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Scioscia, Dipoto to return in 2014

Ebel to replace Picciolo as bench coach; hitting coach Eppard let go

ANAHEIM -- Speculation swirled throughout the arduous summer that either general manager Jerry Dipoto or longtime skipper Mike Scioscia -- or both -- would be let go shortly after the Angels wrapped up a fourth consecutive season without a playoff apperance. The pitching acquisitions didn't pay off, their star-studded team was hardly competitive, and the manager and GM weren't exactly meshing well together.

Something -- many inside and outside the organization believed -- would have to give for uber-competitive owner Arte Moreno.

In the end, nothing did.

Dipoto and Scioscia are going to try to work it out and will return in 2014. The two found out in the middle of last week and the world caught wind on Tuesday, via a team-issued press release in which Dipoto and Scioscia both announced that bench coach Rob Picciolo and hitting coach Jim Eppard will not return.

Third-base coach Dino Ebel will be promoted to bench coach, and the Angels will spend the next few weeks poring through candidates to fill three spots on the Major League staff -- hitting coach, third-base coach and a third, unidentified position -- before the spring.

Most important of all, though, Dipoto and Scioscia will be deciding on that together.

"I want this challenge," Scioscia said of returning for his 15th year, while on a joint conference call with Dipoto. "This is where I want to be. And I certainly want to get things going in a direction they can be. I'm happy to have another opportunity at that, and I'm going to continue to do the things that hopefully are going to get us going in the right direction."

"I agree with that," Dipoto chimed in. "The season itself presented enough adversity for us that in the end -- and never more so than in the last week -- we've been able to sit down and come to an understanding of how we can get through that adversity together. And that's how we'll succeed."

There would have been obstacles to dismissing each of them. Scioscia is signed through 2018 and is slated to make nearly $30 million over the next five seasons. Dipoto is under contract for only one more year, but is tied to an entire front-office team that has put in a lot of work throughout the organization -- particularly on the Minor League system -- over the last two years.

But back-to-back underachieving seasons and a reported disconnect led to heavy speculation.

The personalities of Dipoto (into new-aged statistics) and Scioscia (of the old-school mentality) clashed shortly after Moreno brought in a new front-office team in November 2011, stripping Scioscia of some of the baseball-operations decisions he once made and greatly altering the landscape of an organization that won a World Series championship in 2002 and five American League West titles from 2004-09.

Things got very testy between the two in May 2012, when Mickey Hatcher, one of Scioscia's best friends, was stripped of his job as hitting coach. And throughout the 2013 season -- as the Angels finished 78-84 and stayed below .500 after April 3 -- the two clashed on several topics, from Grant Green's upside to Garrett Richards' role to Ernesto Frieri's standing as the team's closer.

Scioscia, however, has long maintained that any disagreements were part of a normal, stable, working relationship.

"One thing with Jerry and I is there is absolutely no philosophical gap that is real," Scioscia said. "I think there's a lot of chatter out there, and it's just not accurate. And I think the one thing we moved on from was when Mickey was let go. We moved on from that, and there's nothing but us wanting to work as a team and get better, and that's where we're going to look to go."

The Angels will spend the offseason looking for ways to bolster a pitching staff that finished 24th in ERA, likely parting ways with some offensive pieces in hopes of attaining cost-controlled arms that will fit into what's already a tight budget.

The coaching staff is now also on the agenda.

The Angels will take their time with that search, and they'll interview candidates both within the organization (Double-A manager Tim Bogar is an intriguing name) and outside (Wally Joyner will draw heavy consideration as hitting coach). What title the seventh and final coach will have is still unknown, but Dipoto and Scioscia are considering adding an assistant hitting coach, like many clubs have done in recent years.

"It is a two-man job to a degree," Dipoto said, "and we're open to that."

Unlike the Hatcher decision, which was forced upon Scioscia, Dipoto and Scioscia both worked together to decide on the most recent changes to the coaching staff.

Picciolo -- a former infielder who played nine years in the Majors and spent the 1984 season in Anaheim -- had just wrapped up his third year as the Angels' bench coach and his eighth year in the organization, after serving as roving infield coordinator from 2006-10.

Eppard -- an outfielder who spent the first three of his four years in the Majors with the Angels -- was the hitting coach at Triple-A Salt Lake from 2003-11 before his promotion to the big leagues.

The Angels have contacted both of them about returning to the organization in a different capacity, be it in the Minors or in player development, and are awaiting their replies.

The move, Dipoto said, is about trying to implement "the same on-field excellence that the Angels experienced from 2002 to 2009."

"This is an opportunity for us to take a chance at getting better in areas where we feel like we can get better," he added. "It's not to say that we couldn't have moved forward as a group, but we feel like injecting a different personality, maybe inviting some information that wasn't available to us before -- the game is moving forward; we're going to try to move forward as an organization.

"Good people sometimes have to suffer for the greater good of the whole, and that's probably a little bit of what happened here."

Coincidentally or not, the Angels' offense had a drastic turnaround when Eppard replaced Hatcher on May 15, 2012, ultimately finishing the season with the best batting average in baseball. In 2013, they finished fifth in the Majors in OPS and seventh in runs, despite a rough year from Josh Hamilton and an injury-plagued one from Albert Pujols.

Dipoto and Scioscia said the Eppard decision had nothing to do with Hamilton's struggles in the first year of a five-year, $125 million contract.

The decision to dismiss Picciolo, Scioscia intimated, had more to do with promoting Ebel, who's very well thought of in the clubhouse.

"It's very clear to me that Dino Ebel is a guy that is ready for the dugout, ready to help me, and it's important to me to have him next to me," Scioscia said. "I think that Dino will show that he's going to be a terrific bench coach and he's eventually going to be a Major League manager. I'm looking forward to that."

Dipoto and Scioscia had several meetings shortly after the regular season wrapped up on Sept. 29. And during that time, sources said, the dialogue between the two was better than ever, with both able to come to a decision on the coaching staff and have candid conversations about what needs to be done. The walls had come down, even if it is only the offseason.

Maybe the humility that comes with failure paved the way.

Maybe being linked to a potential firing finally brought them together.

Maybe Moreno's vote of confidence put them at ease.

"He's frustrated," Scioscia said of Moreno, "but very supportive in understanding that he has confidence in us that we're going to turn it around and get to reach our goal."

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez.
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