There isn’t a ton we can gather from Eppler’s time as the Angels’ General Manager, but with just over a year worth of data, we can start to put together patterns which could be applied in principle to this year’s free agent class in an effort to illuminate where the Angels might go. First, let’s start with what Eppler has done so far.
OF Todd Cunningham, C Geo Soto, OF Craig Gentry, OF Daniel Nava, OF Rafael Ortega, OF Shane Robinson and IF Gregorio Petit. During the season, he signed Tim Lincecum.
Traded Erick Aybar and two pitching prospects for SS Andrelton Simmons. Traded cash for Brendan Ryan. Traded low minor league reliever for Jhoulys Chacin, traded cash for Ryan Jackson.
At the trade deadline, traded LHP Hector Santiago for RHP Ricky Nolasco and RHP Alex Meyer. Traded RHP Joe Smith for RHP Jesus Castillo.
IF/OF Jefry Marte, RHP Jose Valdez, RHP J.C. Ramirez.
RHP Deolis Guerra and 1B/LF Ji-Man Choi
Every single outfielder or infielder signed or traded for (with the exception of Marte) was a defensive specialist. Every reliever brought in came with a very firm fastball. The Rule 5 draft was used simply to acquire role players that can help, and not necessarily banking on upside. As far as the starting pitching he acquired, this was more a reaction to Wilson, Richards, Heaney, Tropeano and Skaggs all missing serious time. He did show a willingness to part with veterans if it brought back prospects, which coincides with Eppler’s dedication toward rebuilding the farm. If 2017 doesn’t go so well, we could see Eppler flip Huston Street and Ricky Nolasco for prospects.
For the Future
Well, everyone knows the Angels needs are at second base, left field and pitching depth. Eppler took pride in the idea of acquiring talented players at a discount who could bounce back and perform. Unfortunately, this just didn’t happen the way anyone wanted, and so a quantity over quality approach was applied. This season, we can expect the same logic, but with a different application. Eppler will want to plug these holes for cheap, but not simply throw quantity at the problem.Second Base
If Eppler is expected to stick with defensive specialists that can be acquired at a discount because of a poor season last year, his options are limited. First, there’s Stephen Drew. He gets injured every year, but is a decent hitter and fielder, capable of manning 2B, 3B or SS. Then there’s former Angel Erick Aybar. Aybar had an awful season at the plate with Atlanta, but picked up toward the end of the year with Detroit. He isn’t considered a premier shortstop anymore, and if he’s comfortable switching to second base, it’s logical that Eppler could arrange a reunion. Alexei Ramirez will also be looking for one final shot in the big leagues, after floundering in San Diego this past season.
With Rafael Ortega and Jefry Marte in the fold, there are some that wonder if the Angels will be active in the outfield market. There are plenty of fine defensive options that should come cheap, but chief among these is Jon Jay. He really stands out as a Billy Eppler type of acquisition. Jay has been a very good hitter every season in the majors, except one. He’s a fine defensive outfielder, and would create a lot of “depth” in the Angels lineup. Jay can be slotted hitting second in front of Trout, which would slide Calhoun to fifth and Cron to sixth, which makes for a solid top and middle of the order. Jay could also be inserted into the bottom of the order and serve as a second leadoff hitter.
Reports indicate that while the Angels are expected to obtain more starting pitching depth this winter, they aren’t expected to acquire any via free agency. Rather they will transition prospects from the pen. We can expect to see Nate Smith make an appearance next year, and Chris O’Grady’s transition to the rotation in AA and AAA went exceedingly well. There’s also soft-tosser Troy Scriber, and serviceable righties Jordan Kipper and Alex Blackford who have good numbers and can log innings.
Currently in the pen, we’re looking at Street, Bedrosian, Ramirez, Guerra, Valdez, Alvarez and Morin. A decent group, but lacking depth for sure. On the farm, Keynan Middleton and Victor Alcantara are both knocking on the door. Andrew Bailey is a free agent, but given his success in Anaheim, it’s a safe bet that pepper will explore a reunion there. Among the hard throwers in free agency, that could be acquired for cheap, former fireballer Joba Chamberlain is a former Yankee that Eppler is familiar with. He also may take a look at Neftali Feliz, who has dealt with a slough of injuries. Jon Papelbon, Kevin Jepsen and Jordan Walden are all also expected to be on the market. As is Junichi Tarawa and Koji Uejara. Neither of those light up a radar gun much anymore, but both have an extensive history of success.
I’m thinking if Eppler follows the same logic (which likely won’t happen, but if he did….) we’ll see the Angels bring in Erick Aybar to compete at 2B along with Kaleb Cowart, Cliff Pennington and Gregorio Petit. Aybar – 1 year, 2 million. I think Jon Jay is a solid bet too. 2 years 10 million. I think Eppler will acquire starting pitching depth via trade. As for relievers, Andrew Bailey will return for 1 year at 1 million and the Angels will also sign Neftali Feliz for one year, 2 million.
Financially, it’s understandable to want to see them spend a bit more with 50 million coming off the payroll. But I think with eventual contracts/extensions regarding Richards, Calhoun, Cron, Escobar, Skaggs and Shoemaker, the Angels will opt for a more conservative approach.