General manager Billy Eppler hired reinforcements for his front office Tuesday, bringing aboard Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa as a special assistant of baseball operations. He’ll assist in all areas, including player evaluations and minor league development.
Above all, La Russa, 75, will serve as a sounding board for Eppler, who raved about the prospect of working closely with someone hemet at dinner five years ago as an assistant general manager for the New York Yankees.
“Having somebody with that knowledge, that expertise, that experience, I found that very helpful when I was in New York,” Eppler said during the second day of baseball’s general managers meetings.
“My interactions with him have always been very positive. So I’m looking forward to using him as a resource. Tony is just looking to make a contribution and there’s no doubt he will.”
Eppler’s front office contingent already features as a senior advisor former Angels GM Bill Stoneman, who presided over the franchise when it won its only World Series championship in 2002 and claimed three American League West titles. Former Angels manager and pitching coach Marcel Lachemann and six-time Gold Glove-winning third baseman Eric Chavez also work with Eppler as special assistants.
But none boast the resume of La Russa. During 58 years in pro baseball, he won three World Series titles as a manager (1989 in Oakland and 2006 and 2011 in St. Louis) and another as an executive (2018 in Boston). A four-time manager of the year, he was third on the all-time wins list with 2,728 when he retired from field duties in 2011.
He never slowed down. He spent the 2012 and ‘13 seasons working with MLB Commissioner Bud Selig before working in the Arizona Diamondbacks’ baseball operations department from 2014 to 2017. La Russa joined the Red Sox prior to their 2018 World Series season as a vice president and special assistant to then-president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski.
“He’s someone that has decades of baseball experience and insight,” said Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak, who joined St. Louis’ front office in 1995, not long before La Russa was hired to manage there. “I think when you’re looking at someone you can bounce something off of, be a thought partner, someone that can maybe give you advice that you don’t have, he can be a valuable resource. “
La Russa was made available to interview with the Angels after Dombrowski was fired in September. Eppler, who became enamored by La Russa during an hours-long 2014 dinner in New York, jumped at the opportunity.
Adding La Russa to his cabinet could be a coup for Eppler. His future with the Angels is murky, his contract due to expire after the 2020 season. Owner Arte Moreno said last month he was pleased with much of the work Eppler has done since becoming the Angels’ GM in November 2015.
But Moreno also said, “A lot of times, all these things don’t translate to the field.”
Moreno is itching to bring back the glory days of Angels baseball. He hired Joe Maddon as manager and committed to expanding the team’s payroll in the hope the Angels can compete with other high-spending teams for top starting pitchers.
Perhaps coupling the increased resources with La Russa’s presence will produce the desired results.