Billy Eppler isn’t sure if he’s bringing philosophical change to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. That’s not something he’s especially concerned with. How things were done under Jerry Dipoto is largely immaterial. Eppler’s focus is on the future, which began when he took over as the team’s general manager in early October.
Eppler is a first-year GM, but he’s not without experience. A graduate of the University of Connecticut — his degree is in finance — he spent the last 11 years in the New York Yankees front office. Before that, the erstwhile collegiate hurler worked in scouting and player development for the Colorado Rockies.
Eppler on his role with the Yankees: “The quick and easy answer would be to say I was one of (Brian Cashman’s) assistant firefighters. I helped out in a lot of different areas. Originally, Brian hired me to run the pro scouting department. From there, it manifested itself into more involvement with major league operations, roster management, contract negotiation and player procurement.
“I had some existing relationships with agents from my days in Colorado. I had a comfort level signing players and negotiating contracts. I continued to learn more about rules and the protocols as they relate to roster management.
“In New York, I stayed involved with the player development side and was one of the liaisons between our major league club and what was going on in the upper levels of our farm system. The job essentially morphed into a potpourri of everything.”
On his approach and his level of autonomy in Anaheim: “I look at my role of GM as a systems manager. I’m focused on our infrastructure and how our system is working. How the seven or eight departments within baseball operations are carrying out our philosophy and vision.
“In my professional development, the environment I grew up in was one where ideas and opportunities are explored at the baseball operations level, and then presented to the executive leadership for consideration. From there we’d jointly deliberate on the merits and the risks, and ultimately give a recommendation. That’s how I am used to operating and it’s consistent with how things have operated since I came here.
“It’s hard to say if there is a philosophical change, because I wasn’t here prior to October. From a 40,000-foot view, I’d imagine there will be some areas, either philosophical or from an operating standpoint, that are tweaked, and some areas that left alone. Time will ultimately guide us to those areas.”
On personnel changes in the front office: “I’ve approached that very pragmatically. In some instances, restructuring was needed because of circumstances that were presenting themselves immediately upon my arrival. We had an assistant GM (Matt Klentak) leave to become the general manager in Philadelphia. We had another assistant GM (Scott Servais) leave to become the field manager in Seattle. A few leadership positions within player development also went to Seattle, and a couple of guys were presented with promotions in other organizations, so they departed as well. Openings were created that forced our hand and because of that we had to implement changes within our departmental structure sooner than they would have taken place organically.
“Most of those events took place in October, right in the middle of the transition process. It’s something where if someone gets a job offer from another organization, and accepts it, you start taking steps to fill that role.
“I had candidates in mind who would be considerations for certain leadership positions. In some cases, you fill a position with someone you have a history with. You might also provide someone (internally) with an opportunity to grow and spread their own wings. We did both.”
On hiring Bud Black as a special assistant: “Buddy is going to do a number of things for us, including scouting at both at the professional and amateur level. He’ll probably see a handful of guys for the draft. He’ll go through our system, spend time with our coaches and rovers.
“He’ll be really involved in corralling, for lack of a better word, our philosophy through multiple departments. Buddy and I have had a lot of conversations about that. We want to be comprehensive. We’ll both be out on the road, traveling, as will (special assistants) Eric Chavez and Marcel Lachemann. We need to make sure we’re all seeing everything through the same lens, and preaching the same message. We want to have as strong of a baseball operations group as we can, and Bud Black is a very integral part of that.”
On replacing hitting coach Don Baylor and pitching coach Mike Butcher: “On the pitching side, the decision was made after sitting down and having conversations, and both parties felt it was the right way to go. I wouldn’t say it was philosophical in nature. If I had to label it, I’d say timing and circumstance led us to that course of action. It was amicable and we felt it was the right thing to do.
“Don was a legendary player for the Angels, a legendary person and a legendary coach. His impact here has been felt by a number of individuals and I’m hopeful that we’ll see him around the club now and again because of the influence he has and the positive nature he has.
“I hadn’t worked with either (new hitting coach) Dave Hansen or (new pitching coach) Charlie Nagy. I’d heard a lot of positive things about both. There were other candidates, as well, and we went through a full and thorough interview process before hiring the guys we did.”
On Rico Brogna’s old Quality Control Coach position: “We still have that role here somewhat but we’re calling it an information coach. We will have someone who is going to help with the preparation, the advance work before a series. We also have a working staff that will prepare information. But as far as the mediums and technology we have — how they’re introduced — I’m not sure we need one person who serves a liaison between the front office and coaching staff.
“How we’re going to present information to coaches — the format and how it will travel to our coaches — is something we’ve already deliberated on, and we’ll modify as needed throughout spring training. As for comparing it to last year, I don’t think this is apples-to-apples. It’s about how we’re going to do it going forward, and I’ve talked about it with Mike Scioscia and Steve Soliz, who is going to be assisting both Nagy and Hansen with their specific preparation. We’ll outline the input sources, how the information is disseminated and how it is presented to both coaching personnel and, where applicable, playing personnel.”
On working with Mike Scioscia: “He’s a very thoughtful, very inquisitive, manager. He’s thirsty for information, for avenues that can create a competitive advantage for our ball club, no matter how small it might be.
“How similar is he (to Joe Girardi)? I think I’ll defer that question for a year from now, as we haven’t gone through a season together. But both have catching backgrounds and they always seem to be a few moves ahead, strategically. It feels like they’re very similar, but we need to be around each other for a longer period of time for me to really answer that. They’re both world-champion managers, so in that sense, I am pretty blessed to have been able to work with some of the more successful managerial minds in baseball.”
On the team’s new analytics department: “We’ve put together an analytics department. We’ve brought in a director of quantitative analysis and have hired people to start to fill that department out. In my conversations with (team president) John (Carpino) and (owner) Arte (Moreno) during the interview process, I brought up wanting to have a stand-alone department whose sole duty was baseball research and analysis. We were able to launch that.
“Previously, there wasn’t a stand-alone department. There were analytically-minded guys here, producing the types of things our department will produce, but they had other responsibilities as well.
“Having this stand-alone department frees up the rest of us to be more hands-on in other areas. We can dive into other aspects of the job and dive deeper into individual departments, knowing that the research and analysis is getting done in another arena. Not only that, it’s being done by people who are better at it than I am.”
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.