Anaheim, Calif. — Manager Brad Ausmus has been fired by the Los Angeles Angels after just one difficult season in charge.
Angels general manager Billy Eppler announced the decision to move on swiftly from Ausmus on Monday, a day after they finished 72-90 for the franchise’s worst record since 1999.
The dismissal of Ausmus immediately sparked speculation that former Angels bench coach Joe Maddon, who parted ways with the Chicago Cubs one day earlier, will return to the franchise where he spent three decades of his career.
A candidate of Maddon’s magnitude would be an obvious reason for such an abrupt change of plan by the Angels, who have had four consecutive losing seasons for the first time since 1993-96. Maddon was with the Angels when Arte Moreno bought the ballclub in 2003, and the two have a cordial relationship.
Ausmus got a three-year contract last October as the Angels’ hand-picked replacement for Mike Scioscia, who spent 19 years on the Angels’ bench and won their only World Series title in 2002.
Ausmus was let go by the Detroit Tigers in late 2017 following four seasons as their manager, compiling a 314-332 record in four seasons and earning a postseason appearance in 2014.
He spent the 2018 season as a special adviser to Eppler, gaining comprehensive insight into every level of the Angels organization.
But that knowledge didn’t translate to wins as the 17th manager in the franchise history of the Angels, who regressed in his sole season with a poor pitching staff and several underperforming position players.
Beset by injuries and tragedy, Ausmus’ team struggled for nearly every month of the summer, except for a burst of inspired play through its grief over the midseason death of pitcher Tyler Skaggs in a hotel room in Texas. Only five major league regulars made it through the entire season without going on the injured list.
“I want to thank Brad for his hard work and dedication to this organization over the last two seasons as both a special assistant and a manager,” Eppler said in a statement. “He navigated this franchise through one of its most difficult seasons with class and professionalism.”
Eppler and Ausmus didn’t immediately return phone messages seeking comment.
The 50-year-old Ausmus was unable to stop the Angels’ streak of five straight non-playoff seasons and four straight losing records during the prime of AL MVP favorite Mike Trout’s career. Despite the majors’ ninth-largest payroll this season at $164.4 million and the ideal franchise cornerstone in Trout, Los Angeles has made the playoffs just once in the past decade and hasn’t won a postseason game since 2009.
Rumors began to swirl about Ausmus’ job security last week while Maddon’s future was being debated in Chicago. The Cubs’ only World Series-winning manager of the past century decided to leave the club by mutual agreement last week.
The 65-year-old Maddon spent 31 years in the Angels organization, starting as a catcher and logging lengthy assignments as a minor league manager and a major league assistant coach, along with two stints as the Angels’ interim manager. He was Scioscia’s bench coach for six seasons, winning a World Series ring along the way, before he left to manage the Tampa Bay Rays.
Ausmus on Sunday acknowledged he had heard the rumors linking Maddon, who has said he still owns a home near Anaheim, to an Angels return.
“I have a contract,” Ausmus said. “That’s the only thing I know. … To be honest with you, I’ve learned to shrug those things off. There was a point in 2015 in Detroit, my second year there, it came out I was being fired, and (I) was there two more years. You learn to take it with a grain of salt. Those types of decisions are not in my control, so I don’t worry too much about them.”
Ausmus was hired to provide a fresh voice to the Angels after nearly two decades under Scioscia while incorporating new-school strategies in analytics and player management. He did all of those things while maintaining an apparently strong relationship with Trout and his other players, but the results never showed up.
The Angels went 12-6 immediately after Skaggs’ death on July 1, improving to 54-49 while rallying together in the wake of their well-liked starting pitcher’s sudden death. But Los Angeles’ AL wild card hopes abruptly fell apart in late July with a 2-5 homestand against AL cellar-dwellers Baltimore and Detroit, starting with a 16-inning loss to the Orioles that depleted their pitching staff.
The Angels went 7-18 in September and finished 37 games behind the AL West champion Houston Astros.
“The thing that’s going to stand out the most obviously is Tyler,” Ausmus said Sunday when asked to reflect on the season. “There’s no way around it. That’s what I’ll remember most about the season. There are some positives. … There were definitely some bright spots. Despite the disappointing record, it wasn’t all doom and gloom.”
Los Angeles was outscored by 99 runs this season despite a lineup including Trout, Albert Pujols, former Tiger Justin Upton, All-Star infielder Tommy La Stella, Andrelton Simmons and designated hitter Shohei Ohtani, who couldn’t pitch this season while recovering from Tommy John surgery. Several hitters struggled with injuries, and several more had underwhelming seasons, including high-priced veteran sluggers Pujols and Upton.
Eppler has a large budget, but a big chunk of it goes to Pujols, the 39-year-old first baseman signed to a $240 million contract by Moreno in 2011. The Angels’ biggest problem this season was a subpar pitching staff assembled by Eppler, who has been fairly successful in other areas of his reconstruction of a depleted organization over the last four years.
Eppler’s top three free-agent pickups – Matt Harvey, Trevor Cahill and Cody Allen – all flopped mightily, wasting a combined $28.5 million. Only Cahill finished the season with the Angels, and he was banished from the rotation to the bullpen after being LA’s opening day starter.
The Angels’ 5.12 ERA was 25th among the 30 big league teams, and they finished in the bottom half of the league in most additional categories. The emergence of relievers Hansel Robles and Ty Buttrey in a fairly solid bullpen didn’t make up for a rotation filled with underperforming veterans and rookies likely forced into the big leagues before their time.
Ausmus played 18 major league seasons as a cerebral, sure-handed catcher with four franchises, earning three Gold Gloves and an All-Star selection. He spent the first three years after his playing career working as a field executive for the San Diego Padres, who also don’t have a manager after firing Andy Green on Sept. 21.