This afternoon, Arte Moreno introduced Billy Eppler as his new general manager, the 12th in club history. The former Yankee executive brings with him a rich background in scouting, getting his foot in the door in 2000 as a part-time scout in San Diego before getting hired on as a full-time scout in Colorado. He was hired by the Yankees in 2004 and just a year later was promoted to director of pro scouting. In 2012, he was promoted to the role of assistant GM under Brian Cashman, leading many to believe that his future as a GM was a foregone conclusion. Before becoming a scout, Eppler earned a bachelors in finance from the University of Connecticut, where he was also a pitcher. He also managed to find time to take a semester of law school while scouting for the Rockies.
At first glance, it is easy to see why Eppler readily accepted the job, in spite of the monumental chore many believe he has ahead of him. For starters, he gets to work in close proximity to his native San Diego. He has the best player on the planet to construct a roster around and a stable of young, cost-controlled pitching assembled by his predecessor. He also has an owner - despite all his faults - that generally isn't shy about opening his pocketbook. For those assuming Eppler was some desperate hot shot looking to grab the first GM gig that came his way, just last year he declined an interview for the Diamondbacks open GM position.
Eppler made it clear he has no concerns about the Scioscia-Moreno dynamic and the potential challenges they pose. "It's a non-issue for me... and maybe that's because of where I professionally grew up, in New York," referring to his time spent working under both Steinbrenner regimes, first in Tampa under the original Boss, then later with his son Hank as Cashman's right hand man. Said Damon Oppenheimer to the NY Times after Eppler was promoted in 2005: "Billy knew how things worked in Tampa, and he was able to tell the New York side, ‘Hey, listen, I've worked down there, I've got a better understanding of it.' The communication between departments has really helped Cash."
He went out of his way to praise Scioscia, calling him a "phenomenal manager" and claiming he "can't wait to hear his outlook on all things Angels' baseball." When asked what he felt the team needed personnel-wise, he again deferred to the skipper: "I wouldn't be doing the process the justice that it deserves without getting with Mike and his staff and getting their assessment and their view, from the ground level."
This appears to be bad news for those of you hoping Billy was going to make cleaning house his first order of business, though I wouldn't be concerned that this is little more than lip service. It's important to remember the guy has been on the job only a few hours and was likely just maintaining the optimistic tone that these press conferences always try to convey. As a reminder, here's what Dipoto had to say about Scioscia at his press conference four years ago: "You need a strong manager. You need somebody who can make sure everything from the clubhouse, from the dugout out is strong. ... Mike is the best there is."
Eppler gave mostly bland, non-revealing responses to questions, though did give some insight into how he views building a roster: "One thing I believe is building a team that fits the ballpark that it plays in... We'll find players that have a patiently-aggressive approach, players that have a high degree of baseball intelligence and find players that profile defensively for the positions that they play." He was noncommittal when asked if he would be shaking up the rest of the front office: "I walk into situations wanting to learn about the people and the process that is in place."
Billy Eppler comes to the Angels with similar hopes and expectations that Dipoto carried just four years ago. Both are well-respected executives known to blend scouting and analytics. Both are products of the Rockies front office. Both are former pitchers, though Dipoto had a major league career while Eppler blew out his arm in college. Both come in having to answer questions about how to work with Scioscia's stubbornness and Moreno's meddling. Dipoto seemingly did the best he could before finally succumbing to the pressure earlier this year and walked out. Is it inevitable that Eppler will eventually suffer a similar fate, or have Arte and Scioscia woken up and realized they need to change the negative perception they've built for themselves and allow this GM the space to do his job?