ANAHEIM, Calif. – General manager Billy Eppler said the Los Angeles Angels’ abrupt firing of manager Brad Ausmus wasn’t all about Joe Maddon.
In his first comments on the move made after the club finished its worst season since 1999, Eppler flatly denied the Angels already know who will be their second new manager in two seasons.
The availability of Maddon, the longtime Angels employee who wrapped up his World Series-winning tenure with the Chicago Cubs last weekend, wasn’t a factor in the Angels’ move, according to Eppler.
“We have a hiring process to go through, so I think it’s premature to say anything contrary to that,” Eppler said. “We’re going to collect names this afternoon, and particularly plan on sitting down with a number of candidates. I would not handicap it any other way at this moment in time.”
Maddon spent 31 seasons working for the Halos, and he was their bench coach when they won their only World Series title in 2002. Maddon and Angels owner Arte Moreno have a cordial relationship, and Moreno is widely reported to be interested in a reunion – but Eppler wouldn’t confirm any of it Tuesday.
“We’ve got to get a comprehensive candidate list put together first and foremost,” Eppler said. “So it’s kind of hard to forecast timeline … until we figure out exactly who we want.”
Ausmus was fired Monday after the Angels finished 72-90 in their worst season since 1999. Eppler said the decision to fire Ausmus was reached by consensus Monday in meetings with Moreno and team President John Carpino, but the club had been contemplating the change “for a while.”
The GM was vague about any mistakes or deficiencies in Ausmus’ one season in charge, only saying the Angels’ three front-office leaders “felt it was in the best interest of the organization to go in a different direction” after their dismal season.
In fact, Eppler lavished praise on Ausmus, the GM’s hand-picked replacement for Mike Scioscia, for “his leadership, his consistency and his professionalism as our club navigated its most difficult season in many years.”
Along with their terrible record, poor pitching and dozens of significant injuries, the Angels were rocked by the midseason death of pitcher Tyler Skaggs.
“I want to make it clear that Brad was not solely responsible for the results of our season,” Eppler said. “The majority of our short-term acquisitions that we made in this past offseason did not produce to their forecast, and that responsibility lies with me. … I know it’s been a frustrating year for our fans, and I feel that responsibility.”
Indeed, Eppler completely whiffed on most of his important player moves last winter.
Starting pitchers Matt Harvey and Trevor Cahill, reliever Cody Allen and slugger Justin Bour all performed far below expectations, with the high-priced Harvey and Allen getting dropped by the organization well before September. Eppler also acquired infielder Tommy La Stella, who surpassed expectations in earning his first career All-Star selection.
Eppler is staying with the club despite presiding over its worst four-year stretch since the 1970s. Eppler faced significant obstacles in building a winner when he took over a club with a huge chunk of its payroll tied up in Albert Pujols until 2021, but the Angels still haven’t reaped on-field rewards from Eppler’s patient work.
While Eppler was understandably downbeat after Ausmus’ firing, he indicated optimism about the Angels’ overall direction. He said the Halos intend to be active in the free agent market for top-end starting pitchers – and everyone knows the biggest prize in that market is Gerrit Cole, the Orange County native who grew up an ardent Angels fan.
“We’re four years into rebuilding a farm system that I think everybody … it’s been written enough where it was,” Eppler said in a rare acknowledgement of the extraordinarily depleted prospect pool left to him by former GM Jerry Dipoto.
“But we’re four years into rebuilding the farm system, and we’ve seen rookies making an impact (this year),” Eppler added. “It’s fair to say most of our farm system (talent) is still at the Double-A and Triple-A levels. More than anything else, you’re going to continue to see more players have an impact.”
The Angels made two additional moves Tuesday, firing pitching coach Doug White and bench coach Josh Paul.
White was in his first season as a big league pitching coach after spending six seasons working for the Houston Astros, most recently as a bullpen coach. The Angels’ pitchers struggled all season long, finishing 25th out of 30 teams with a 5.12 ERA.
Paul was in his second season as the bench coach after joining the Angels from the Yankees, where he was their minor league catching coordinator.
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