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Saturday, December 11, 2021

Mets’ Billy Eppler must now fix broken franchise: Sherman

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There is a familiarity to this kind of day, a redundancy, a form-letter quality. 

For example, play this fun game at home. Which quote below is from Arte Moreno upon hiring Billy Eppler as Angels GM six years ago and which is from Steve Cohen naming Eppler as the Mets GM on Friday: 

“We used a lot of time, energy and research into the decision to fill this very critical position. We interviewed several quality individuals throughout the process. In the end, Billy’s experience in the areas of scouting, player development and Major League operations, in addition to his organizational and communication skills, were primary reasons for our decision. He is energetic, creative and has a tremendous passion for the game. We look forward to him joining the organization and making his impact felt in short order.” 

And: 

“We vetted in multiple ways. We’re incredibly comfortable with Billy and his decision-making, his ethics and his integrity. He has a vast amount of experiences. He’s a pro. He knows a lot about the game. He’s worked under some really good people. We were just impressed by his communication skills, his knowledge of the game. I think the players in the locker room are gonna enjoy talking with him. I think he brings a lot of different skill sets to the table and I think that’s what this organization needed.” 

Billy Eppler speaks at his introductory press conference Friday.
Billy Eppler speaks at his introductory press conference Friday.
SNY frame grab

That first 84-word quote belongs to Moreno, the 90-word second statement to Cohen. But they are mostly interchangeable. It fits the occasion. This is a baseball wedding day, and on the wedding day, cheerful “I dos” are exchanged and everyone is in love and the promise is unlimited. It is all pretty much scripted; I will not bore you to show how similar what Eppler said Friday was to what he offered upon taking the Angels job; just know it was. 

What follows the wedding, though, is the ad-lib portion of the program, and Eppler was not good at it with the Angels. The Mets — from executive to executive and owner to owner — have failed as well. Now they are married — the “I dos” are complete. Eppler and the Mets have to find a way to change each other’s histories. 

Eppler has the right qualities. He is bright, passionate, well versed in the old and new schools of baseball and well liked in the industry. Yet, he took all of that to the Angels and it did not work. Said one rival executive: “Billy is a good baseball guy who was in a no-win situation [with the Angels].” 

That translates to no one is going to win for Moreno, who can be mercurial, meddlesome and — when the mood hits — miserly with budgets. But Eppler certainly didn’t find a way to rise above a bad situation with five losing seasons in his five years. 

When the Mets officially announced Eppler’s hiring in a release Thursday evening, team president Sandy Alderson’s canned quote began, “Over the past two decades Billy has been a scout and an assistant GM.” Noticeably lacking was Eppler’s time with the Angels. It was kind of like describing Alderson as “GM of the 2015 NL champions” and letting that stand for his entire time with the Mets. 

Steve Cohen (left) and Sandy Alderson (right) during Friday's press conference.
Steve Cohen (left) and Sandy Alderson (right) during Friday’s press conference.
SNY frame grab

The Angels do not have to be a permanent dishonor for Eppler. Lots of folks have failed in one (or more) locales and found the right place, right time elsewhere (think Joe Torre and the Yankees, for example). Did he learn and grow? But the failure is one reason that Eppler was not atop the Mets’ wish list. Alderson said this was “not a linear” search and that Eppler was the only one who was offered a contract. That was semantics. If Billy Beane, Theo Epstein or David Stearns expressed interest and/or were available, the Mets would have made an offer. 

But this too does not mean Eppler can’t do the job. Laura Dern, Meg Ryan and Michelle Pfeiffer were offered the lead role in “Silence of the Lambs” before Jodie Foster was chosen and won the Oscar for playing Clarice Starling. Can Eppler be the leading man of a baseball department, or does he have those skills but really is best suited to be a lieutenant, like he was successfully for Yankees GM Brian Cashman? 

Job 1 for Eppler — and there are so many jobs to do — is just to bring competence to the day-to-day operations. Eppler has to begin to remove the delusion from perhaps the most delusional franchise in the sport, provide logical processes to one of the most illogical teams and develop a culture of cohesion from top to bottom for an organization in which on occasion a raccoon tries to choke out a rat. 

If he does so, then the Mets will have an orderly, successful search for a manager and coaching staff. They will spend the unlimited funds Cohen vowed Friday wisely both for 2022 and beyond. They will build an organization that capitalizes fully on a large, passionate fan base, rich owner and New York cornerstone to be a serial championship contender. 

Job 1 is getting the Mets out of their pathologies. Out of their dysfunction. Job 1 in many ways is breaking the now all too frequent Mets’ habit of hosting rote press conferences for the next general manager.

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