Billy Eppler worked in New York for a decade, graduating from a scout to Yankees general manager Brian Cashman’s right-hand man. He left that position to become the Angels general manager, which meant answering to among the more difficult owners in the majors.
He, therefore, has ideal credentials to step in as Mets general manager. Except in his five-year run in Anaheim, Eppler could not coax even a winning record out of the Angels despite beginning the process with the game’s best player, Mike Trout, on his roster.
Eppler was in agreement to become the Mets GM, finalizing minor details Monday night that were not seen as an impediment to accepting the position.
Eppler arrives at the end of disheartening 12 months for the franchise, which includes two offseasons of failing to land a president of baseball operations due to inability to gain access to the best candidates and/or their disinterest in coming to the Mets. There also were indiscretions that led to the firing of GM Jared Porter after a month on the job last offseason and interim GM Zack Scott after last season. The most recent GM search also was filled with lots of potential candidates wanting no part of the Mets.
The search, though, narrowed recently. Team president Sandy Alderson flew to Pittsburgh to meet with Adam Cromie before attending last week’s GM meetings. Cromie then met with Steve Cohen in New York. The perception at the GM meetings among Mets rivals was that this was a done deal. But Cromie had not worked in the majors since leaving the Nationals in 2017 when he was an assistant GM. Alderson was counseled by associates in the game that credentials for this job were important. Cromie, a lawyer in Pittsburgh, was lacking.
Alderson had conversations with Eppler last offseason. The Mets needed to bulk up their decision-making group, especially after Porter was fired. Eppler discussed, among other things, becoming an adviser. That never came to fruition. But he stayed on Alderson’s radar.
This offseason Eppler along with two senior agents from Excel Sports Management united to join William Morris Endeavor, an entertainment agency powerhouse looking to become a force in baseball representation. The hope was Eppler could, among other things, be a recruiting tool for clients because he understood how front offices value players and the cutting edge in training techniques.
That also appealed to the Mets. In fact, it is a lot of what drew them to Porter. Eppler is generally well-liked by executives, agents and the Commissioner’s Office. He has a good feel for the rhythms of how modern front offices operate. As opposed to Porter, though, Eppler has the 2005-15 run with the Yankees that peaked with him as the assistant GM, so he knows New York. He liked working here and living here (he resided in Williamsburg while working for the Yankees). Alderson said fear of New York has been a hurdle in the Mets’ search. Eppler has no fear of the city.
He also worked five years for Angels owner Arte Moreno, who is viewed within the game as a tough boss for both meddling and restrictive budgets; and not just on payroll. Moreno is believed to be the driving force for large contracts to Josh Hamilton, Albert Pujols and Anthony Rendon that, to date, have not worked out. But the GM had to, among other items, operate a payroll below the luxury-tax threshold even with those high-priced pieces. Eppler failed to successfully do that — the Angels finished next-to-last in four of his five GM seasons — even after arguably his greatest triumph: successfully recruiting Shohei Ohtani from Japan.
That Eppler worked for late-stage George Steinbrenner and Moreno offers a starter kit for Cohen, even if Cohen does not see himself as a problematic boss. Eppler, though, will know that, unlike in Anaheim, Cohen will be a willing spender behind the scenes and on payroll to try to make the Mets first class and first division.
Eppler walks in with the looming specter of Alderson and David Stearns. Alderson has vowed that he does not want to run the day-to-day baseball operations. Perhaps the year-ish he has spoken to Eppler has formed a bond of trust to make that happen. Stearns, who runs the Brewers baseball operations, was a main Met target, who was not given permission to discuss the job. The Mets nevertheless have kept president of baseball operations open, possibly for him to take it as early as next offseason.
Eppler is aware of this. But does have this: Stearns is one of his best friends in the game. Still, Eppler has at least this year to prove he can handle the big chair without an additional powerful presence put above him. He knows New York. He knows difficult ownership. The key whether he can take that education and win this time.