Sunday, October 8, 2023

Another One Bites the Dust

Billy Eppler, we hardly knew ye.

I wrote a piece last month titled "The Mets Are Still Searching for Stability." The Mets had just decided to hand pink slips to some director-level employees. At the time, it was speculated that the firings could be a sign that a new President of Baseball Operations was coming in, which proved accurate when David Stearns's hiring was announced a couple of weeks later. While the thought of Stearns coming on was exciting, one of the big hopes was that the constant comings and goings of key personnel would slow down a bit as the Mets transitioned to a more mature, steady operation. This made the news of GM Billy Eppler seemingly out-of-the-blue resigning an unpleasant reminder that we just aren't there yet.

It wasn't that Eppler seemed irreplaceable. While I wasn't rooting for him to get canned, the idea of Stearns being gifted the opportunity to hire an up-and-comer of his choice to fill the GM role is actually intriguing. And it certainly was disappointing to learn that Eppler pressured manager Buck Showalter to keep Daniel Vogelbach in the lineup long after it became clear that Vogie didn't offer enough value to offset his limitations. Eppler did some really good things in his time as Mets GM, but his trades for Vogelbach and Darin Ruf were clearly fails. And that's not a crime.

A consequence of having a job where you need to make big decisions is that you will face-plant on some of them. Mistakes are going to happen. But missteps become magnified when a leader can't acknowledge them, learn from them, and move on as quickly as possible. It's human to stubbornly cling to the hope that an important move will eventually pan out, but that's not an approach strong leaders utilize.

Let's be clear: Eppler's stubbornness in trying to validate the Vogelbach acquisition didn't cost the Mets their 2023 season. There were more significant reasons why they spent so much money only to finish under .500. It didn't impact the decision to hire David Stearns and place him above Eppler in the baseball ops hierarchy. That was clearly going to happen as soon as Steve Cohen got the person he wanted to agree to take the job — even if the club had played better and made the playoffs. But Eppler's failure to acknowledge the obvious sooner caused the manager unnecessary angst, made the fanbase quite unhappy, and made Vogelbach a target of fan outrage. It was a lose-lose-lose for everyone.

While I continue to give Billy Eppler credit for some good things that he accomplished here, the slowness of some of his decision-making and his failure to find value in filling out the roster doomed him as the ultimate decision-maker. On the other hand, reporting indicated that Eppler was a good administrator for whom people enjoyed working. And David Stearns seemed happy to have a capable man working underneath him in such a demanding job. This made Billy Eppler's sudden resignation incredibly puzzling when first announced but much less so when the news leaked that he was the target of an MLB investigation.

If MLB's investigation turns out to really be about the infamous "Phantom IL," it's a mystery to me why Eppler felt that he had to resign. Sorry, but it's one of the worst-kept secrets in the game: IL shenanigans are common across baseball. I'm sure there will be penalties for the Mets if this can be proven, but this is hardly compatible with the infamous 1919 Black Sox scandal or more recent ones involving international prospects. The idea that Billy Eppler needed to resign over improper use of the IL doesn't compute.

Unless there is much more going on than initial reports indicate — a markedly larger scandal than currently reported — something else would seem to be happening here. I would rule out David Stearns secretly wanting Eppler out. If he did, Billy would have been handed a pink slip when Buck Showalter received his. I believe the truth behind Eppler leaving would be one of three possibilities:

  • Billy Eppler wanted to avoid taking the demotion with his current club. While Eppler is unlikely to secure the top job with another club, it's arguably less embarrassing to go elsewhere and work under someone than take that role in your current organization after being the top guy.

  • Although Steve Cohen has consistently expressed support for Billy Eppler, it's conceivable that Eppler had previously done something unreported that caused him to lose favor with the owner. Then, when news of this investigation broke, it represented a "final straw" situation for Cohen.

  • Finally, maybe Eppler really did just fall on his sword, not wanting this investigation to get Stearn's takeover of Mets baseball ops off to a bad start. 

We'll see how this investigation turns out. I'll breathe a sigh of relief if it is truly only about improper IL usage. Eppler resigning and Steve Cohen accepting that reservation so quickly makes me a bit nervous that there's more involved here, but that's just speculation mixed with the pessimism of a long-time Mets fan.

The pundits are making a big deal out of another important departure from the front office. It's certainly a bad look that Eppler has joined a revolving door of execs that includes Jared Porter, Zack Scott, and Sandy Alderson, along with a significant churn among the directors who report to them. I don't blame baseball scribes for emphasizing all of the change. It's their job to write and talk about this stuff. But, while it's easy to lump them all together, it's not all the same with the executive turnover. However, it's absolutely crucial that they find the right GM to replace Eppler and enter into that period of stability that the club badly needs. If we're sitting here a year from now pontificating on why the new GM didn't work out, we have a real problem in Metsville.

On the other hand, there is an opportunity here with Billy Eppler's departure. Billy Eppler was hired in 2021 because the Mets needed someone with experience running a ballclub. With David Stearns in the top job, the club is free to pursue a genuinely talented individual without requiring a top management background. That's certainly what I would look for if I were the Mets PBO. Billy Eppler brought some talents to the table, but he hardly looked like a future front-office star. But there are those types around baseball waiting to be elevated, as Stearns was when he became the Houston Assistant GM at age 27, then the Milwaukee GM at age 30.

By the way, there has been speculation on who wrote the anonymous letter to MLB reporting the Mets. I'm not going to indulge in that. I honestly don't care. Plenty of folks have departed the Mets organization this year, and it could be any of them. My hopes are only, as stated, that there isn't any bigger scandal lurking behind the improper use of the IL. Hopefully, we'll have more clarity by the next time I write here.

Be well and take care.

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  1. I'm more interested if the entire coaching staff is toast as well when a new manager is hired.

  2. I lean pitching coach and hitting coach stay, as those positions tend to be more organizational decisions these days

  3. Joey Cora, from all accounts, did an excellent job. I would think he might be given an opportunity to return in 2024.

    1. Agree. Being really good at being a third base coach is a rare skill, and that's only part of his talents


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