Angels’ Eppler seeking new manager to lead playoff return

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              Los Angeles Angels teammates welcome Taylor Ward to home plate on his two-run home run, driving in Shoehi Ohtani, right rear, that gave the Angels a 5-4 walk-off win over the Oakland Athletics in the ninth inning of a baseball game in Anaheim, Calif., Sunday, Sept. 30, 2018. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)
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ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — For the first time in the 21st century, the Los Angeles Angels are looking for a manager.

The person who lands the job will play a major role in determining whether the Angels keep Mike Trout, get the most out of Shohei Ohtani — and finally end a nine-year postseason victory drought for this big-budget underachiever of a baseball club.

A day after the Angels finished 80-82 and missed the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season, general manager Billy Eppler set no timetables and confirmed no candidates as he began what’s expected to be a lengthy process to identify the successor to Mike Scioscia, who stepped down Sunday after 19 seasons in the Big A’s home dugout.

Eppler praised Scioscia as “a lighthouse for this organization” and touted the manager as a Hall of Fame candidate. The GM also gave a few indications of what he’s seeking in a leader when he puts his numerous managerial candidates through a lengthy interview process.

“What we’re looking for in that next manager is connectivity with the players,” Eppler said. “We’re looking for somebody who can think with a probability-based mindset. We’re going to look for someone that’s eager to grow (and) evolve. Someone that can develop a culture that will put the welfare of the team above any singular person.”

Although the Angels still haven’t posted a winning record during Eppler’s three seasons in charge, the GM feels his new manager will have the ingredients to create a winner, and he plans to get more talent in the free-agent market.

The Angels haven’t won a playoff game since 2009, and they’re in a streak of three consecutive losing seasons for the first time since 1994 — but any organization that can build around Trout and Ohtani has a firm foundation, and Eppler is eager to continue the work he’s been doing.

“We need to win for our fans,” Eppler said. “Win for our fans, win for our owner. That’s where the mindset is.”

More things to watch during the long offseason in Anaheim:

INJURIOUS EPIDEMIC

Injuries were the root of almost every problem for the Angels this season, with a jaw-dropping 25 players missing a significant amount of playing time. The Angels ended the season with 11 players on the DL, including key contributors such as slugger Albert Pujols, former ace Garrett Richards, free-agent signee Zack Cozart and former closer Keynan Middleton. They had to use 16 starting pitchers during a season in which they lost seven potentially important big-league starters to arm surgery, including Ohtani. Although there appears to be no common thread in this enormous tapestry of injury, Eppler said the Angels will try some new things next season in an effort to preserve their players’ health — but Eppler declined to say exactly what those things would be.

FOR STARTERS

Durable starting pitchers will be atop Eppler’s list of desired free agents, but he also emerged happy with Andrew Heaney, Tyler Skaggs and surprising rookie Jaime Barria. All three made at least 24 starts for an otherwise patchwork rotation — and while they weren’t stars, they were solid. “It was difficult to navigate,” Eppler said. “There was some instances where we were looking for starters the night before games sometimes, and we tested our depth. We tested the airport, we were in there so much running guys back and forth. But what our goal is is to get through the season with five or six starters next season. That would be great.”

UP WITH OBP

Even with a lineup featuring talents like Trout, Andrelton Simmons, Pujols, Justin Upton and Ohtani, the Angels scored only 721 runs — good for just 15th in the big leagues. Eppler distilled his plans for the Angels’ 2019 offense to one key statistic: “Our team on-base percentage (.313) was low. It was too low, simply put. We were seventh in home runs in baseball (214). All the teams in front of us were in the postseason except one (Toronto). We were 20th in on-base percentage, which is why we were only 15th in runs scored. A lot of solo home runs. We need to be on base. It is the only statistic that correlates with runs scored.”

TROUT’S FUTURE

Trout will be at least 28 years old before he wins his first playoff game, and the amiable outfielder is frustrated by losing. But he has remained publicly content with Eppler’s efforts to build a winner around him while restocking a farm system left bare by previous GM Jerry Dipoto. Trout was the highest-paid player in baseball this season under a contract that runs through 2020, and Eppler declined to say anything Monday about the Angels’ reported desire to lock up the two-time AL MVP to an even longer-term, more lucrative contract. Trout batted .312 with 39 homers and 79 RBIs in 140 games this season, and he led the majors with a .460 on-base percentage and a 1.088 OPS.

SHOHEI’S RECOVERY

Ohtani had Tommy John surgery on Monday, less than 24 hours after he singled in the final at-bat of his unique rookie season. Although the two-way star has many months of rehabilitation ahead, Eppler remains confident Ohtani will hit for the Angels in 2019 before he resumes his pitching career in 2020. Ohtani will spend plenty of time in Southern California during the winter, and he is a top candidate for the AL Rookie of the Year award.