24 Nov 2021 | 04:18 | Baseball
There are lots of reasons to be encouraged by the hiring of Billy Eppler, who was finally introduced on Friday as the Mets’ new general manager. As a pro scouting director, he helped win a World Series for the Yankees. As a general manager, he signed Shohei Ohtani for the Los Angeles Angels. At 46, he is young enough to appreciate the value of data, but old enough to honor the instincts of scouts.
“I just came back from the M.L.B. owner meetings, and I can tell you: just universal praise for the hiring,” said the Mets’ owner, Steven Cohen, who is rebooting the organization again after a trying first season, on and off the field.
“I mean, people coming up to me from everywhere saying that we got a real pro, well-liked in the industry, well-respected. So I’m excited. Listen, I put a lot of time into this, and like I always say, I’ve got a day job. So it’s a relief to get somebody that I feel really good about.”
Cohen, a hedge-fund billionaire, made two dud investments last year. He fired the general manager he hired last fall, Jared Porter, after revelations that Porter had sexually harassed a female reporter. The interim general manager, Zack Scott, was fired this month after his late-summer arrest on a charge of driving while intoxicated.
A protracted job search, in which Cohen and the team’s president, Sandy Alderson, failed to persuade several high-profile candidates, ended with a four-year contract for Eppler, who has a reputation for integrity. What he does not have, however, is a winning record as a general manager.
Even with stars like Mike Trout and Ohtani, the Angels had a losing record in each of Eppler’s five seasons (2016 through 2020). Asked about it on Friday, Eppler outlined the challenges he inherited: overpaid players on long-term contracts, sharing a division with the well-stocked Houston Astros, an outbreak of pitching injuries, a barren farm system.
“The lack of depth made us dip into free agency to fill multiple holes on the roster,” Eppler explained, “and when you’re thin on that depth, any injuries you sustain really make you fall through the ice.”
Injuries and lack of depth have been familiar problems for the Mets, too, and Cohen conceded on Friday that answers may not come from within.
“Our budget today, without even signing anybody, is already about $185 million or so,” Cohen said. “If we’re going to find the right type of talent, it’s going to, probably, be either trades with other clubs or free agents. We don’t really have a lot in the farm system to supplement what we need.
“So it’s going to require probably spending, and that’s what’s going to happen. And I’ve let Billy know that I’m willing, for the right deals and the right free agents, to go and get the players we need.
“We want to be competitive, right? We want to win our division and be in the playoffs and get deep into the playoffs, right? So we’ve got to field a team that has the ability to do that.”
Of course, Cohen was also willing to spend last off-season, and the Mets got little from their highest-paid newcomers. Shortstop Francisco Lindor, starter Carlos Carrasco and catcher James McCann all performed well below expectations, and Lindor is just now starting his 10-year, $341 million contract.
The rotation is a pressing concern. Noah Syndergaard has already left for the Angels (one year, $21 million) in free agency. Marcus Stroman, the only Mets starter who was healthy and reliable all season, is a free agent. The ace Jacob deGrom missed the second half with arm injuries. Taijuan Walker and Tylor Megill faded in August and September.
“I look at the roster and definitely want to address the pitching,” Eppler said, mentioning the departure of Syndergaard. “We also are going to entertain things in the outfield and entertain things in the infield.”
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