The Good, Bad, and Ugly From Billy Eppler’s Tenure as Angels GMby B.J. Martin October 10, 2020 0 comments
Immediately following the Los Angeles Angels’ season-ending sweep at the hands of their freeway series rival Dodgers, the club announced the firing of general manager Billy Eppler.
The Angels hired Eppler after the 2015 season, and the franchise finished each campaign during his tenure with a losing record. This is despite having Mike Trout as the American League Most Valuable Player in two of those five seasons, with a chance at a third after the completion of this year’s playoffs.
Trout and Ohtani
Eppler was at the helm when the Angels signed Trout to a record-settig twelve-year, $430 million contract extension in 2019. Speculation was that the reigning MVP would depart for an East Coast club near his native New Jersey after 2020. Eppler’s good rapport with Trout was a crucial part of keeping the best player in the game in Anaheim long-term.
Eppler was also integral in the Angels winning the Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes in December 2017. His experience and visits Japan were well-documented as influencing the young Japanese two-way player to select the Angels as his MLB home.
Waiver Claim Success
Eppler had a knack for finding great talent from other club’s castoffs, who rebuilt their careers with the Angels. Some of the Angels’ best revivals include Mike Mayers, Blake Parker, Hansel Robles, Noe Ramirez, J.C. Ramirez, and Brian Goodwin. Unfortunately, as you will see later, these occasional success stories could also have resulted in unfair expectations from other later signings.
Eppler acquired Andrelton Simmons, Martin Maldonado, Dylan Bundy, Tommy La Stella, and Felix Pena in exchange for nobody recognizable short of possibly Atlanta’s Sean Newcomb. Later, Eppler would turn around and deal Martin Maldonado to Houston for pitching prospect Patrick Sandoval. While often criticized for holding the club’s top prospects, Eppler was successful in getting the best for less quite often.
The Angels had some very successful draft classes during Eppler’s tenure with the Angels selecting Jo Adell, Griffin Canning, Brandon Marsh, Jordyn Adams, Jeremiah Jackson, Will Wilson, Kyren Paris, Jack Kochanowicz, Reid Detmers, and David Calabrese still climbing the ranks. The Angels were successful in amateur free agent signings in the Caribbean, too, with prospects such as D’Shawn Knowles, Alex Ramirez, Hector Yan, Arol Vera, Jose Bonilla, and Alex Placencia. Jerry DiPoto’s disastrous signing of Roberto Baldoquin hamstrung the Angels’ ability to sign quality talent for years and the farm system improved greatly under Eppler’s tenure.
Most responsible for the Angels’ recent losing seasons was the lack of healthy, quality starting pitching. Eppler inherited the injury-plagued veteran contracts of Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson. Whenever an ace emerged on the staff, injury was sure to strike soon. Garrett Richards, Andrew Heaney, Matt Shoemaker, Tyler Skaggs, and Shohei Ohtani were all sidelined for entire seasons with arm injuries.
Eppler failed to land a top free agent starter when the likes of Dallas Keuchel, J.A. Happ, Zack Wheeler, or Gerrit Cole were available. To make matters worse, Eppler severely missed the target with the Angels ‘subsequent starting pitchers he did ultimately sign. Failing miserably with low-risk, no-reward one-year contracts to starting pitchers Matt Harvey, Trevor Cahill, and Julio Teheran the past two off-seasons.
The Closer Dilemma
When the club had starting and middle relief pitching keeping them in games, the lack of a consistent ninth-inning closer would hurt the Angels. Huston Street was signed by his predecessor and his performance fell off the map during Eppler’s inaugural year at the helm. Yet, Eppler failed to find an adequate ninth-inning option for the bulk of his tenure. Sure, Hansel Robles filled the role admirably in 2019, but acquisitions of former closers Jim Johnson, Andrew Bailey, and Cody Allen were undeniable busts for the Angels.
Eppler inherited a disaster at the left-field position when the Josh Hamilton–Angels relationship fell apart prior to his hiring as general manager. The Angels featured a revolving door of veterans at the position, failing to provide the needed production at that position. Eppler made a splash at the 2017 trade deadline, acquiring soon-to-be free agent and four-time All-Star left-fielder Justin Upton from Detroit. Upton finished 2017 with seven home runs in 27 games for the Angels and Eppler hurried to re-sign the outfielder. The Angels reached a five-year, $106 million contract extension immediately following the season before Upton could test the free agent market. He was productive during his first full season with the Angels, adding 30 home runs and 85 RBI in 2018. However, in 2018 and 2019, injuries plagued Upton, who combined for 21 home runs and 62 RBI over that time.
One month after Eppler acquired Andrelton Simmons to be the Angels’ shortstop of the future, he traded pitchers Trevor Gott and Michael Brady to Washington for 33-year-old third baseman Yunel Escobar. Escobar hit .292 over 221 games as the Angels’ third baseman but frequently exhibited uninspired play and lack of hustle. Poor base-running decisions from the veteran killed rallies and gave away outs due to a lack of concentration. Unsurprisingly, Yunel Escobar never played another game in the big leagues once his contract with the Angels expired following the 2017 season.
Who’s Calling Shots?
It was certainly not Eppler’s fault that he inherited a depleted farm system and huge contracts from under- or never-performing players Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, Jered Weaver, and C.J. Wilson. We can’t blame Eppler for coming into this situation but what was done after these contracts ended? With the exception of Pujols’s current deal, he failed to react with signings that would strengthen the starting pitching.
To make matters worse, when the Angels locked up prized third baseman Anthony Rendon last December, it became evident that owner Arte Moreno was the man working the deal with Rendon. Eppler was undermined and compromised by an owner willing to spend money after missing out on top free agent pitchers Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg, and Zack Wheeler.
In December 2017, the Angels signed 32-year-old shortstop Zack Cozart to a three-year, $38 million contract to fill the Angels’ third base position. Cozart was coming off a career year and his lone All-Star season with Cincinnati (.297 average, 27 home runs). Cozart was a .254 lifetime hitter and had never played the third base position at the MLB level. Following a slow start with the Angels, Cozart was traded to the Giants to conserve money. The cost was steep as the club was required to send first-round pick Will Wilson to the Giants in exchange for eating the remaining contract amount. Cozart ended his 96-game Angels career hitting .190.
Missing Howie Kendrick
Prior to Eppler joining the Angels, Jerry DiPoto dealt long-time second baseman Howie Kendrick to the Dodgers for Andrew Heaney. The club would struggle to find anything close to an adequate replacement for the first half of Eppler’s tenure with the Angels. Johnny Giavotella served well at the position in 2016 and 2017 before being unceremoniously dropped. Eppler and the Angels would fail two consecutive years to fill the position with acquisitions of Danny Espinosa and then Ian Kinsler. Neither would have success with the Angels during their partial seasons with the club.
Remember the lack of a consistent closer during Billy Eppler’s tenure? Well, how about Eppler’s remarkable claim of pitcher Kirby Yates off waivers from the New York Yankees on Oct. 5, 2016? The 30-year-old journeyman cracked the Angels’ roster and struggled in his lone outing. He surrendered two runs in one inning of work before being waived and claimed by the San Diego Padres. Yates has posted a 2.55 ERA in 192 games with the Padres and continues to be an elite closer. He finished with a National League-leading 41 saves for the club in 2019.
Angels This Week
The Angels’ search for a GM enters its second week and a familiar face has entered the job search market. Matt Klentak, who worked in the Angels’ front office under Jerry DiPoto prior to assuming his role as the Phillies’ GM, was fired from his position in Philadelphia.
Former Angel Drew Rucinski continues to impress in the Korean Baseball Organization. The NC Dinos pitcher is 18-3 and 2.89 ERA in 25 KBO starts.
My Future Angels Top 10 (Q4 – 10/1/2020)
1. Brandon Marsh
2. Reid Detmers
3. Jordyn Adams
4. Jeremiah Jackson
5. Kyren Paris
6. Chris Rodriguez
7. Hector Yan
8. Jahmai Jones
9. Aaron Hernandez
10. Arol Vera pic.twitter.com/2gM3p77trn
— Halo Life ⚾ (@_HaloLife) October 5, 2020
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