Eppler wants value in pitching
ORLANDO, Fla. — The Angels maintain they are confident in their sevenstrong starting-pitching depth. They also maintained they were confident in their starting-pitching depth the last two winters.
That depth did not prove sufficient. So it would make sense for the Angels to acquire help to supplement their stable.
One certainty is that the Angels are not the favorites for 23-year-old Shohei Ohtani, the impact Japanese pitcher and position player likely to arrive in Major League Baseball next season. Ohtani is commanding conversations at the annual general managers’ meetings, which conclude Wednesday at the Waldorf Astoria.
The Angels sent scouts to Japan to watch Ohtani play this summer, as did so much of Major League Baseball. General manager Billy Eppler has scouted him in years past. It’s believed that American League teams possess an advantage, in that it would be easier to be a part-time designated hitter than a position player.
But the Angels already have a full-time designated hitter: Albert Pujols. And most every other AL club will be bidding the maximum $20-million posting fee.
Though the Angels can offer only a $150,000 signing bonus because of previous international commitments, money will not be a significant factor in Ohtani’s decision. If it were, his Nippon-Ham Fighters would not post him this offseason. Executives estimate that coming now instead of in two years could cost him as much as $200 million.
In private conversations, baseball executives gush about the pure skill, about the lack of precedent for a two-way player, about how unpredictable his destination remains.
On the record, only Seattle general manager Jerry Dipoto was willing to say the player’s name to reporters this week. And even that mention was limited in scope.
For now, secrecy reigns. For the Angels, more likely than attracting Ohtani is waiting out the free-agent market for elite starting pitching. They cannot afford to pay the prices Yu Dar vish and Jake Arrieta are demanding now, but they could in time. If one of those two languishes, the Angels could pounce.
“I’m just looking for value,” Eppler said Tuesday. “If value exists at the top of the market, then great.”
At month’s end, Eppler said, right-hander JC Ramirez will undergo a final evaluation on his right elbow. In August, Ramirez received a stem-cell injection in an attempt to heal a partial tear of his ulnar collateral ligament.
Two initial evaluations have revealed improvement within the ligament, but Ramirez requires more. If final tests do not deem he has recovered sufficiently, surgery is an option.
Eligible for arbitration for the first time this winter, Ramirez is due for a sizable raise.
Because he made 24 starts after breaking into the big leagues as a reliever, he should earn at least $2.5 million next season, almost five times what he made in 2017.
Left-hander Andrew Heaney will begin ramping up his throwing soon, much earlier than he has in the past. Heaney also tried stem-cell therapy to repair a torn UCL but resorted to surgery and recovered in time to pitch in August.
Eppler said he shares the belief with manager Mike Scioscia that Dino Ebel was long one of baseball’s best third base coaches. That, Eppler said, was behind the Angels’ decision to move Ebel from bench coach back to his old role when Ron Roenicke left for Boston. “That’s a big role, a big responsibility,” Eppler said. “And he has an innate skill.” Eppler said the Angels have tried to quantify third base coach performance, and they rate Ebel high for his stay-or-send decisions.
Seeking a corner infielder, the Angels have already met with representatives for first basemen Lucas Duda, Logan Morrison and Carlos Santana.
SHOHEI OHTANI might be a better fit in the American League because of the designated hitter.