Did the Los Angeles Angels make a mistake by blaming Billy Eppler for the team’s failings over his tenure as general manager?
The offseason has officially begun for the Los Angeles Angels as they lost their final game of the season against the Dodgers. After the game, the team announced their decision to part ways with general manager Billy Eppler. With his departure, the Angels will be looking for their replacement, however, this is a move that shouldn’t have been made.
While the Angels have had five straight losing seasons under Billy Eppler, he also had a monstrous amount of things to check off his check-list as the team’s general manager. First, he was tasked with orchestrating one of the biggest deals in baseball history in locking up the best player in baseball, Mike Trout, which he was successful in when Trout agreed to a 12-year contract. It gave Angels fans comfort in knowing that one of the greatest players in franchise history was going to remain with the team for what seems to be the rest of his career.
He also saw an opportunity to trade for the best defensive player in the game in Andrelton Simmons of the Atlanta Braves in which was one of his first moves as Angels general manager. While he traded away the Angels two top pitching prospects at the time in Sean Newcomb and Chris Ellis, he was getting arguably the best defensive shortstop in the game and the Angels would end up winning this trade. The case for Sean Newcomb is still open as he’s still with the Braves and trying to develop, however, Chris Ellis was traded away and is now currently a free agent. Meanwhile, Simmons was as advertised for the Angels as he took his incredible defensive skills to Anaheim. However, the Angels failed to capitalize as they never got to the postseason with Simmons at shortstop.
He was also in the process of rebuilding a farm system that was one of the worst in the Major Leagues. After he took over, Eppler had many opportunities to change the way the Angels farm system looked as the team was without a first-round draft pick in 2012 and 2013. Under his tenure from 2015-2020, he drafted Taylor Ward, Matt Thaiss, Jo Adell, Jordyn Adams, Will Wilson, and Reid Detmers. We’ve already seen Ward and Thaiss make their way into the Angels lineup as well as Jo Adell, who was the Angels top prospect and was 5th by MLB Pipeline before his call up to the big leagues in 2020. Fans will have to wait and see if Adell can translate his skills to the Major League level, however, he has a great mentor in Mike Trout on what he’s capable of and being another franchise piece for the Angels.
Eppler also won the sweepstake for Japanese two-way phenom Shohei Ohtani as the player that excelled at both pitching and hitting chose Anaheim among the rest of the other 29 teams. It seemed that virtually every team had an interest in Ohtani as there was no cap on how much a team could spend on the player, which virtually made him a free agent. While the jury is still out on whether he can do both consistently for the rest of his career, his first season had already bared good fortune as he won AL rookie of the year in 2018. Unfortunately, he hasn’t pitched all that much having only totaled 53.1 innings (he didn’t pitch at all in 2019), and that may leave speculation on whether he might try to focus on only either batting or pitching and give up the other.
His final major move was signing All-Star third basemen Anthony Rendon to a 7-year deal worth $245 million. This helped solve the Angels recurring third base problem as it was pretty much a revolving door that lacked decent production at that position and Rendon was the right answer. Despite a slow start to the 2020 season, Rendon was able to get adjusted to hitting in the American League, as he finished with a .286/.418/.497 slash line and an OPS+ of 151 which is better than the average hitter which is at 100. While this move was made by Billy Eppler, it was reported that Arte Moreno helped push this deal and made it happen.
While Eppler’s reign at the head of the front office will be known mostly for five consecutive losing seasons and an inability to land a viable ace for the rotation, there were certain things he did that will prove positive for the team down the road. Sadly, he won’t get the chance to see them come to fruition.