The good news (yes, it’s good news) is that the Mets finally have a new general manager. The bad news is that an awful lot of people may be shaking their heads and lamenting, “They put on that crazy hunt to end up with this?”
Billy Eppler wasn’t exactly a resounding success when he held the same job with the Angels from 2015-2020. Not overall, anyway. In isolated moments he looked like a budding genius. In the big picture, he looked like another one of Angels owner Arte Moreno’s designated fall guys.
The budding genius side: Eppler did the heavy lifting when it came to making Mike Trout an Angel for life and for making Shohei Ohtani an Angel at all after his Japanese splash. He secured the game’s best all-around position player and his three American League MVPs and landed this year’s two-way sensation who just might shake out as this year’s AL MVP.
The fall guy side: Moreno’s contradictory penchant for splash signings, low enough budgets otherwise, and moves he pushed out of sheer fury after failures to strike designated targets. Moreno is a lot more like Eppler’s one-time boss George Steinbrenner’s bad side than Angel fans often dare admit outright.
Before Met fans continue shrugging their shoulders and lamenting that this, too, is so Mets, ponder if you will that when the Angels hired Eppler in the first place—after he’d spent copious time as Brian Cashman’s assistant with the Yankees after running their scouting system a few years—Eppler went in with an arm and a half tied behind his back before he could make his first phone call.
Perhaps insanely, Moreno gutted just about his entire scouting system. He made international scouting director Clay Daniels pay with his head after some of Daniels’s subordinates were caught skimming signing bonuses. He pinked his overall scouting chief Eddie Bane over a series of bad drafts and free agency signings, even if one of Bane’s last solid moves was pressing the Angels to sign a kid named Trout in the first place.
Several of Eppler’s moves blew up through no fault of his own. Zack Cozart struggled as a new Angel in 2018 before a torn labrum killed the second half of that season and neck and further shoulder surgery killed much of his 2019 before he was traded away and ultimately retired.
Eppler made a number of reclamation-project free agency signings that failed miserably enough, as in former Met Matt Harvey plus Cody Allen, Trevor Cahill, Tim Lincecum, and Julio Teheran. With the best intentions Eppler looked foolish for those deals, just as he would for extending outfielder Justin Upton.
But Upton points to Eppler’s better side as well. Left to half by Moreno’s big-sign/low-budget-otherwise style, Eppler did what he could with whatever he was left to work with, and it wasn’t exactly his fault that his penchant for sharp trading and a sharp waiver-wire eye was made to look foolish by subsequent events.
Trading for Upton in the first place looked smart at first—before the extension and before the unanticipated injuries that have throttled Upton since 2019. Eppler also made several trades that made useful Angels out of Dylan Bundy (pitcher), Tommy La Stella (middle infield), Andrelton Simmons (shortstop), Felix Pena (pitcher), Patrick Sandoval (pitcher), and Max Stassi (catcher), for short whiles, anyway.
Eppler was also deft enough to land Brian Goodwin, Blake Parker, Noe Ramirez, and Hansel Robles off the waiver wire, getting some success from the group before they, too, petered away.
None of those moves translated into postseason trips for the Angels, of course, but you can look closely at just about all of them and discover the issues and baggage of most of those players didn’t arise until well after they arrived in Anaheim. But just as a manager takes the fall for “underachieving” or “shortfalling” teams, GMs take the fall when their moves turn out disastrous even through no fault of their own.
Essentially, the Mets played that postseason song-and-dance GM hunt to end up with a guy who’s been in and out of the reputed New York incinerator. (Remember Sandy Alderson saying it was just that overwhelming Apple heat that kept the Mets from bringing the best and the brightest aboard?) A guy who may not be cuffed and stuffed by a contradictory owner with a reputation for hard meddling.
It couldn’t have come at a stranger time. This may be so Mets—the former Angels GM taking the Mets’ helm as one of their key pitchers signs with the Angels. All Noah Syndergaard had to do—following his recovery/rehab from Tommy John surgery—was show a little enough of his classic Thor form in a pair of token gigs at season’s end, plus reject a Mets’ qualifying offer after the season, and the Angels take a flyer on his recovered self for a one-year, $21 million deal . . . pending physicals.
So Eppler gets to go to work right away redressing the Mets’ pitching depth issues. With all-world ace Jacob deGrom a question mark until he actually gets back on the mound next year, and their most reliable non-deGrom starter Marcus Stroman now a free agent, the Mets’ starting corps isn’t exactly a finalised 2022 product just yet.
Eppler will also have to step into the Mets’ efforts to convince middle infielder Javier Baez to keep his defensive virtuosity and reviving bat in Queens next to his keystone partner Francisco Lindor. He’ll have to start pondering moves to fortify their outfield. He’ll also have to think swiftly enough before any possibility that, with the current collective bargaining agreement due to expire and the owners threatening a lockout, the game shuts down for enough of a winter chunk.
But you can almost picture Eppler looking back upon his Angels tenure, then looking out now from his new perch with the Mets, and thinking to himself, “Jeez, I thought it was going to be impossible!” He may yet think that, compared to where he was, he’s in the next best thing to a professional jacuzzi now. May.