With the cross-county neighbor Los Angeles Dodgers about to open the World Series on Tuesday night against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park, the Los Angeles Angels took a step toward the future on Sunday.
The American League club announced that Brad Ausmus will replace Mike Scioscia as manager, ending a search that began when Scioscia said he would not return after the last game of the regular season.
It’s a great choice for the Angels on a number of different levels. Ausmus, only 49, has tremendous experience as a big-league player, front office component and on-field Major League manager. He was an assistant to Angels general manager Billy Eppler during the 2018 season.
Ausmus will be introduced in his new role, during a media conference at Angel Stadium on Monday.
“Ultimately, Brad’s balance of connectivity, communication and leadership skills as well as his understanding of evolving strategies and probabilistic approach to decision making led us to him,” Eppler said. “We believe his knowledge, drive and growth-mindset will allow him to integrate seamlessly with our players and staff and will be pivotal in advancing our culture and moving us toward our goals as an organization.”
Ausmus, like Scioscia, a former big league catcher, was manager of the Detroit Tigers until he was fired after the 2017 season. His four seasons in Detroit were preceded by three seasons in the baseball operations department of the San Diego Padres, beginning after his 18-year playing career ended with the Dodgers after the 2010 season.
He was 314-332 in his four years for the Tigers, leading them to a pair of .500 or better seasons, including a 90-72, first-place finish in 2015 in the AL Central.
The announcement came this weekend just after the Cincinnati Reds named David Bell as their new manager, replacing Jim Riggleman, who had the job this season on an interim basis after Bryan Price was fired.
There are four managing jobs still open. The Toronto Blue Jays are looking for a replacement for John Gibbons, the Baltimore Orioles for Buck Showalter, the Minnesota Twins for Paul Molitor, and the Texas Rangers for Jeff Bannister.
All four of them were fired after their teams severely underperformed this season.
Major League Baseball discourages other teams from making major announcements during the World Series, thus the incentive for the Angels and Reds sneaking in their hires during the break between playoff rounds.
The Angels finished 80-82 for the second consecutive season under Scioscia and for the third season in a row their pitching staff was decimated by injuries.
Five of their hurlers underwent Tommy John ligament replacement surgery in their pitching elbows, including Japanese sensation Shohei Ohtani, who made only one start off the mound after June 6 when he was diagnosed with a Grade 2 tear of the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow.
The two-way player continued to hit, however, and underwent the surgery a day after the end of the Angels’ season. He’s expected to miss all of the 2019 season as a pitcher recuperating from the surgery, which has a 12-to-18 month recovery period.
He could return sooner as a hitter, but there’s no yardstick for measuring that kind of rehab process and whether he would put his elbow in jeopardy of another injury while batting before pitching again.
In addition, the Angels also suffered through injuries to top players Mike Trout (wrist) and Albert Pujols (knee and elbow), who both missed significant time on the disabled list during the season. Trout missed three weeks in August because of the injury and the suicide of his brother-in-law and close friend, Aaron Cox.
Pujols was on the disabled because of his left knee around the All-Star break and finally went out for the season on Aug. 28 to have surgery on the knee and right elbow.
Scioscia departed at the end of his 10-year, $50 million contract, which was not renewed, ending 19 seasons as the club’s manager. His tenure, beginning in 2000, was the longest current one for a manager with a big-league club.
Unlike the Dodgers, who are back in the World Series for the second consecutive postseason and have won the National League West six years running, the Angels have been to the playoffs only once since 2009 and haven’t won a postseason game since then.
They won the World Series in 2002 under Scioscia, coming from behind to defeat the San Francisco Giants in seven games, the only time in the history of an organization that was founded in the original expansion of 1961 they ascended to the Fall Classic.
In Detroit, the Tigers haven’t won the World Series since 1984 and failed in two attempts under manager Jim Leyland in 2006 and ’12.
Ausmus, who replaced Leyland, said at the time that failing to win it all was one of his major regrets in Detroit.
“I wish, if nothing else, that we could have won a World Series,” he said. “Quite frankly, I wish we could have done it before [owner Mitch Illitch] passed away. But sports aren’t perfect. And we’ll just part ways very amicably, no hard feelings, I wish [general manager Al Avila] the best. I think he’s got the organization pointed in the right direction.
“He’s beefed up the analytics and scouting and he made some tough calls in trading guys like Ver [Justin Verlander] for prospects and rebuilding the minor league system and it’s going to be a little bit of a haul for the next couple of years, but they’re moving in the right direction and I wish the Tigers and Al nothing but the best.”
The Tigers continued to struggle this past season under veteran manager Ron Gardenhire, finishing 64-98, 27 games behind first-place Cleveland.
In Anaheim, just like his tenure in Detroit, Ausmus will have his work cut out for him.