The Angels have exercised a club option over general manager Billy Eppler for the 2020 season, according to Fabian Ardaya and Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic (Twitter link). His original contract came with a four-year term, with the club option for another.
That decision leaves the front office under Eppler’s guidance for at least one more campaign. Unless further contract talks take place, however, he won’t enjoy a longer-term commitment.
Eppler, who was previously one of Yankees general manager Brian Cashman’s top lieutenants in New York, took over the Angels’ front office in October 2015. The franchise hasn’t achieved ideal on-field results since Eppler grabbed the reins, though, as it has finished below .500 in each of his years at the helm. At 64-71 in 2019, the Halos are on their way to another disappointing campaign in the standings, and they’re sure to extend their playoff drought to a half-decade.
Of course, it would be unfair to place the Angels’ current struggles solely at Eppler’s feet. The sudden passing of quality starter Tyler Skaggs back on July 1 has been among the reasons the Angels’ season has come off the rails. Most teams likely would’ve had difficulty carrying on in the wake of such a tragedy.
Skaggs looked like a long-term building block for the Angels’ rotation – a group that’s lacking in that department. Consequently, upgrading the team’s starting staff will perhaps be the chief objective for Eppler during the upcoming offseason. Eppler swung and missed in that category last offseason with the short-term signings of Matt Harvey (one year, $11MM) and Trevor Cahill (one year, $9MM). Harvey’s no longer on the club, which released him last month, while Cahill lost his starting job earlier in the season and hasn’t exactly been a lights-out reliever. Eppler acknowledged a few weeks ago that there are some strong starters set for free agency, so he may well go that route to ameliorate his roster.
Regardless of whether Eppler reels in any prominent free agents in the coming months, the return of right-hander Shohei Ohtani in 2020 should go a long way toward bettering the Halos’ rotation. Eppler’s signature free-agent signing to date, Ohtani hasn’t been able to pitch this year after undergoing Tommy John surgery last October. Ohtani, Andrew Heaney and Griffin Canning (a second-round pick of the Eppler regime in 2017) are among a few promising starting options for the Angels going forward.
The 25-year-old Ohtani’s also indispensable to the team’s offense, which makes the hurler/DH arguably the most unique player in baseball. He’s among a few excellent offensive complements to the top player in the sport, center fielder Mike Trout, whom Eppler inherited. However, it’s obviously a feather in Eppler’s cap that he was able to extend the future Hall of Famer to a record 10-year, $360MM contract prior to the season. The Angels haven’t capitalized on Trout’s presence yet, but considering he’s now in line to finish his career with the organization, there’s plenty of time for that to occur.
Trout could be joined in the Angels’ outfield next season by young outfielder Jo Adell, who’s among the majors’ elite prospects. Adell, the 10th overall pick of the Angels in 2017, is the face of a farm system that has made notable improvements during Eppler’s tenure. Eppler inherited a group of farmhands that ranked near the bottom of the league, but FanGraphs recently placed it 11th in the game.
There have clearly been hits and misses during Eppler’s run in Anaheim, but at least for now, deep-pocketed owner Arte Moreno believes the good outweighs the bad. It remains to be seen, though, whether the Angels will exercise the same patience with Eppler a year from now if there isn’t legitimate progress in the win-loss department.