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Requiem for Bobby Evans

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He joined the Giants in 1994 and had been GM since before the 2015 season

MLB: General Managers Meetings Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

There’s more to a front office than just one man. There are more decision makers on a baseball team than just a GM. There are scouts that you’ve never heard of, analytics guys quietly trying to do their jobs, people crunching salary numbers. When we say “I can’t believe the GM made that move,” we’re really talking about every one of them, all adding their contribution to try and make the team as good as it can be.

When you lose 98 games one year and don’t turn it around next year, though, the GM will be the first one to go.

The Giants fired Bobby Evans yesterday, because all those people doing all that work didn’t give them the results they wanted. From all accounts, the Giants front office has always been a very collaborative one, where everyone gives their input and it all gets weighed and decisions get made based on the preponderance of evidence, and Evans lost his job because those decisions just weren’t good enough. In the days and months to come, probably some of those scouts and some of those analytics guys and number crunchers will also go, but their departures won’t be as high profile, which makes sense, because neither were their mistakes.

Bobby Evans has been around for a long time. 2018 was his 25th year with the Giants, and it’s worth looking at how he rose within the organization. After a stint working for then-commissioner Fay Vincent in the league office, Evans started with San Francisco in 1994 as a minor league administrative assistant. The next year, he was promoted to Assistant Director of Player Development, and in 1998, he became Director of Minor League Administration. In 2005, the Giants named Evans Director of Player Personnel, in 2009 he became Vice President of Baseball Operations (a fancy title for assistant GM), and finally, in 2015, he became GM.

Bobby Evans has spent a quarter century with the Giants. He’s had an impact on every single player who’s come up through the minor league system since the strike, and he was a massive part of the three World Series wins this decade. Evans can take a lot of credit for some of the absolute best moments of your life, the ones that you’re going to remember as long as you have baseball memories, the ones that stick with you, live with you, the ones that you’ll pass down to the next generation.

The Giants value that. The Giants are right to value that, because that has value. As much as recent years saw “3 in 5!” become an excuse for poor management, only two NL teams have ever done it. In National League history, just the 2010-14 Giants and the 1942-46 Cardinals have won three World Series in five years, and only the Giants did it without a catastrophic world war sucking talent out of the league. That run was incredible. You might not see any team do it again in your lifetime. Bobby Evans was an inextricable part of it, and when he comes back for reunions starting in 2040 or whenever, you damn well better cheer your ass off for him, because holy shit, the Giants won three World Series in five years.

Bobby Evans deserves kudos for that and always will, because Bobby Evans was a crucial part of the Giants operation. Are we clear on that? In terms of winning World Series titles, Bobby Evans did more for the Giants than almost anyone ever has.

But he wasn’t good enough as GM.

Not all the failures of the last few years fall on Evans alone; he wasn’t the first organizational domino to fall, and he won’t be the last. He was, however, emblematic of a philosophy that has been around for a long time. The Hardball Times wrote about it in late 2004 in the wake of the Omar Vizquel signing. I wrote about it in January of this year after the Longoria and McCutchen trades. When other teams lean on youth, the Giants lean on age.

There is no non-risky baseball strategy that doesn’t involve stealing Mike Trout’s DNA and setting up a human cloning lab in international waters. Short of that, if you rely on prospects, many of them will disappoint you. If you rely on veterans, they’ll fade or get injured. If you trade for stars in their prime, you’ll have to trade prospects, some of whom will turn out to be stars a few years later. It’s an impossible tightrope to walk in a lot of ways, and as a fan, that’s a hard fact to internalize.

On the other hand, Bobby Evans was in charge of the front office while they failed time and time again, and he’s going to pay the price for that. Maybe AT&T Park would have swallowed Adam Duvall’s power whole and he’d have become just another Jarrett Parker here, but seeing him have success for several years in Cincinnati while Mike Leake floundered for two months in San Francisco rankled. Luis Castillo was one of the top young pitchers in baseball last year, and turned around his 2018 after a terrible start, and all the Giants got for him was Casey McGehee, a double play machine who turned out to be unnecessary and was gone by midseason in 2015.

And then there’s Matt Duffy. It’s easy to pin the Giants’ flagging fortunes on the Duffy (and Lucius Fox!) trade for Matt Moore, but that 2016 team collapsed after the All-Star Break, and Duffy was hurt that year and ineffective when he was on the field in the second half that year. He missed all of 2017 too, and while Moore spent that year floundering, at least he was giving the Giants innings. But Duffy came back this year with a vengeance, and the contrast couldn’t be clearer between the Rays’ current third baseman, a young former Giant having a solid year, and the Giants’ current third baseman, a veteran former Ray who just had the worst year of his career.

The player evaluation has to change, but so does the philosophy. Evans embodied this generation of the Giants front office, and this generation isn’t getting the job done anymore. The Giants have to look to the next generation, to youth both on the field and in the front office, and as much as they’d probably be fine with putting Evans in a Ned Colletti-esque Senior Advisor role, well, Colletti’s not exactly calling a lot of shots with the Dodgers right now.

There’s also an impressive irony here, which is that if you actually want a rebuild, want someone to tear the team down and sell it for parts, then that’s actually the thing Bobby Evans has done really well.

Evans turned Adalberto Mejia into a year of Eduardo Nuñez, which was a fully cromulent move, but a year later managed to turn Nuñez into Shaun Anderson, now a near-ready pitching prospect, and Gregory Santos, one of the most impressive arms in the whole Giants system. He traded Moore, took on none of the salary, and got a live arm in Sam Wolff, and while Wolff’s results in Richmond this year were rough, he’s still got potential, which is a hell of a lot more than you’d expect as a return for Matt Moore. Andrew McCutchen, when the Giants had absolutely no leverage, became two flawed, toolsy players. Those are good returns for those players in those circumstances, especially with ownership insisting on not paying any of their salaries.

The problem is that while Bobby Evans might do a perfectly fine job of tearing a team down, he’s never shown he can be the man to build one. His big ticket free agent signings have become albatrosses, he’s misidentified which minor leaguers he should trade, and when he’s traded them, he’s gotten far, far too little production in return.

We don’t have any way of knowing how many of Evans’s decisions were results of demands from ownership — there’s a reason I considered calling this article on the Longoria trade “Giants acquire good talking point for season ticket holders” — but this year, it became abundantly clear that the team wouldn’t succeed with him at the helm. 2017 was the worst year for Giants baseball in a generation, and after the team pulled out all the stops to give it one last shot at competing, 2018 was merely less bad.

So Bobby Evans is out, and Larry Baer is looking for new ideas. The quote that’s been going around is that Baer wants a “next-gen” mind to keep up with baseball’s changing landscape in ways that the outgoing front office either couldn’t or didn’t. While the team is right to look for someone more in tune with current trends, and it was time to move Evans out of the big chair, that doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate everything he’s done for the team.

Bobby Evans was a monumental part of the most successful era in San Francisco Giants history. Then he oversaw its dying breath. Those are both important parts of his legacy with the Giants. There were players who praised him for his honesty, and others who were thrust into unfamiliar roles without warning; guys who are grateful for the chances they got with the Giants, and others who think they didn’t get a fair shot at all. That all comes with the territory of being GM, and so does this move.

When you take the job, you know that there’s a good chance that someday the hammer will fall on you. Yesterday, it was Bobby Evans’s turn. But he was good enough to stick with the Giants for 25 years. Let’s hope the next GM is too.