Angels’ Billy Eppler hopes for better team health next season, and some pitching depth

Angels General Manager Billy Eppler, left, chats with outfielder Mike Trout during spring training.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

The Angels are operating at MLB’s winter meetings as if they are a pinch and a pluck away from being a contender next season. Second-year General Manager Billy Eppler has said nothing that would indicate otherwise.

“Health,” Eppler said when asked Monday about the factors that will control the Angels’ success in 2017.

So he believes the team, as currently constructed, is destined for success as long as it remains healthy?

“I mean, there are some blanks on the depth chart right now,” Eppler said. “Those will be filled.”


The blanks: a second baseman, a left-handed-hitting reserve corner outfielder “and, if some pitching presents itself ...” Eppler trailed off.

Chase Utley remains one of the top options for second base among the free agents available at the position. Ben Revere, nontendered last week by Washington, has become an outfield option.

Of course, the inverse to Eppler’s point is that if the Angels experience injuries again, they won’t be able to withstand them. That was the problem in their 74-win 2016, when they were forced to acquire washouts Jhoulys Chacin and Tim Lincecum midseason.

“From an injury standpoint, it got bad in a hurry,” said Bud Black, who served as a special assistant to Eppler last season, and was hired as Colorado’s manager last month. “It was tough to bounce back. If they can pitch, they can contend, because they are going to put runs on the board. I think they play good defense. But you’ve got to pitch, and there’s a lot of factors that will determine that based on health and what they can do to help the pitching depth.”

It is not as simple as staying healthy, as complicated as that already can be. The Angels’ likely opening-day starter, Garrett Richards, will be pitching through a partial tear of his ulnar collateral ligament. Matt Shoemaker will be returning from a fractured skull and Tyler Skaggs will be attempting to complete his first full season since 2013.

To combat those risks, Eppler remains in pursuit of pitchers who are both durable and flexible. Those features have always been his most desired.

“You generally don’t find that on the free-agent market, though,” Eppler said.

When the Angels signed Lincecum in May, Eppler noted it put them on track to surpass MLB’s luxury-tax threshold for the first time in a dozen years. They paid a $927,000 tax after the 2004 season.

They were never on track to pay that much, even had they stayed above it throughout the season. But they eventually went well below the $189-million mark, and finished with a total tax-applicable payroll around $185 million, according to a source who requested anonymity because the number has not yet been finalized.

Now the threshold has risen to $195 million, and the Angels are currently committed to something like $150 million in salary, including arbitration estimations for Kole Calhoun, Shoemaker and Richards, and the near-minimum salaries they will pay their younger players.

The club has not discussed extensions with Richards, Shoemaker or Calhoun.

Short hops

Shortstop Andrelton Simmons will play for the Netherlands in next year’s World Baseball Classic, MLB confirmed. Simmons was born in Curaçao. Mike Trout is reportedly included on a provisional U.S. roster for the competition, but Team USA General Manager Joe Torre said he has not spoken with Trout about the possibility. Eppler said he recently spoke with Trout, but not about it, either. … The Angels hired Andrew Ball, previously with the Tampa Bay Rays, to be their director of baseball operations, and Lee Fiocchi, previously at the University of Houston, to be their strength and conditioning coach. ...The Angels lost left-hander Ashur Tolliver on waivers to Houston. He never pitched for the club, claimed on waivers from Baltimore in September. His departure leaves one vacancy on the Angels’ 40-man roster.

Twitter: @pedromoura