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Angels

Angels pick up 2020 option on GM Billy Eppler’s contract

Angels general manager Billy Eppler, at middle with owner Arte Moreno, left, during spring training in February in Arizona.
Angels general manager Billy Eppler, at middle with owner Arte Moreno, left, during spring training in February in Arizona.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Angels general manager Billy Eppler will remain in charge of the team for at least one more year. The Angels picked up the 2020 option on Eppler’s contract, according to a person within the organization not authorized to publicly speak on the matter.

Since becoming general manager in October 2015, Eppler has concentrated on rebuilding the Angels’ farm system. His group’s 2017 draft netted Jo Adell, currently ranked as high as the second-best prospect in baseball, and pitcher Griffin Canning, who debuted in late April and made an impact on the team before being shut down for the rest of the season last week. The farm system catapulted from being ranked the worst in baseball in 2016 to receiving a No. 12 ranking from Baseball America before the 2019 season.

Eppler drew criticism for signing streaky hitter Justin Upton to a five-year, $106-million deal and infielder Zack Cozart to a three-year, $38-million contract before the 2018 season. Cozart has been limited by injury to 96 games in the first two seasons of his agreement, while Upton entered Friday’s game, a 7-6 loss to the Boston Red Sox, with a .792 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in an Angels uniform.

But Eppler has also made savvy acquisitions, such as trading for Gold Glove-winning shortstop Andrelton Simmons before the 2016 season; unearthing young and versatile infielder Luis Rengifo in a March 2018 trade; and exchanging veteran Ian Kinsler for promising rookie reliever Ty Buttrey in July 2018.

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Eppler also oversaw the signing of two-way player Shohei Ohtani in December 2017.

Mike Trout cited his relationship with Eppler when he signed a record-breaking 12-year, $426.5-million contract in March, referring to it as one of the strongest alliances he has with a member of the organization. He also lauded Eppler’s efforts to revamp the Angels’ player development.

“He relates to the players more than anybody,” Trout said at the time. “That’s the biggest thing I like. When he asks something or something comes up, he asks me and I relay it to the guys, and the guys (in the clubhouse) give me feedback and we go from there. The communication in the whole organization is top notch.”

At 64-72, the Angels are on pace for their fourth consecutive losing season. They finished the 2017 and 2018 campaigns 80-82, in second and fourth place, respectively, in the American League West division. The Angels have not been to playoffs since 2014.

Tyler Skaggs died by choking on his vomit after ingesting a dangerous mix of drugs and alcohol, raising questions about MLB’s and the Angels’ responsibilities.

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Ahead of what could be his final year as the team’s lead architect, Eppler will again be tasked with putting together a team capable of breaking a long playoff drought. The most prominent need the Angels must address is their pitching staff, which has been wrecked by injuries throughout Eppler’s tenure. Although they expect Ohtani to return from Tommy John surgery as a top-of-the-rotation starter, they still need to fill some holes in the rotation.

Some pending free agents that should be available are Zach Wheeler, currently of the New York Mets, and Gerrit Cole of the Houston Astros. Cole, a client of super-agent Scott Boras, is of particular interest because he is an Orange County native who grew up attending games at Angel Stadium. Although he will be 29 and approaching the end of his so-called “prime years,” Cole is expected to command a long-term contract worth more than $150 million.

Eppler has attempted to woo free agents of such caliber in the past. During the offseason, the Angels were linked to Nathan Eovaldi, Patrick Corbin and J.A. Happ. All spurned Anaheim for East Coast destinations.

Eppler wound up settling for veteran starters Matt Harvey and Trevor Cahill and closer Cody Allen. They signed for a combined $28.5 million. Cahill is the only member of the trio remaining in the organization. He moved to the bullpen in June and has a 6.45 ERA in 29 games this season.
ther hit until Cahill took over in the 14th inning.


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