Mike Scioscia began his pregame media session on Sunday with a phrase he has uttered hundreds of times in his 19 years as Angels manager, one that elicits chuckles no matter how often he repeats it.
“What could possibly have happened in the last 24 hours?” Scioscia asked.
In this case, plenty. Or, possibly, nothing, depending on who you believe.
Scioscia forcefully denied a late-Saturday night report in the Athletic that he is expected to step down at the end of this season, when his 10-year, $50-million contract expires.
“Nothing has changed since we talked last October,” Scioscia said before Sunday’s 4-3 loss to the Cleveland Indians in Progressive Field. “There’s always chatter out there, but the only word I have for it is ‘poppycock.’ That’s all I’m gonna say about it.”
Then during the game, USA Today, citing three persons “directly involved with his decision,” reported that Scioscia, baseball’s longest-tenured manager, made up his mind before spring training that this would be his final season.
“This is insanity,” Scioscia said after the game, his patience with the subject obviously wearing thin. “That’s it.”
Scioscia referred reporters to a meeting he held immediately after the 2017 season in which he and general manager Billy Eppler agreed to table any discussions about Scioscia’s future until after the season so they could focus on 2018.
“I have not made a decision,” Scioscia insisted. “Nothing has changed since last October.”
Does Scioscia, who turns 60 in November, still like managing?
“I love it,” he said.
The plot thickened when the team announced Sunday afternoon that former big-league third baseman Eric Chavez, a special assistant to the GM who has been prominently mentioned as an Angels managerial candidate, would replace Keith Johnson as triple-A Salt Lake’s manager for the rest of the season.
The move sparked immediate speculation that the Angels are grooming Chavez, who has not managed at any level, as a replacement for Scioscia. Eppler tried to douse that conjecture.
“Chavez covered for K.J. when K.J. was selected as a coach for the Futures Game,” Eppler said. “He already has a working knowledge of the operation in Salt Lake and is familiar with the staff and front office, so it was the least invasive option for us.”
Johnson, who has an infield background, will supplement the big-league staff, not replace anyone on it.
“We have a lot of young players who have touched down in the major leagues who K.J. has coached this year,” Eppler said. “His support is important to us.”
Scioscia has said little publicly about his contract status all year. He said Sunday that he has not had any formal discussions with Eppler, owner Arte Moreno or team president John Carpino about his future in recent weeks. The Athletic indicated that Scioscia is not being pressured to step down.
Mike Trout, Kole Calhoun and Albert Pujols declined to discuss Scioscia’s situation, with Calhoun saying that Saturday night’s story about his expected resignation “was the first I heard of it.” If Scioscia has made a decision, he apparently hasn’t shared it with his players.
“I’ve been known to miss some little team meetings, but I haven’t heard anything,” shortstop Andrelton Simmons said. “I don’t know much about it.”
Josh Paul, the former big-league catcher in his first season as the team’s bench coach, and Brad Ausmus, the former Detroit Tigers manager who is a special assistant to the GM, would be candidates to replace Scioscia if he steps down.
“I don’t really want to talk about,” Paul said Sunday. “All in good time.”
Scioscia has built a Hall-of-Fame worthy resume, leading the Angels to the 2002 World Series title, six division titles and the AL Championship Series in 2005 and 2009. He ranks 18th on the all-time managerial win list with 1,625 victories.
But the Angels have reached the postseason only once in eight years, they haven’t won a playoff game since 2009, and they are nearing the end of another disappointing, injury-plagued season, falling to 55-58 and at least 11 games back in the AL wild-card race after Sunday’s loss.
“It’s a little weird to think about him not managing this team,” Simmons said. “I like him as a manager. He communicates well with me. He knows as much about the game as anybody. I have nothing bad to say about him.”