Throughout his introductory Zoom call, Billy Eppler made a point of saying he wants to hear from the Mets’ baseball operations people before making any big decisions. The new GM wants to develop a group consensus on the criteria for hiring a new manager and listen to what others think is the best way to go about fixing the problems of an underachieving ballclub.
And that’s fine.
It’s important for any GM to consider the opinions of the people working for him at least partly to establish a healthy front-office culture, especially someone new to the job.
But let’s be real: it’s squarely on Eppler to get this done.
Indeed, if anything was made clear during Friday’s call zoom call that also included Steve Cohen and Sandy Alderson, it’s that the new GM is under the gun to make an assortment of critical decisions, the sooner the better, with the expectation that he’ll turn the Mets into winners in 2022.
For one thing, Alderson seems very willing to take a backseat. He said he’ll be available “as a resource” but stated flatly that “I don’t expect to be heavily involved.”
For another, the Mets currently have very little experience in their baseball operations department, having recently promoted both Bryn Alderson, Sandy’s son, and Ian Levin, to the position of assistant GM.
And perhaps most significantly, Cohen made it sound as if he’s all but handing Eppler a blank check to find the answers to all the Mets’ problems in the free agent market.
The way the owner put it, while acknowledging there is no immediate help coming out of the farm system, was to say: “It’s going to require spending. We want to win the division and get deep into the playoffs. I’ve let Billy and Sandy know, it’s whatever they need.”
In short, there’s no easing into this job for Eppler. As I wrote earlier this week, he’s highly-regarded around the game, particularly by Yankee people he worked with for a decade or so, and on Friday Cohen gushed that at the owners’ meetings in Chicago this week people were telling him what a great decision he’d made with his new hire.
“There was universal praise for Billy,” Cohen said, beaming.
Nevertheless, Eppler has a lot to prove after five losing seasons with the Angels, despite the top-heavy payroll and weak farm system obstacles in Anaheim he mentioned on Friday that forced him to take short-term gambles in free agency, most of which flopped.
Furthermore the new GM needs to move quickly, with the threat of a Dec. 2 lockout looming that could very well shut down the business of baseball for a couple of months. Especially with movement already in the starting-pitching market, as the Angels pried Noah Syndergaard away from the Mets this week and the Tigers signed Eduardo Rodriguez.
With that in mind, Eppler didn’t shy away from either the timeline or the need for pitching. He said he’d be in touch with agents in a matter of hours, and in an interview with SNY after the Zoom call he said:
“I definitely want to add starting pitching. I’d love to add two, maybe three.”
Meanwhile, on the subject of a new manager he kept coming back to the idea of wanting to establish an organizational criteria that would narrow the list to certain types, but was evasive as to his own preference on the broad scope of say, old school vs. analytics.
Again, that’s fine but Eppler should have his own strong belief about who he wants, depending partly on how the interviews go. That’s why he was hired, and he needs to embrace the enormous task in front of him, especially given the freedom he apparently will have to sign some of the top players in free agency, from Max Scherzer to Kevin Gausman to Kris Bryant to Starling Marte, in addition to building more depth as well.
On the one hand, it’s a dream situation for a GM, having the money to be able to pick and choose at the top of the market. Cohen said the payroll is already at $185 million, yet he’s obviously willing to blow past the luxury tax threshold (whatever that turns out to be in a new collective bargaining agreement) and perhaps take it above $250 million.
But it obviously comes with a daunting level of responsibility for Eppler, knowing he needs to be right immediately on so many decisions even as he’s just getting to know the Mets organization.
There aren’t many other options either. Eppler indicated he has no intention of trading the handful of blue-chip prospects the Mets have as a way of acquiring a star player, and that’s the right way to think.
For while the farm system is thin, those high-end prospects plus the potential bonanza that is waiting in next summer’s draft, when the Mets could have six picks in the top 100 (in part due to losing Syndergaard and presumably Michael Conforto), including the No. 11 and 14 picks overall, means that Eppler has a real chance to build a sustainable winner.
First he needs to spend Cohen’s money wisely. In truth, he’d probably prefer, in the parlance of the modern GM, more of a process-oriented approach. He’ll probably make some new hires for the baseball ops department, not only because the Mets need more experienced people there but because Eppler believes the more informed opinions he hears, the better the chance of getting decisions right.
“I’m a huge believer in the power of people,” he said. “I believe that when you have enough different voices, the right idea is going to be in the room.”
It’s a sound philosophy, but Eppler’s current situation doesn’t allow for a lot of debate. He was hired to immediately stabilize a front office in need of strong leadership and right now that means largely trusting his own judgement and making seemingly a zillion tough calls as quickly as possible.
Welcome to the Mets, Billy Eppler.
Source: Yahoo Sports