Los Angeles Angels GM Billy Eppler made some shrewd moves in 2016

Billy Eppler seen here with one of his top acquisitions Andrelton Simmons when he accepts a Gol Glove award. Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Billy Eppler seen here with one of his top acquisitions Andrelton Simmons when he accepts a Gol Glove award. Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports /

Los Angeles Angels general manager Billy Eppler had a rough first year on the job in Anaheim. Between injuries and some players underperforming, the Angels underachieved greatly and now its up to Eppler and his staff to fix it.

This year’s Los Angeles Angels team was a major disappointment after finishing 2015 only one game away from a playoff spot.  However, when you have your #1 and #2 starters lost for the season within the first month it tends to hamper your chances of having a successful season.

However, if it weren’t for the injuries to the starting rotation this team would have been right there in the thick of things in 2016.  A lot credit should be given to the new kid on the block Billy Eppler. He was handed a team with some major holes to fill and Eppler made a number of shrewd moves that helped keep the Angels afloat despite the pitching woes.

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Eppler fired the first shot last December when he traded one of the top Angels prospects pitcher Sean Newcomb and aging veteran shortstop Erick Aybar for the best defensive shortstop in the game in Andrelton Simmons.  The Angels went from having an aging 32-year old shortstop in the last year of his contract to a player who has been said to be the second-coming of the “Wizard” himself Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith. Simmons is also under club control for five more years with a very team-friendly contract. Sure they gave up on a top prospect which the team doesn’t have many of at the moment, but to get quality you have to give up some as well.

In case you’re interested Newcomb went 8-7 with a 3.86 ERA and a 1.324 WHIP for the Braves Double A  affiliate.  All Simmons did was hit a career high .281 and a career high OBP of .324 with four homers and 44 RBI’s and he stole 10 bases to boot. This is not even taking into account how many runs he saved with his defense. Aybar batted a career low .243 with three homers and 34 RBI’s which were also career lows.

Los Angeles Angels
September 18, 2016; Anaheim, CA, USA; Los Angeles Angels shortstop Andrelton Simmons (2) catches a hit by Toronto Blue Jays catcher Dioner Navarro (30) for the final out of the game at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports /

Another Eppler heist was getting 3B Yunel Escobar from the Washington Nationals in exchange for a middle reliever Trevor Gott.  Gott has a lot of potential, but he only pitched six innings in the majors this season with a 1.50 ERA and a 1.50 WHIP. Escobar was a Godsend for the Angels filling two major needs for the team, third base and a leadoff hitter.

Escobar was not the best defender, but he was at least adequate.  On the offensive side Escobar hit .304 with five homers and 39 RBI’s and had a .355 OBP.  Not bad numbers from someone who was said to be a one-hit wonder last season in 2015 when he batted over .300 for the first time in his career. Score another good move for the Epp.

Los Angeles Angels
Sep 11, 2016; Anaheim, CA, USA; Los Angeles Angels third baseman Yunel Escobar (6) celebrates after scoring off a solo home run as Texas Rangers catcher Robinson Chirinos (61) looks on during the first inning at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports /

Eppler also retooled the upper level Angels farm system with a plethora of major league ready talent some of which was marginal at best, but others that had a high upside.  The Angels used some of these players extensively such as Jefry Marte, Ji-Man Choi, Gregorio Petit, Rafael Ortega, and Deolis Guerra.

Let’s quickly look at each one of these players. Jefry Marte was probably the best catch that Eppler had acquiring him in a trade from Detroit. Marte proved to be very valuable playing first, third, and most recently left field. Marte had a solid year hitting .252 with 15 homers and 44 RBI’s with a .790 OPS. He may end up being the answer in left field for the Angels.

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Ji-Man Choi was a Rule 5 draftee which meant the Angels had to keep him on their roster all season or they would risk losing him back to the Baltimore Orioles. Choi had his moments including a two-homer game in August that was almost three if not for being robbed by Coco Crisp of Oakland. However, Choi hit only .170 for the season with five homers with 12 RBI’s.  Defensively Choi played well at first, but looked totally lost in left field.  He may have a future in baseball, but right now he is not ready for the majors.

Gregorio Petit was another Eppler gem who he pulled out of his former employer the New York Yankees where Eppler had been the assistant GM. Petit was a Godsend  filling in at both second base and shortstop.  He was especially important when Andrelton Simmons went down early in the season with a hand injury.  Petit is an above average defender who can play 2B, 3B, and SS as well as a little bit in left field as well. Petit hit .245 with two homers and 17 RBI’s.  Overall Petit is a great utility infielder who could be valuable in the future for the Angels or another team.

Rafael Ortega is a player that Eppler found in the St. Louis farm system.  Ortega showed the ability to play all three outfield spots very well. He has tremendous speed and an above average arm. Hitting was more of a challenge for Ortega as he only batted .232 with one homer and 16 RBI’s with eight stolen bases.  However, for now he is the perfect 4th outfielder and still has room to grow.

Los Angeles Angels
Los Angeles Angels outfielder Rafael Ortega makes what may be the catch of the year by someone not named Trout to help beat the Dodgers. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports /

Finally, Deolis Guerra was signed as a Rule 5 draft pick. The Angels put him on waivers in order to send him down to the minors for a little more seasoning. Guerra came back later in the season and became a key member of the Angels bullpen. Guerra went 3-0 with a 3.21 ERA and 1.11 WHIP as mostly a 6th or 7th inning man.  He may be a player the Angels can count on for years to come as he showed tremendous promise.

Besides Choi, Eppler did have some misses in his plethora of moves.  The Daniel Nava/Craig Gentry platoon did not work in the slightest as both players were eventually released in August. Quntin Berry and Todd Cunningham who were also signed during the off-season did not show much in the short time they both were in the majors.

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Al Alburquerque who was signed to a two-year contract to solidify the back end of the bullpen and he ended up pitching only two innings in the majors all season. Cliff Pennington was another off-season signing to be a utility man of sorts, but injuries cut into his season as he was only able to play in 74 games mostly in the last two months of the season. Pennington played second base and shortstop and defensively he did a good job.  Offensively Pennington struggled hitting only .209 with three homers and 10 RBI’s.  He is signed through next year and he will be a good utility infielder for the Angels.

What was even more impressive to me was how Eppler dealt with all the injuries throughout the season.  It would have been easy to try to sell off what few prospects the Angels had for a quick fix trade.  Eppler made one trade which has paid big dividends which was acquiring pitcher Jhoulys Chacin from the Atlanta Braves for a low-level prospect.  Chacin spent the rest of the season between the rotation and the bullpen.

Chacin had his rough patches, but overall put together a solid season going 5-6 with a 4.68 ERA. His last four starts were very encouraging as Chacin pitched 24 innings only allowing two earned runs with a 0.75 ERA striking 20 batters and only allowing five walks good for a 0.91 WHIP during that span. He would be a good option for the Angels for 2017 either in the bullpen or as a starter.

Reliever JC Ramirez was another plum that Eppler picked up off the waiver wire mid-season from Minnesota. Ramirez who has a high 90’s fastball worked his way up in the Angels bullpen from mop-up man to 7th inning specialist eventually becoming the team set-up man.  Ramirez pitched in 43 games for the Angels and posted a 2-1 record with a 2.91 ERA pitching in 46.1 innings and he also posted a 1.19 WHIP. Ramirez may have found a home in the back end of the Angels bullpen and he has a tremendous upside.

Los Angeles Angels
Sep 28, 2016; Anaheim, CA, USA; Los Angeles Angels relief pitcher JC Ramirez (66) shakes hands with catcher Jett Bandy (13) after a save in the ninth inning of the game against the against the Oakland Athletics at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. Angels won 8-6. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports /

Of course there were some not so great in-season moves such as the signing of Tim Lincecum, Jose Valdez, and Brett Oberholtzer of which had 6 + ERA’s this season and were overall not very effective. But it proves the old adage you win some and you lose.

In conclusion with what Eppler was handed and the budget constraints he was given he did more than adequate job.  What will be the test is what he will do over the off-season and next season to bring the Angels back into playoff contention.  The biggest issues will be how to fill out the rotation and the bullpen especially with the injuries to Nick Tropeano and Andrew Heaney and the uncertainty of Garrett Richards potential 2017 return.

The other glaring hole is second base.  Cliff Pennington and Gregorio Petit were nice part-time players but neither would be a full-time solution at second base. If budget becomes an issue Eppler might be forced to go with a platoon situation at second, but hopefully Mr. Moneybags aka Arte Moreno will allow Eppler to use some money to pursue players that could help the team.

Next: Grading the Machine

Let’s see what tomorrow will bring and hopefully.  Billy Eppler will help to make the sun come out tomorrow