Each would-be candidate came and went, serving as a not-so-subtle indictment against the eventual choice: The person the Mets finally introduced as their general manager would be, unavoidably and undeniably, something of a second (or, perhaps, tenth or so) choice.
But Friday it was Billy Eppler, the former Angels GM, who was introduced as the next general manager of the Mets on a Zoom call with owner Steve Cohen and President Sandy Alderson sitting side by side in from of a Mets background in another frame. Eppler is entering a world that has been built by Alderson and remodeled by the mercurial Cohen and his millions, a world that has seen many promising introductions like this one, only to watch the old Mets demons seize control in the end.
Eppler is an unsurprising choice for a team looking for more of a sure thing than the next big thing, a longtime Yankees executive who doesn’t exactly break any front office molds. He was general manager of the Los Angeles Angels from October 2015 through September 2020, but was fired after his team failed to break .500 in any of the seasons during his tenure.
He has also been in the game for years, meaning he took the job knowing he would be the third general manager hired under Cohen in a year and a half, knowing that neither that new, social-media savvy owner and the old team president have never been able to control the chaos that assembles around this franchise annually enough to help the organization realize its potential.
And he took the job knowing about reports that the Mets hope to pry Milwaukee Brewers President of Baseball Operations David Stearns away in the future. He knew all the names who came before him, the candidates coveted but lost. He knew, in other words, that he is not exactly being considered the savior. He knew he would be part of a larger, more complicated puzzle.
“In my conversations with Sandy, I understood that this is not necessarily a one-person job, but also understanding the importance of how I, particularly, look at the world in terms of valuation of players, organizational philosophy, and so on and so forth,” Eppler said. “If [the hiring of an executive over him] comes to pass, then I would welcome that opportunity because I know it’ll be someone who looks at the world similar — or I should say looks at the baseball world — similar to how I do.”
Whatever their long-term plans, the Mets seem determined to make Eppler a staple of their planned marched toward stability. They announced Friday that they signed the 46-year-old to a four-year deal, a long-term investment that belays any sense of having to prove himself to his higher-ups — something Alderson implied, at times, would be a part of any candidate’s first year with the organization.
Alderson has been clear that he hopes to offload his baseball duties to a more traditional president of baseball operations. But he said Friday that Eppler will be given the chance to influence that decision.
“There’s an opportunity here for a year at least to establish yourself to grow to the point where we may not even do a search a year from now for an additional person or an additional person above the general manager role,” Alderson said. “We will have a years experience and Steve and I will take a look at that at the end of the season, and Steve will make a decision about the direction he wants to go.”
Alderson is quick to point out that Eppler has plenty of experience in New York, something Mets executives have suggested contributes to their struggles to lure top-level talent to their front office. Many, including Alderson, have failed to engineer the long-awaited Mets resurgence for a hungry fan base that has seen just two playoff appearances in the past 15 years.
But in his last stint with a high-spending team in need of a turnaround, Eppler could not rebuild the Angels minor league system, nor use free agency to compile a contender. Asked about what he learned from his time there, Eppler pointed to injuries, preexisting crippling contracts and a lack of minor league depth as key issues he couldn’t overcome. He admitted that some of the deals he made to patch the roster didn’t work.
“There were a number of reasons those deals didn’t work out,” Eppler said. “So my biggest takeaway is the importance of depth.”
Alderson said Friday, as he has at multiple times throughout this offseason, that the Mets didn’t simply swing and miss at candidate after candidate, forcing them to settle for a man without a history of constructing a successful championship contender. He outlined a variety of reasons he and his staff encountered setbacks in finding would-be candidates, which included families not wanting to move, preexisting contracts would-be hires couldn’t break and concerns about the pressure imposed by New York.
“What I can say is, I’m really excited about working with Billy. Just to give you a little feedback, I just came back from the MLB owner meetings, and I can tell you that [there was] just universal praise for the hiring. I mean, people coming up to me from everywhere saying that we got a real pro, well-liked in the industry, well-respected,” Alderson said. “ … It’s a relief to get somebody that I feel really good about.”
Whether Alderson feeling good about a hire like this bodes well or not remains to be seen. His recent track record — from now-fired Jared Porter and his lewd messages to a reporter, to since-fired manager Mickey Callaway, who has been banned until the end of the 2022 season after an investigation into accusations of sexual harassment and lewd behavior, to now-fired Zack Scott and his DWI arrest — Alderson’s vetting processes and hiring approach has yielded more scandal than stability in recent years.
“[The vetting process] was broader, deeper than any vetting process we had ever undergone. Even involved not only inquiries with respect to those in the industry, those for whom he had worked, but also those with whom he had worked in an organization or outside the organization, the media for example,” said Alderson, who shares one less-than-flattering distinction with Eppler in that both hired the since disgraced Callaway, despite widespread whispers of misbehavior toward women.
“The industry in general, as Sandy and Steve alluded to, has a vetting process that has evolved and we have greater resources because of it,” Eppler said. “In general, the Angel organization has been asked and answered for it. There’s not really anything more specific I can add today.”
The details will come later, after the news conference, after reality takes the reins from hope. In recent years, those details have not been pretty for anyone hoping the Mets might finally emerge as an annual, respectable powerhouse. Eppler is the next on a long list of those who will, at least, get a chance to try.