GM Eppler hopes to add durability to rotation

Angels plan on being active in pitching market during offseason

October 2nd, 2018

ANAHEIM -- After watching the Angels' rotation once again crater beneath a seemingly endless wave of injuries, general manager Billy Eppler made it clear that one of his priorities this offseason will be to find durable arms who can help fortify the club's pitching staff in 2019.

Los Angeles sent an MLB-high 25 players to the disabled list this season, and a significant chunk of those players were pitchers. , and JC Ramirez -- three-fifths of the club's Opening Day rotation -- had elbow injuries that eventually required Tommy John surgery. missed more than five months with a forearm injury that was misdiagnosed last year and led to two surgeries. A nagging adductor injury derailed a career season for , while an inflamed right shoulder led to three DL stints for Nick Tropeano.

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Only three pitchers ended up making more than 20 starts for the Angels this year: , who opened the season on the DL with elbow inflammation but then went on to make 30 consecutive starts, rookie (26) and Skaggs (24). The crush of injuries forced Los Angeles to scramble for depth, as it used 16 starters to plug the persistent holes in its rotation.

"It was difficult to navigate," Eppler said. "There were some instances where we were looking for starters the night before games sometimes. It tested our depth. We tested the airport; we were in there so much, running guys back and forth. … The duty is now on our front office. It's up to us to fill those voids. We're going to be able to fill some of it internally, but we're also going to have to go to the marketplace -- trade market, free-agent market -- and bring in some more pitching with an eye toward some reliability."

Eppler said he believes the Angels currently have three locks for the rotation next season. He wouldn't name them, though the two obvious ones are Heaney and Skaggs. Shoemaker, Barria, Tropeano, , and will also be on the list of internal candidates. Pitching prospects Griffin Canning and Jose Suarez also reached Triple-A Salt Lake this year and could be ready to contribute at some point in 2019.

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The class of free-agent starting pitchers this offseason will be headlined by , , Charlie Morton and J.A. Happ. The Mets' Zack Wheeler and the Tigers' are among the starters who could be made available via trade.

"We're going to be in the pitching market, both in the starting and the relief market," Eppler said. "Is it going to yield a player that we're actually going to acquire? That's hard to predict. But we're going to be in that marketplace and we're going to be having a lot of conversations with the agents of those players in that marketplace."

As for the offense, Eppler said he would like to improve the Angels' team on-base percentage (.313), which ranked 20th in the Majors. While the club ranked seventh in the Majors in home runs (214), it was 15th in runs scored (721).

"A lot of solo home runs," Eppler said. "We need to be on base. We need to be on base. It is the only statistic that correlates with run scoring."

Los Angeles received underwhelming production at catcher (.628 OPS), first base (.644), second base (.668), third base (.648) and right field (.636), but Eppler said he believes they "have a lot of answers internally" on the position-player side.

The numbers in right field are skewed significantly by an extended slump from , who batted .145 with a .374 OPS through the first two months of the season before rebounding to hit .242 with an .800 OPS after returning from the DL on June 18. Despite the extreme splits, Eppler said he still expects Calhoun to be the Angels' starting right fielder in 2019.

Los Angeles' infield should also receive a boost from the return of Zack Cozart, whose first year with the club was cut short by season-ending shoulder surgery. Eppler said Cozart recently had an encouraging follow-up appointment and is expected to be cleared to start swinging a bat soon.

"He should be a player that has no restrictions in Spring Training," Eppler said.

Cozart's role remains unclear for now, as he could play either second or third base depending on who rounds out the Angels' infield next year. Eppler said third baseman and middle infielders and Luis Rengifo, who was acquired from the Rays in exchange for C.J. Cron in February, have all been informed that they will enter Spring Training with a chance to win a starting job with Los Angeles.

Eppler left open the possibility of seeking external help at catcher and first base. Rookies and split time behind the plate over the final month of the season, and Eppler said he was pleased with the way they handled the pitching staff.

"Those two players both established a pretty good rapport with the pitchers," Eppler said. "They're smart. They know the opposing hitters. They know the game plan. They stick to the game plans. I was impressed with both of them kind of getting their first opportunity."

The Angels will likely need someone to help shoulder the workload at first base with , though prospect Matt Thaiss is a potential option.

"That kind of position player depth, knocking on the door, pushing their way in here, allows us now to direct more focus towards the pitching side," Eppler said. "We've always been opportunistic there. But that depth now gives us comfort that we did not have in previous years."