Ep­pler wants value in pitch­ing

Los Angeles Times - - BASEBALL - By Pe­dro Moura pe­dro.moura@la­times.com Twit­ter: @pe­dro­moura

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.”

In­jured pitch­ers

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.

Etc.

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.

Shingo Ito AFLO/Zuma Press

SHO­HEI OH­TANI might be a bet­ter fit in the Amer­i­can League be­cause of the des­ig­nated hit­ter.

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