we added and players like Shane Victorino,Franklin Gutierrez, Edwin Jackson, David Ross, and Hung-Chih Kuo developed into big league contributors. I loved getting to know Dodger fans and simply loved the atmosphere in Dodgertown (Vero Beach). I heavily pursued free agent Vladimir Guerrero after the 2003 season, and had a five-year deal in place before it was stunningly rejected by our new ownership, and that acquisition would have made us the best team in the National League after a quick overhaul period. I spent a lot of time with great people like broadcasters Vin Scully, Jaime Jarrin, Rick Monday and Ross Porter. On top of all of this, the relationships I gained from the front office staff and day of game staff were so impactful.”
Evans would be part of the Dodgers front office that would draft Canadian third-baseman Russell Martin in the 17th round of the 2002 amateur draft. Years later, Evans was with the Jays when the back-stop inked a 5-year deal to play north of the border with Toronto.
“Martin is a great example of what Logan White and I envisioned our scouting staff achieving, as first year area scout Clarence Johns really liked Martin and John Barr, then our East Coast Supervisor, was empowering and was the only other person to see Martin. Martin had exceptional make-up, great passion, and was a good prospect as a third baseman. But I knew we had jelled as an organization that winter when one of our staff had the guts in a staff meeting to suggest that Martin could be converted to being a catcher and would excel at that spot. There was no tugof-war between the player development and scouting sides, and we decided to give it a shot almost immediately. I saw Russell’s first moments behind the plate and one of our minor league staff, John Debus, told me that we were watching a future All-Star, a Gold Glover. Great insight on his part. I was thrilled when our Blue Jay club was able to sign Russell as a free agent after the 2014 season, and I relayed my strong feelings for his character, leadership, passion, and impact on a team. It feels great to have that link still remain from my Dodger days now.”
Evans reminisced about a missed opportunity to acquire “Big Papi” and a deal he swung while with the White Sox that changed the teams culture for years to come.
“I really don’t have a deal that I regret during my career, because when they were made, we felt that it was the right move at that particular time. You don’t get a second chance. In time, you look back and learn from moves, things that you overlooked, opinions that you heeded, the process you used. I wish that I had gone with my gut early once in my Dodger days and taken David Ortiz in a minor trade from the Twins when I had the opportunity, but I literally had just joined the organization, and the Ortiz scouting reports were not good. I had seen him and really liked his potential, but didn’t want my initial move on a player that our staff did not like. Plus, we had a first baseman already in Eric Karros. It was a great lesson for me, as I then knew that we had to revamp how we were doing business, and vastly improve our decision making process. But I also decided from that point forward that I would trust my instincts while getting as much information from my scouts and analytic groups. I’m most proud of acquiring Paul Konerko from the Reds while with the White Sox, along with trades for Dave Roberts and Paul Quantrill when I was a Dodger. Konerko was a guy whom we thought would be an impact bat for an evolving White Sox nucleus to pair with the great Frank Thomas. Paul was one of the best hitters of his era, and just an incredible person. Roberts and Quantrill so positively impacted our Dodger clubs with their character and talent, and those two remain friends of mine whom I respect a ton. I am wishing the absolute best for Dave with the Dodgers, because he deserves the opportunity and is a winner on and off the field.”
Having been around the game for 35 years, Evans was one of the pioneers in the technological evolution of the sport.
“The biggest changes since I broke into the game are its globalization, the massive growth of the sport, specialization of bullpen use, the evolution of the analytic side, and the stunning emergence of the Internet. I am proud to be one of the pioneers in the use of computers and technology in our sport, and lucky to have had the support of a White Sox staff that embraced innovation and creativity. The game is better from when I started, as we are acquiring talent from all over the world now, while the amateur draft has truly matured. It’s tougher to hit now than ever before because of the combination of advanced scouting capabilities and the influx of above average arms across the game. I love how the level of play in the Pacific Rim has improved in the last 20 years. But the best addition has been technology giving all of us the opportunity to watch every game live, every day across the sport, which has enhanced everyone’s awareness and knowledge of players and teams.”
Aside from his knowledge of the North American game, Evans has an intricate knowledge of the Pacific Rim and an appreciation for the emerging talent abroad.
“I work with a great group of people in Toronto, a tightly knit, creative group that encourages discussion and invites diverse opinions, contrarian viewpoints and process. Perry Minasian, our Director of Professional Scouting, is among the best people I have ever worked with, and I love being a part of our talented scouting staff, an interesting blend of veterans and younger scouts from varied backgrounds, plus the great Mel Didier, one of the best scouts of all time. I have a fun role, as my responsibilities include scouting the big leagues and our own organization, focusing on ways that we could improve our own personnel with trades and free agents, specific scouting assignments in the minor leagues, and some advance scouting, which I have done in the past and enjoyed doing as we prepared to play the Rangers in the postseason last year. I loved the pressure and responsibility, and worked with great guys like Jon Lalonde and Dean DeCillis. In addition, I am responsible for our scouting in the Pacific Rim, and it is a distinct challenge to scout and learn about professional and amateur players from Japan, Korea, China, and Taiwan in addition to the extensive travel complexities. I have a lot of nearly sleepless in-season nights, watching NPB or KBO games here in North America on my iPad in the wee hours of the morning after a long day at a big league game. But I absolutely love it. I enjoy having to evaluate and intricately know 50+ teams instead of just the 30 big league organizations. Learning the various cultures and history of baseball in those countries is also a wonderful component of the experience.”
This was the part in the interview where I attempted to lure some information from Evans in regards to Vladimir Guerrero Jr, Anthony Alford or any high-flyers from the Pacific Rim. Evans understandably declined my attempts. Hey, a wise Canadian man once said “you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”
“I cannot discuss the Guerrero signing. ”
“I’m not going to comment publicly on Anthony Alford. Great signing by Andrew Tinnish, a bold selection.”
“I always refrain from discussing our players publicly, as I don’t see the value in letting people outside our organization know how we evaluate our personnel. We work too hard to acquire and develop players from all over the world. I would rather stay in my lane, do my job the best that I can, and let my scouting reports speak for themselves internally. Our philosophical approach is framed by Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins. We have always been among the best MLB organizations in terms of acquiring talent from all over the world due to a talented scouting staff.”
Evan had an opportunity to work alongside former Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos for the past few years, Evans spoke about the work ethic of Anthopoulos.
“Alex has as much passion as anyone I have ever worked with, and he has an unrivalled capacity for work. A good friend of mine dubbed me The Energizer Bunny a few years ago, but Alex wins the gold medal in energy. I have immense respect for his character and creativity, and appreciated how he fully immersed himself, reading every report. We chatted when he took the Dodgers’ position, and I know that he will definitely make a positive contribution to a franchise that I have a ton of respect for. I wish him the best, but my focus and goal is trying to win the 2016 World Series with the Blue Jays.”
Evans touched on the emotional roller-coaster the playoffs were last season ranking it as a career high for him, he also spoke about his desire to be a part of a World Series champion, something that has eluded him to this point in his career so far.
“I had as much fun being a part of the 2015 Blue Jays as I have had at any time in my career. The second half of the season was an amazing experience, but I am most proud of what it meant to our great fan base. They craved a winner for an extended period, and the entire country supported our team like none I had ever seen. All of our components were in sync in the second half, and it was fun to be a part of it. We were down five runs early in a game when I was on a trip in Asia, and I remember being on a bullet train, thinking that we would rally and win. We did. I watched ALDS Game 5 with my two daughters, and it was one of the best experiences in my lifetime, a seventh inning roller coaster I’ll never forget. My oldest daughter surprised me with a couple bottles of celebratory champagne and it was really special to share that moment with them.”
“A World Series title has eluded me thus far, and it is what fuels me on a daily basis. I never wear jewellery, but I want a ring, and then, another. That goal keeps me going on the tough travel stretches, the long rain delays, and the tough travel to the Pacific Rim. I love being a part of a terrific Blue Jays organization, and really enjoy the relationships that I have within the sport. It’s a special game, full of extraordinary people from a variety of places and world cultures. I joined Sports Management Worldwide a couple years ago, and love mentoring young baseball professionals, giving back like my great mentors did for me in the early stages of my career. It has been extremely rewarding. I really want to contribute as much as I can to growing the game at the youth level. I love what I do, contributing to a common goal, never knowing what my day will be like. I feel for people who dislike their job, because I wake up everyday knowing that I’m lucky to be a part of our great sport and also get to do something that I truly enjoy.”
In conclusion, Evans offered some advice for newly drafted, young players starting out in professional baseball.
“The biggest advice I can give young players is to make a total commitment, on and off the field, to getting everything they can out of their opportunity. You’ll walk away from the sport at some time knowing that you gave it your best shot. Be flexible, accept constructive criticism, and understand that it is a failureoriented sport that rewards hard work, perseverance, and a steady approach. Embrace the challenge of getting there and staying there. Don’t be afraid of change. But most importantly, accept that there will be tough times and your character should be the most consistent component of your skill set.”
I want to thank Dan Evans for taking the time out of his busy schedule to give us some insight on his career. He is one of the best follows on Twitter, so check him out @DanEvans108. You can also sign-up online for his Baseball General Manager and Scouting Course HERE.