For the Mets, the Buck starts here

Buck Showalter

Can the smart, well-prepared, clubhouse-cohesive Showalter proved he’s learned from his most egregious mistake?

All fairness: I want to give both the Mets and Buck Showalter the benefit fo the doubt. The Mets, because they did go through a deep enough hunt before making him the 24th manager in their history. Showalter, because you don’t get to manage two decades’ worth of major league baseball without doing more than just something right.

Even if you did something so egregiously wrong once upon a time that it would stain an otherwise solid reputation for smarts, preparation, cohesion, and long-haul steadiness. Four things the Mets need abundantly and Showalter has proven he provides well enough that one terrible mistake really shouldn’t mark your entire career.

But oh, what a mistake it was. And heaven help the Mets and their new skipper if he and they should find themselves facing a comparable scenario when they arrive at the postseason and he makes the same mistake. Will George Satayana prove a baseball prophet, too?

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” Satayana wrote immortally in The Life of Reason. Baseball sometimes tries but always fails to forget the past. That can be good and bad, of course. And you’ll have little trouble finding people who’d like to forget the 2016 American League wild card game.

Let’s first put the Big One into proper perspective. It didn’t cost Showalter’s Orioles a World Series. But it cost them a chance to get into a division series from which they might, maybe, have begun a postseason journey there.

Leaving both his and baseball’s best relief pitcher in the pen while a lesser arm surrendered an eleventh-inning, wild card-losing three-run homer has left Showalter second-guessed at least as often as Gene Mauch was over the 1964 Phillies’ pennant race collapse.

That relief pitcher, Zack Britton, holds no grudge. Now with the Yankees, but facing a 2022 season away from the game while he rehabs from elbow reconstruction surgery, Britton doesn’t flinch. Ask him if he’d play for Showalter again given the chance, as The Athletic‘s Ken Rosenthal has, and his answer is an emphatic yes. One hundred percent, Britton began.

Showalter knew he’d blown it. And when he reconvened his Orioles during spring training 2017, he let them know it, Britton says.

We always had this spring training thing, which I thought was cool — off-site, get together in a movie theater, kind of show you the highlights of the previous season, just a bonding moment for the team. During that meeting, he got up there and said, ‘Before we start, I just want to address the elephant in the room.’ He apologized to me, which I didn’t think he needed to do. I think there were some guys on the team that were frustrated by the move. He just said: ‘That’s my bad. I messed up.’ And it was done with.

But was it, really?

Britton told Rosenthal Showalter “had his reasons. I’m not 100 percent sure why, but it didn’t matter. I always knew Buck was thinking through it. He always had a plan. Maybe it didn’t go according to his plan, and then it kind of backfired. But he was willing to take that risk, sticking with the plan.”

That’s the thing, though. Often enough, things happen enough that The Plan needs to be set to one side in the moment. “I don’t know his exact reasoning,” Britton admits. “But I truly think he was trying to do right by me and not hurt me. I’m going to be honest: I don’t think he thought we were going to score. And he didn’t want me to have to go out there for two or three innings.”

That game was tied at two in the bottom of the eleventh when Edwin Encarnacion checked in against Ubaldo Jimenez, a starter pressed into relief after Brian Duensing opened the inning by striking Ezequiel Carrera out. Jimenez surrendered a 1-1 base hit to Devon Travis and a first-pitch single to Josh Donaldson.

Jimenez may have been lucky that Donaldson—proud possessor of 37 regular-season home runs that year—hadn’t ended the game with something longer than a single to set up first and second. And Showalter in the moment didn’t think an 89 game-winning team that hit .256 on the regular season could put even one more run across the plate?

Both teams drained their bullpens by the time Jimenez and Encarnacion squared off. Except that Showalter still had Britton to call upon. The Jays already burned their closer Roberto Osuna, and Francisco Liriano wasn’t likely to stay in the game should the Orioles get it to the top of the twelfth. Everything favoured the Orioles.

Or would have, if Showalter brought Britton in. Now, of course this is baseball, where anything can happen—and usually does. There was always the outside chance that Britton could get tagged, too. But what’s another old saying? Oh, yes: If you’re going to go down, at least go down while you gave yourself the absolute best possible chance to survive and then triumph.

Whole book chapters have been written about the save rule wreaking more havoc then health. Showalter holding Britton because he wouldn’t be coming into a “save situation” can be found there. Possibly Exhibit A; at least, among the top three. Because that game needed to be “saved” right then and there for the Orioles to get one more chance at minimum to win.

So Jimenez stayed in the game. This time, neither he nor the Orioles escaped. Encarnacion hit the first pitch about ten tons into the second deck in left and sent the Jays to the division series.

Now, I’m going to give Showalter all credit on earth for manning up and apologising to his team during that spring movie house confab. Just the way Mauch deserves all credit for holding his team back on the plane, landing home following the end of that ’64 Phillie Phlop, a crowd awaiting them, and telling the players he’d step off the plane first: “You didn’t blow the pennant. I did.”

Just the way Tommy Lasorda—who only thought it was safe to let Tom Niedenfeuer pitch to Jack Clark with first base open and the Dodgers an out away from forcing a seventh 1985 National League Championship Series game—apologised to his players in the clubhouse after Clark’s three-run homer carried what proved a Cardinal pennant to the rear of the left field bleachers.

The New York Post‘s Steve Serby gave Showalter a chance to explain the whole thing in a 2020 interview. “You just have to wear some things,” Showalter replied, “and I can sit here and tell you ten things you may not know about that situation, but nobody wants to hear it. I’m at peace with that.”

Well, now. I’ve written before but it bears repeating. The Britton non-decision being one of baseball’s most often second-guessed, I suspect people would love to hear about the ten things that stopped Showalter from reaching to baseball’s best 2016 reliever in his bullpen other than it not having been a by-the-book “save situation.”

Rosenthal himself, a colleague of Showalter’s at MLB Network, says Showalter “has never explained the full reasoning behind his decision. But he viewed his apology the following spring as an important step in holding the team together.”

Showalter’s strengths have always including holding teams together despite periodic moments that could have driven wedges enough into them. He’s been known to handle the aftermath of bench-clearing brawls by reminding his players—without singling any one out by name—that if you’re going to fight, do it for the right reason, not just because your ego got bruised a few moments.

“[T]here’s nothing worse than supporting something you know is wrong,” Showalter said of one such Oriole incident. “That tears a club up. It’s: ‘Your actions reflect on everyone. Let’s make sure we’re fighting for a just cause’.”

Let’s assume the Mets asked Showalter about the Britton non-decision while they interviewed him for his new job. Let’s assume Showalter went back, broke it all down, reassembled it, all to the Mets’ satisfaction, and that was that.

Put the positives together and the Mets now have a manager who knows how to keep clubhouses from dissembling, who plans well, who isn’t a martinet but whose insistence on accountability doesn’t stop with his players or even with himself. His former Orioles outfielder Adam Jones has spoken of Showalter insisting on acountability from above as well as from under his command.

This is the guy who preferred to walk away from the Yankees rather than let George Steinbrenner fire his hitting coach Rick Down after the Yankees lost a tough division series to the Mariners. A man who won’t suffer The Boss’s impulses without a fight should have no trouble with Steve Cohen, the Mets’ owner whose fan friendliness often betrays tendencies that remind too many of some of Steinbrenner’s, shall we say, crazier ones.

Let Cohen rip his players in public aboard social media? Showalter might have something to say about that. He won’t quite wire himself into Cohen’s electric chair by doing so, but he won’t handle player mistakes or shortfalls quietly only to let the owner make it public and above and beyond reality, either.

He’ll have a team full of sharp veterans and maturing youth on his hands. Assuming Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer can stay healthy, he’ll have a top two in his starting rotation to die for even if Max the Knife begins showing his age at last. He isn’t likely to let his players get themselves trapped into surrealistic nonsense or unrealistic distractions.

Just be very wary if and when Showalter brings his Mets back to the postseason, if and when their postseason advancement depends on whether he reaches for his absolute best pitching option regardless of The Plan or The Role because the immediate moment demands it.

Pray that, this time, Showalter seizes the moment to give the Mets their absolute best chance to survive and/or triumph, Plan be damned. Sending him a copy of The Life of Reason might not hurt, either.

What the Mets should ask if they want Showalter managing

Buck Showalter

Showalter still has some splainin’ to do over Zack Britton’s absence when the 2016 AL wild card game was squarely on the line . . .

If you want to keep your minds off the lockout for awhile, you can find plenty of issues with which to do that. One coming to mind almost at once is New York Post columnist Mike Vaccaro waxing, as his column’s headline said Friday, on why the Mets should hire Buck Showalter as their next manager.

“The truth is,” Vaccaro wrote, “the team [new general manager Billy] Eppler and [owner Steve] Cohen have already cobbled together — and the one that seems destined to emerge from the lockout — is a team custom-designed for Showalter’s particular talents.”

There will be plenty of veterans, and Showalter likes having vets he can trust in his clubhouse. There will be plenty of intriguing players of younger vintage—think Pete Alonso, Jeff McNeil, Brandon Nimmo—whose experiences as major leaguers have largely been shaped by the stone hands of [former manager] Mickey Callaway and the inexperienced ones of [former manager Luis] Rojas . . .

But Showalter’s teams, in addition to almost always being of a superior collective baseball IQ, also take care of their business properly . . . The Mets, under Showalter, would be a Showalter team. That may mean they’re a couple of degrees less flamboyant, maybe a few layers less fun-loving . . .

So far, so good. And Showalter’s supporters include his former Orioles outfielder Adam Jones, who acknowledged Showalter still has to go through “the process,” meaning proper vetting. “[F]olks don’t have any idea of the real impact he can make on a ball club,” Jones tweeted Friday. “And I’m not just talking players. The Franchise. He made everyone better and accountable!”

How about Showalter making Showalter himself accountable? Say, for not making the move he should have made in the bottom of the eleventh of the 2016 wild card game? Vaccaro’s Post colleague Steve Serby tried in a September 2020 interview. And Showalter failed.

“Your Orioles controversy in [that game] when you didn’t call on Zack Britton and lost in the bottom of the eleventh in Toronto,” Serby presented. “You just have to wear some things, and I can sit here and tell you ten things you may not know about that situation, but nobody wants to hear it. I’m at peace with that,” Showalter replied.

The obvious followup—In fact, Buck, people would love to hear about the ten things that stopped you from bringing in your best relief pitcher, who also happened to be the best reliever in baseball that season, despite there not being a quote save situation, unquote, despite the Blue Jays with first and third and one out in a tie ballgame—didn’t come from Serby’s mouth.

Showalter stayed with Ubaldo Jimenez, normally a starter, but working in relief of Brian Dueseng, after Dueseng opened the inning with a strikeout . . . and despite Jimenez’s prompt surrender of a pair of base hits on four pitches. And Edwin Encarnacion hit Jimenez’s first pitch to him for a three-run homer.

It wasn’t as though Showalter didn’t have a very recent precedent by which to go. Just two years earlier, then-Cardinals manager Mike Matheny made the same mistake—with his Cardinals one game from elimination, Matheny left his best relief option, Trevor Rosenthal, in the bullpen in the bottom of the ninth of a tie game . . . because that, too, wasn’t a quote save situation unquote.

The Giants then had first and second and also one out. Matheny left in Michael Wacha, still rusty from late-season injury idling. And Travis Ishikawa hit Wacha’s second pitch to him for a three-run homer. Showalter was luckier—Encarnacion’s blast into the second deck merely sent the Jays to a division series; Ishikawa’s launch to the top of Levi’s Landing had a National League pennant attached to it.

Matheny reminded everyone what Showalter would forget a mere two years later: the time to bring your absolute best relief pitcher into a game is when it’s squarely on the line, previously designated “role” be damned. Especially when postseason advancement or a trip to the World Series depends on it. That’s not purely a thought from the school of analytics. It’s what they taught in Common Sense Elementary School.

If the Mets take Vaccaro’s suggestion seriously, they should be mindful of Jones’s reminder to put Showalter through the full vetting process. That vetting must include Showalter telling them, at least, what he wouldn’t deign to tell Serby over a year ago.

The Mets should damn well want to know why else—beyond no “save situation”—Showalter left his best relief option to rot when that option just might have sent the game to a twelfth inning giving his team one more chance to win at minumum. Accountability neither begins nor ends with the players.

If Showalter says only and again that nobody wants to hear those ten things you may not know about that situation, the one that sent his team home for a winter too soon, the Mets’ proper reply should be, “Way wrong answer! Thanks for coming, Buck, and don’t let the door knob goose you on your way out.”

The Mets bet Max (the Knife)

Max Scherzer

Shown pitching against the Mets in New York in late August, Max the Knife is a Met now . . . and lucratively.

Lose a shot at bringing a solid pitcher back to the Mets? Lose a followup shot at luring a pitcher who resurrected himself in San Francisco? Go forth and sign a three-time Cy Young Award winner to what might well be his final major league deal—at a record average annual value for pitchers, future Hall of Famers or otherwise.

When you say it that way, it sounds so simple that a refugee from the Delta Quadrant could have done it, despite knowing about as much about baseball as a veterinarian knows about astrophysics. But this is baseball, these are the Mets, that’s Mets owner Steve Cohen, and this is Max Scherzer.

Never mind that Cohen first found an immediate way to atone for squandered time after his particular (and not yet detailed at this writing) rift with former Met Steven Matz’s agent dovetailed with Matz signing a nice four-year deal with the Cardinals.

Signing Starling Marte (center field with a big bat), Mark Canha (just about any outfield spot and an on-base machine), and Eduardo Escobar (solid third baseman who can play second, solid batter) turned Cohen almost overnight from a sad gag to a definite big-market player. Even if it means moving Brandon Nimmo to a corner outfield slot and saying goodbye to a Michael Conforto whose walk-year collapse didn’t look great for himself or the Mets.

Never mind, too, that Cohen and/or his designated hitter couldn’t quite close the deal with righthanded pitcher Kevin Gausman, who turned a career year with the Giants into a nice five-year deal with the Blue Jays—who lost Matz to free agency—that’s the second most lucrative in their franchise history. (George Springer’s five/$125 million beats Gausman’s five/$105 million.)

Signing Scherzer qualifies thus far as the largest, loudest splash on this off-season’s open market to date. Maybe even louder than the ten-year/$325 million the Rangers handed now-erstwhile Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager the day before. In two swell foops (as the lady once said on the radio) the Mets swept up both the single best center fielder available and the pitcher whose 5.9 wins above replacement-level player in 2021 led all free-agent pitchers this time around.

It may also be the least expected. Remember: Scherzer’s conditions for being traded from the Nationals to the Dodgers last July included that he go to either a west coast contender or those guys in his native St. Louis who just bagged Matz. New York was thought to be near the bottom of his baseball bucket list. The Yankees weren’t even a topic, really.

Remember when Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson said he signed his first free agency deal with the Yankees because George Steinbrenner “hustled me like a broad?” Cohen and his minions must have hustled Scherzer like ten ladies and their ladies-in-waiting.

Landing Scherzer means the Mets bring aboard as respected a clubhouse figure as exists in today’s game, a guy who does his best to keep the dysfunction away and also serves as a kind-of de facto second pitching coach, sitting with younger arms while they review video of their past performances and helping them analyse and prepare.

It also means the Mets just landed the guy who led the entire 2021 Show with the lowest walks-per-nine innings rate (1.8), the lowest walks-and-hits-per-inning pitched (WHIP) rate (0.86), posted a better than splendid 2.97 fielding-independent pitching rate, and mostly looked better than his usual self after becoming a Dodger at the 2021 trade deadline.

Mostly.

Max the Knife isn’t quite a kid anymore. At 37, it’s very possible that he’s just signed the final big contract of his major league career; it could even be his final major league deal, period. He pitched mostly like his classic self until his final two starts of the regular season, when he got pried for five runs by the Rockies in Coors Field (23 September) and then for six runs (five earned) by the Padres at home (29 September).

Scherzer recovered from those to pitch well enough in the postseason until former Dodger Joc Pederson yanked a two-run homer off him in the fourth in Game Two of the National League Championship Series. With his shoulder and arm feeling exhausted, Scherzer would have been that set’s Game Seven starter—if the Braves hadn’t yanked four runs out of Game Six starter Walker Buehler while the Dodgers had no answer past two runs off Braves starter Ian Anderson and reliever Luke Jackson.

Nobody would have counted Scherzer out for the seventh game that never came. Just two years earlier, he shook away a terrible neck issue to start Game Seven of the World Series, keep the Astros in check enough despite having nothing left in the tank otherwise, and leave the Nationals room to win the Series with a record fourth road win in the set. He really has been one of those pitchers who can survive on will when the stuff deserts him.

The Mets must be hoping that Scherzer has enough left in the tank to help yank them back into the races to stay. Either that or that he still has that iron will to survive on the mound when the repertoire goes from Kind of Blue to Milli Vanilli.

Assuming both a healthy Scherzer and a healthy returning Jacob deGrom, the Mets in theory would have a 1-2 punch at the top of their starting rotation equal to none today but comparable to several of the past. Sandy Koufax/Don Drysdale. Randy Johnson/Curt Schilling. Heady and three-out-of-four Hall of Famer company to keep.

In theory, too, it could be enough to cause division-rival Nats general manager Mike Rizzo, now navigating a rebuild on the fly without even thinking about tanking, to rub his head with sandpaper (since he has no hair to tear out) and mutter loudly, “If I’d known he’d end up a Met, maybe I wouldn’t have traded Scherzer at all.”

But . . .

“Scherzer could outperform 95 percent of pitchers his age through MLB history and still underperform relative to the contract,” writes Smart Baseball author Keith Law at his usual stand for The Athletic.

Good for him for getting paid, but the idea in free agency is to pay for expected future production, not past production, and the base rate for pitchers his age is not promising. They either lose effectiveness, or they get hurt. Maybe Scherzer is an outlier, just like the race isn’t always to the swift or the battle to the strong. That’s just the way to bet.

The Mets are laying a $43.3 million a year average annual value bet. As Law points out, no pitcher 37 or older has had a 5-WAR season since Bartolo Colon at 39 for the 2013 Athletics; only three since World War II (Hall of Famers Johnson and Phil Niekro, plus Roger Clemens) have delivered 7-WAR seasons at 38+; and, only twelve times have 38-year-old-plus pitchers posted 5+ WAR seasons since the turn of the century.

They’re banking on Jenny Diver, Suki Tawdry, Miss Lotte Lenya, old Lucy Brown, and company forming that big line on the right now that Maxie’s coming to town. For every Met fan and observer wondering if their boy Cohen’s done something else rash, there may be ten counting on Scherzer to become the kind of outlier the Johnsons and Niekros were at his age.

They might even be banking on Scherzer spinning a third no-hitter, this time for them. He has two already, both in 2015, the second of the two against the Mets. When he nailed his 3,000th lifetime major league strikeout last August, bagging San Diego’s Eric Hosmer in the second, Scherzer also took a perfect game into the eighth—when Hosmer exacted revenge by breaking it up with a double to deep right.

Assuming next season won’t be compromised or delayed by any coming lockout, (and it sure feels as though enough of the owners are landing their free-agent signings in a big hurry and rash to secure themselves further before any lockout—a rash which also puts the big lie to any claims of financial ill health), there’s something else to consider.

The Mets are scheduled to open against the Nats. How delicious would it be to see their next manager have to decide whether to open with deGrominator or Max the Knife? Already the National League East would look many things with boring not even close to being one of them.

What Syndergaard wanted most

Noah Syndergaard

Met fans won’t forget Noah Syndergaard dropping Alcides Escobar to open Game Three of the 2015 World Series. Now the talented but oft-injured Syndergaard will be an Angel because the Mets’ administration slept at the switch after making his qualifying offer.

Go ahead and cling to the surface look if that’s your preference. Cling to the Mets showing Noah Syndergaard a qualifying offer and Syndergaard electing instead to let the Angels seduce him for a couple of million dollars more for next year, if it makes you happy. Cling to the narrative that Syndergaard’s heart with the Mets could be bought, if you must.

But now you must ask yourself concurrently just why it was that Syndergaard’s Mets heart was abandoned while the Angels swept in and swept him off their feet. Your answer is no further than New York Post writer Joel Sherman, who says the Angels had a plan for the power-pitching righthander coming back from Tommy John surgery—and the Mets apparently lacked one.

Oh, sure, the Mets plan to win if they can help it. But that’s it. When they tendered Syndergaard his qualifying offer, that was it, too. They had no general manager at that moment. They had no manager. They still don’t. They’ve got a pitching coach, Jeremy Hefner.

But nobody in the Mets’ organisation talked much of anything yet about how they were going to shepherd a starting pitching staff going forward. They didn’t talk about how they were going to manage Syndergaard’s work load during his first full season back after Tommy John surgery, recovery, and rehab.

Enter Angels general manager Perry Minasian. He knew Syndergaard wanted a deal and the physicals done before today’s qualifying-offer deadline, just in case the physicals didn’t wash, leaving Syndergaard a Mets fallback after all. He also knew what Syndergaard wanted beyond a solid-enough, prove-it-year’s deal.

Syndergaard wanted a plan. Minasian high tailed it to New York to present him one. “[F]or the best organizations these days preparing pitchers physically, for the season and for each game, is a collective effort across multiple departments,” Sherman writes.

There were efforts in the first year under [Steve] Cohen’s ownership to bulk up these areas, but [the Mets] still pale in comparison to clubs such as the Dodgers, Giants and Blue Jays, among many others.

Minasian . . . came to New York armed with details on, among other things, how his club would have him pitch to individual players on each team in the AL West. He spoke of the success the Angels enjoyed last year with a six-man rotation, which helped get Shohei Ohtani through a season of hitting and pitching healthy. Minasian said the plan would stay the same and showed Syndergaard how pitching in a six-man rotation would give more time for recovery and lower his overall inning total when all he had in 2020-21 in the majors was two one-inning stints to close out the past season. Minasian brought data to show what the Angels liked about his delivery and pitch mix and how to make them even more effective.

In other words, Minasian caught the Mets sound asleep at the Syndergaard switch. While the Mets just slid a qualifying offer under the righthander’s nose with nothing substantial behind it to show him anything resembling love or respect, the Angels’ GM—who goes back with Syndergaard to the Blue Jays, having been part of their drafting team when they first picked him—brought all three. Love, respect, and substance.

Minasian also brought it with the most aggressive and committed push among several contenders for Syndergaard’s prove-it season, including the world champion Braves, the Red Sox, and the Jays.

Sherman notes that the Angels weren’t exactly thrilled about having to lose a draft pick for signing Syndergaard, but they were less thrilled than that about the prices in the free agency starters’ store—and starting with a Syndergaard whom Minasian knew well enough would give them decent odds in the upside department before pondering another starter or two on that market

The Angels’ seduction, Sherman writes, mattered as greatly as the Mets’ apparent lack of it: “Syndergaard is going to pitch at 29 this year. He recognizes how vital it is that he performs well to set himself up to re-enter the market next year at 30 to try to score a lucrative, long-term pact. And here were the Mets not even talking to him throughout this process. Here they were without an infrastructure in place. Here they were unable to provide a detailed plan to him beyond the big picture that Cohen wants to win now.”

The Mets hired former Angels GM Billy Eppler—Minasian’s immediate predecessor—as Syndergaard’s deal with the Angels came forth. This can be called crossing one end of the street without bothering to see who’s coming down the block from the other end. This can also be called too little, too late. This can be called, further, that’s still so Mets.

Leaving Mets fans with memories of a stout, tenacious pitcher who could be lights out when healthy and who gave them one whale of a performance in the 2015 World Series: Syndergaard dropping plate-crowding, plate-overcomfortable Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar to open Game Three, the only game in the Series that the Mets’ then-porous defense couldn’t cost them.

God knows the Angels themselves need a starting pitching overhaul—again. If a year’s worth of Syndergaard at minimum helps it begin, the deal will have been worth it. If Minasian’s plan for him works well enough, the Angels might think of extending Syndergaard or Syndergaard will have a solid market when he hits free agency next winter.

If losing Syndergaard now means a swift enough kick to the Mets’ posterior on behalf of shaking them further out of their funk before and after any possible lockout, it might be worth it, too. Eppler’s hiring to the contrary, with these Mets that’s a glandular if.

Will Eppler get to run the Mets unimpeded?

Billy Eppler, Mike Trout

Then-Angels GM Billy Eppler—seen with Mike Trout, whom he signed to a glandular Angel-for-life extension in 2019—now gets to run the Mets without a contradictorily heavy hand above and undermining him.

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.