Why I'm bullish on Angels GM Billy Eppler

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Being a General Manager isn't easy. One has to be able to not overreact to the highs or the lows of the major league season, maintaining pragmatism while assessing the condition of the team and its players accurately. It takes a shrewd eye for talent, a fervent dedication to opportunism within the marketplace, and the capability to take calculated risks in order to fix a team on a shoestring budget, as was the case last offseason.

It won't be easy with all of the Angels' lack of payroll flexibility and floundering farm system, but here are all the reasons why I believe Eppler is the right man for the job.

He has identified talent through not only his own eyes, but also the use of advanced statistics for over 15 years.

Graduating with a bachelor's degree in finance from the University of Connecticut, Eppler's baseball journey begun in 2000 when he was hired by the Colorado Rockies. In 2004, he became a scout with the Yankees and was quickly promoted to Director of Scouting for the organization when Brian Cashman became the GM in 2005. In the 2012 offseason, he was promoted to the Assistant GM position.

My favorite example of this is in the acquisition of Troy Scribner, a player whom the Astros had given up on. Eppler identified a buy-low opportunity after Scribner had a major down year last season, purchasing his contract in exchange for cash. Scribner played well in AA after originally being acquired, but is pitching like a true ace in the hitter friendly AAA Pacific Coast League, posting a 1.29 ERA in 28 IP across 4 starts, with stellar 0.86 WHIP and opposing hitters averaging .141 against him. Scribner is now arguably our most impressive MLB-ready starting pitching prospect we've had in quite a while. Eppler saw the potential, bought low, and struck gold.

He is constantly opportunistic and willing to take calculated risks to improve the team.

His first major move as an Angels GM was acquiring Andrelton Simmons, who had come off 3 straight Gold Glove seasons at shortstop, but at the expense of top prospects Sean Newcomb and Chris Ellis, as well as Erick Aybar. A tough move that I was unsure of at the time, but without a doubt Simmons is a Hall-of-Fame worthy defensive talent if he can stay healthy - he's both cheap and controllable through the 2020 season. This was a difficult trade to make at the time, but Simmons with the Halos has been exactly what we expected to receive: a defensive wizard and a capable hitter. Simmons is slashing .272/.309/.339/.645 while Newcomb has struggled with his command for the Braves' AA affiliate, carrying a 4.10 ERA in 123 IP with a 1.37 WHIP. Hindsight is 20/20, but already it looks like the Angels got the better end of this deal.

He is able to find creative solutions to a difficult problem.

The Angels' left field situation has to be the butt of all jokes with a league-worst OPS. But it wasn't supposed to be this way. Back in February, Eppler and the Angels were set to acquire Michael Saunders in a 3-team trade with the Blue Jays and the Reds. Saunders, at the time, was an injury-riddled outfielder full of potential - and we were going to acquire him for (supposedly) Jake Jewell. Trades with more than 2 teams are often difficult to pull off because of the sheer amount of moving parts between teams (players, prospects, cash). This trade, unfortunately, was derailed because of a bad physical from a Blue Jays prospect. However, Saunders would have been not the hero we deserve, but rather the hero we need...He has cooled off a bit from the All-Star break but still posting very good numbers, slashing .265/.350/.498/.848 with a 148 OPS+ and 20 HR in 109 games. This would have been the steal of the century for us - unfortunately, this fell through at the last moment and we were resorted to patchwork, as the other left fielders on the market were either too expensive or too injury-riddled/past their prime. Even Austin Jackson rejected the 1 year, $5M deal the Angels reportedly offered him, instead choosing to sign the exact same deal with the White Sox. In the end, we resorted to a platoon because that was one of the options available in our budget.

Still, Eppler deserves credit for nearly creatively plugging a hole that has been the club's Achilles heel the past three seasons.

Unlike Dipoto, Eppler is building a legitimate farm system.

Eppler's recent demotion of Ric Wilson proves his seriousness in rebuilding the farm system, although I will say there is one most intriguing prospect that Wilson left behind: Jahmai Jones (!)

Ric Wilson and former GM Jerry Dipoto were in charge of drafting from 2012-2015, and have an awful track record of identifying talent. It's still early to evaluate these drafts completely, but the results aren't promising. Of all the players they drafted, 4 have played in the big leagues and combined for a total of -2.6 WAR. That's right, negative! Drafting is an inexact science but when you haven't nabbed nothing but negative WAR for 4 drafts? This is the ridiculousness that was Dipoto's and Wilson's drafting strategy: drafting high-floor players who can deliver at the MLB level. Unfortunately, this has failed miserably and has resulted in perennially poor drafts.

For the most part, Eppler is pursuing high-upside players who can make contact and get on base. Eppler has added promising pieces such as Matt Thaiss, Brandon Marsh, Troy Montgomery, Brennan Lund, Chris Rodriguez, and Nonie Williams. If you're not familiar our farm system, I do encourage you to check it out! Compared to in years past, there are many fascinating and intriguing prospects on the horizon for the Angels, and with a few more drafts I'm confident our farm system will be in much better standing.

One could make the argument that Eppler emptied the system by trading Newcomb and Ellis, but this was worth it because it added to the major-league core: Simmons is cost controllable through the prime of his career at the most defensively important position in baseball. He's already won 3 Gold Gloves, and surely more are on the way.

Dipoto's strength was in making trades, but he also dealt away some important pieces.

Jerry Dipoto was a wizard. And for three and a half years, he was our wizard, acquiring players we badly needed on the cheap, such as Andrew Heaney, Nick Tropeano, Hector Santiago, Tyler Skaggs, David Freese, Huston Street, Trevor Gott, and the list goes on. Dipoto essentially obtained starting pitching and lured teams with prospects that eventually flamed out...Players like Mark Trumbo, Howie Kendrick, and Peter Bourjos all had down years after they were traded by the Angels - and for that, I can credit our former GM.

But if you're going to credit someone for their accomplishments, then you should also discredit them for their failures. In my opinion, Dipoto is given a free pass by many Angels fans, simply because most don't follow minor league baseball or the prospects that we have traded away. This may come as a surprise, but Dipoto also dealt away some important pieces such as Mike Clevinger, a future starter for the Cleveland Indians (Vinnie Pestano trade), Will Smith, a reliable left-handed reliever (Alberto Callaspo trade), and both Randal Grichuk and Peter Bourjos (David Freese trade - we also acquired Salas from that, so they definitely pulled a fast one on us that time).

In addition, Dipoto was the one who signed Roberto Baldoquin to an $8M signing bonus. Just a few months after he began playing, this signing appears to be a huge failure by the Dipoto regime. Not only was it a waste of money, but also it restricted us from signing international players for two more years because we exceeded the bonus pool to such an extent

The Angels are in a tough spot. But if there's someone I think can dig us out of it, it's Billy Eppler.

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