The Los Angeles Angels have fired Brad Ausmus after only one season as their manager, increasing rampant speculation that Joe Maddon could soon replace him.
The decision was formalized on Monday, one day after the team concluded a 90-loss season marked by the sudden death of young pitcher Tyler Skaggs. In a statement, Angels general manager Billy Eppler thanked Ausmus for his contributions and wrote that he "navigated this franchise through one of its most difficult seasons with class and professionalism."
"This was an incredibly difficult decision," Eppler added, "but after significant consideration, we've decided it is necessary to go in another direction."
Eppler, who plans to address the media on Tuesday, joined the organization in October 2015, waited for Mike Scioscia's contract to expire three years later and chose Ausmus as his first hand-picked manager. Ausmus' abrupt departure comes shortly after the Angels decided to only pick up Eppler's 2020 option rather than extend him further, prompting speculation that the decision was made above him.
Angels owner Arte Moreno holds Maddon in high regard, sources told ESPN's Buster Olney. And ESPN's Jeff Passan reported that a reunion is likely. Maddon, 65, was a coach for the Angels from 1993 to 2005, then navigated through a highly successful nine-year stretch while managing the low-budget Tampa Bay Rays. On Sunday, Maddon and the Chicago Cubs parted ways, ending a five-year partnership that included the franchise's first World Series championship in nearly 100 years. Maddon wants to keep managing and is said to be interested in the Angels' opening.
The Angels finished the 2019 season 35 games behind the Houston Astros in the American League West, missing out on the postseason for the ninth time in the past 10 years and reaching 90 losses for the first time since 1999. Maddon finished that season as the interim manager, winning 19 of the last 29 games before Scioscia took over for what became a 19-year run. Maddon operated as Scioscia's bench coach from 2000 to 2005, winning a World Series ring in 2002.
Under Ausmus, originally signed to a three-year contract, the Angels entered the 2019 season with hopes of competing for a wild-card spot. But the team's free-agent quintet flopped. First baseman Justin Bour, catcher Jonathan Lucroy, reliever Cody Allen, and starters Matt Harvey and Trevor Cahill combined to contribute negative-1.2 wins above replacement, according to Baseball-Reference, while costing more than $34 million on one-year contracts.
Justin Upton, Tommy La Stella, Andrelton Simmons, Shohei Ohtani, Mike Trout and Andrew Heaney also missed significant time, a major setback for an organization that still doesn't possess considerable depth in the upper levels of its farm system.
But the most devastating blow came on July 1, when Skaggs, a 27-year-old left-hander who was among the team's most productive starting pitchers, was found dead in his Texas hotel room with opioids in his system. The Angels somehow managed to win 12 of their next 18, improving to five games above .500 on July 24. But they dropped five of their next seven to the last-place Detroit Tigers and Baltimore Orioles, and they only faded from there.
The Angels will enter the offseason in desperate need of high-end starting pitching and are expected to be major players in a free-agent market topped by Gerrit Cole, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Madison Bumgarner and, potentially, Stephen Strasburg. The franchise has not won a playoff game since 2009, but is trying to contend as soon as possible in order to take advantage of Trout's prime years.
Over the winter, the Angels will also be deep in negotiations with the Anaheim City Council over a new stadium deal and might enter into litigation after an unnamed employee was recently linked to Skaggs' death
In four years under Eppler, the Angels have acquired Ohtani, Simmons and Upton, have improved their minor league system and have extended Trout, who signed a 12-year, $426.5 million contract in March. But they also spent four consecutive years below .500 for the first time since the 1970s.
Maddon joins a decorated list of free-agent managers that includes Bruce Bochy, Joe Girardi and Scioscia, whose name has been linked to the San Diego Padres opening. Angels special assistant Eric Chavez, Astros bench coach Joe Espada and Cubs bench coach Mark Loretta are among those who could also garner interest throughout the industry. The Padres, Cubs, San Francisco Giants, Kansas City Royals and Pittsburgh Pirates all have managerial openings; the New York Mets and the Philadelphia Phillies could soon join them.
Ausmus, 50, was previously 314-332 as the Tigers' manager from 2014 to 2017. Asked about his job status on Sunday, Ausmus told reporters, "I have a contract. That's the only thing I know."