Eppler, Scioscia forge open communication
New GM asked for manager's input on staff hires
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The morning commute from Billy Eppler's temporary home in Laguna Beach, Calif., to Angel Stadium in Anaheim is a long one, with bumper-to-bumper traffic all along Pacific Coast Highway and up through the freeways.
And pretty much every day during that drive, Eppler speaks on the phone with his manager, Mike Scioscia.
The two have been in constant communication in the nine weeks since Eppler has taken over as the Angels' general manager, because one of the most important aspects of his new job -- many will tell you it's the most important -- is breaking down some of the barriers created by Scioscia's friction with ex-GM Jerry Dipoto.
"He's so easy to talk to," Scioscia said during his scheduled media availability on Wednesday, midway through Day 3 of the Winter Meetings. "He's a great communicator. This guy's one of those guys that has that 25th hour in the day. I don't know where he gets his time and energy."
Scioscia constantly bumped heads with Dipoto, now the Mariners' GM, and former assistant GM Scott Servais, now Seattle's manager. It divided the front office and Major League coaching staff, which ultimately filtered down to the philosophies of the player-development staff and led to Dipoto's sudden resignation on July 1.
Before honing in on improving the roster, Eppler went to work on creating cohesiveness. He brought in two of Scioscia's favorite baseball people, Ron Roenicke to coach third base and Bud Black to serve as Eppler's special assistant. He rebuilt the coaching staff with heavy input from Scioscia. And he oversaw changes throughout the front office and player-development staff, all of which Scioscia believes will produce much-needed synergy.
"That's already happened," Scioscia said. "[Director of baseball development] Mike Gallego, [special assistant] Eric Chavez, these guys have all been brought on board, and they understand, I think, the need for the Major Leagues and Minor Leagues to be on the same page and communicate. And they also understand the vision we have for how we want to play the game. Obviously it's contingent on some individual talent, but as an organization, that philosophy, it will be reestablished."
This is still pretty much the honeymoon phase, but Eppler said he and Scioscia "see a lot of things through the same lens" and "have a lot of really good dialogue."
Mending fences, however, was not his focus when he joined the Angels.
"I kind of walked in more with the mindset of I know how we operated in New York, I know how I learned under [Yankees GM Brian Cashman], and I know that dialogue and that rapport that existed there," Eppler said. "That's just my normal, and how we would operate. What I wanted our relationship to be was really transparent and really just laying all the cards out on the table, and to have that kind of dialogue together.
"It's a clean slate, so I want to see how people work, I want to see how people think, and that's it for me. If there's anything that people are carrying with them, it's not something I need to be involved with. I don't need to play therapist or counselor."
Additional notes from Wednesday:
• The Angels were previously in discussions with the Pirates for second baseman Neil Walker, who ultimately went to the Mets for starter Jon Niese. Eppler had a lot of talks with Chase Utley, who signed a one-year, $7 million deal with the Dodgers. He also engaged with Ben Zobrist, who signed a four-year, $56 million deal with the Cubs, but the Angels "never really got down the tracks" with him.
• With regards to Albert Pujols, who had surgery on his right foot in early November, Scioscia said the Angels are "not ruling out that he's going to be ready at the start of the season." The initial prognosis had him starting baseball activities in mid to late March, but that timeline is conservative. Talks of giving the soon-to-be 36-year-old more time at designated hitter next year are "a little premature," Scioscia added.
• Jered Weaver has been working on his core strength, which many believe is a key element to helping his fastball get closer to the upper 80s.
"He's really confident he's going to be where he needs to be when we start the season," Scioscia said of Weaver, who went 7-12 with a career-high 4.64 ERA in 2015.
• Scioscia stressed the need to get more on-base ability in front of Mike Trout, which would give the superstar center fielder more opportunities to drive in runs. Last year, 129 players had more plate appearances with runners in scoring position than Trout. Andrelton Simmons will mostly hit in the bottom of the lineup, Scioscia said.
• The Angels announced that pitchers and catchers will report to Tempe, Ariz., on Feb. 18, with the first workout taking place the next day and the first full-squad workout on Feb. 24. The Angels are tentatively scheduled to open their Cactus League schedule on March 2, in Scottsdale against the Giants.