Angels fire GM Billy Eppler after 5 straight losing seasons

Sports

Los Angeles Angels manager Joe Maddon talks with general manager Billy Eppler during spring training baseball practice, Monday, Feb. 17, 2020, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — The Los Angeles Angels fired general manager Billy Eppler on Sunday after the long-struggling franchise finished its fifth consecutive losing season under his watch.

Eppler was under contract for one more year with the Angels in an extension he signed in July with no public announcement, but team president John Carpino said the franchise will seek new baseball leadership after missing the playoffs for a sixth straight year.

The Angels have endured a historically bad half-decade during Eppler’s tenure despite many positive moves made by the former New York Yankees executive, all while dealing with the spending whims of owner Arte Moreno.

But Eppler was dismissed when the Angels couldn’t even make the eight-team AL playoff field this month. Los Angeles finished 26-34 in the pandemic-shortened season with a star-studded roster including three-time AL MVP Mike Trout, Anthony Rendon, three-time NL MVP Albert Pujols and Shohei Ohtani playing for manager Joe Maddon.

“Billy and I really, I thought, were great together,” Maddon said after the Angels ended their season with a 5-0 loss to the Dodgers. “From the moment I met him, I thought to myself, ‘This is a straight-up guy. Absolutely straight-up.’ One of the most honest people I’ve met in this industry. Great talent evaluator.”

“I’m certain he’s going to land firmly on his feet, but our friendship will endure, he and I. I really enjoyed our time together, and I told him so,” he said.

Eppler’s Angels went 332-376 (.469) under three managers with a rotating cast of supporting players around Trout and Pujols. They’ve endured five straight losing seasons for the first time since 1977, and their winning percentage over the past two seasons is the Halos’ worst two-year run since 1992-93.

Eppler didn’t immediately return a message seeking comment.

The 45-year-old Eppler took the fall for a decade of mostly miserable baseball under Moreno, whose penchant for handing out big-money contracts to older veteran players has repeatedly hurt his club since its last playoff victory in 2009.

Eppler began each of his seasons working around the 10-year, $240 million deal given by Moreno to Pujols, whose performance hasn’t come close to justifying the huge chunk of payroll taken up by the 40-year-old superstar for many years. Moreno also interfered in other areas, such as firing Eppler’s hand-picked manager, Brad Ausmus, after one season and installing Maddon last fall, although Eppler and Maddon got along splendidly.

Eppler rebuilt a farm system that was left barren by former GM Jerry Dipoto, and he both signed Trout to a massive contract extension and persuaded Ohtani to bring his two-way talents from Japan to the Angels. Eppler’s farm system is finally bearing fruit recently, with blue-chip prospect Jo Adell, slugger Jared Walsh and infielder David Fletcher making impacts on the Angels this season with other prospects on the way.

Yet Eppler never managed to sign enough quality pitchers to prevent Trout’s Angels from being a perennial also-ran. Eppler repeatedly guessed wrong in his budget-minded acquisitions from Tim Lincecum and Trevor Cahill to Matt Harvey and Julio Teheran, leaving the Angels with one of the majors’ worst starting rotations for much of his tenure.

The Angels still haven’t won a playoff game with Trout, who will turn 30 years old next summer.

After a miserable August and a strong September surge, the Halos finished this season by losing three straight to the crosstown Dodgers, who have won eight straight NL West titles.

Moreno doesn’t plan to discuss his latest franchise reboot publicly until Wednesday.

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