Billy Eppler and the Angels are having themselves quite an offseason so far. I need not list his conquests for this crowd, but just to put it into perspective:
- November 2, Justin Upton agrees to bypass his opt-out, which would have made him the best position player in a weak free agent class, to sign a very reasonable 5 year, $106 million deal.
- November 30, they acquire Jim Johnson and $1.2 million of the Braves’ international pool space, bolstering their bullpen and announcing to the world they are making a serious run at Shohei Ohtani.
- December 5, they further pillage the Braves by scooping up released international prospects Kevin Maitan and Livan Soto, substantially strengthening their previously moribund farm system.
- December 8, they become the envy of the baseball world when Ohtani officially chose Anaheim as the place to launch his big league career.
- December 13, they swing a trade for Ian Kinsler, substantially upgrading a black hole at second base without giving up any prospects of note.
And they have yet to even address third base, back-up outfielder, back-up catcher or utility infielder, with a good chunk of their offseason budget still in tact. Yes, it is pretty good being an Angels fan these days.
While we are all grateful to have Billy “GOAT” Eppler at the helm, finally giving the club a seat at the elite MLB front office table, we should also take a moment to appreciate the other GOAT under the Halo. I am talking, of course, about Mr. Michael Nelson Trout.
Justin Upton could have conceivably played in any number of places over the balance of his career, but a month in Anaheim convinced him he did not need to see what else was out there. Sure, maybe it was the weather. Or maybe he had a clue that Eppler was poised to build a juggernaut. But you have to think that the opportunity to play side-by-side with the best ball player he has ever seen had to factor into his decision.
And by now we all know that Trout attended the Ohtani recruitment via FaceTime. Just his presence on the roster alone is enough of a selling point, but Billy Eppler made it clear that Trout laid out a first-class sales pitch to the prized free agent, zeroing in on Ohtani’s desire to be an anonymous superstar in a comfortable market.
And now we have Ian Kinsler. A guy Angels fans love to hate, holding the power of a no-trade clause and putting his own team over a barrel when he refused a trade to any team outside the Angels, despite their presence on said no-trade list. Billy Eppler gladly exploited the situation to upgrade second base for a minimal fee. No doubt Kinsler looked at the four teams wanting to trade for him and decided he wanted to be a part of what now looks to be one of the most exciting-looking teams in baseball, thanks to the presence of Trout, Ohtani, Upton and Andrelton Simmons.
When the Angels selected Mike Trout 25th overall in the 2009 draft, there is no question they hit the biggest lottery in baseball this century. Having this unprecedented superstar on the roster has had the cascading effect of making Anaheim a desirable place to play ball, effectively strengthening the team around him.
It also doesn’t hurt that Trout is just so damn likable. He has never shown a hint of ego, never said anything stupid to the media. The story about him calling Billy Eppler the day before his wedding - with many of his teammates in the room - to confirm the Ohtani news, shows just what kind of team guy he is. That he had so many of his current and former teammates (including a fair share of fringe guys) at the ceremony should speak volumes.
Baseball is not like basketball, where one superstar can elevate your team to championship caliber. But what we are seeing with Trout is a bit of the LaBron Effect, a magnetic superstar that other stars want to team up with and push for a title. I don’t know how WAR accounts for that, but the Angels are undoubtably benefiting.