Eppler, joining Mets, embraces return to `intimidating’ NYC

Sports

FILE – Los Angeles Angels general manager Billy Eppler watches during spring training baseball practice on Feb. 17, 2020, in Tempe, Ariz. The New York Mets were close to completing a deal Wednesday night, Nov. 17, 2021, to hire Eppler as general manager, according to a person familiar with the negotiations. Eppler and the Mets were nearing a four-year contract, said the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the agreement was not finalized. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings, File)

NEW YORK (AP) — Billy Eppler embraced the bright lights of the big city, promising on his first day as Mets general manager to pursue pricey free agents and create a perennial World Series contender.

Hired late Thursday by owner Steve Cohen and team president Sandy Alderson, Eppler was introduced Friday and tasked with the responsibility of reversing an underachieving organization coming off consecutive losing seasons, management turmoil that included an arrest and the loss of a talented star pitcher to free agency.

“I’m willing for the right deals and the right free agents to go and get the players we need,” Cohen said.

He estimated 2022 payroll currently at $185 million, with more spending ahead.

“We’ll be able to take a little bit bigger swings in free agency,” Eppler said.

Alderson said last week that some GM candidates had no desire to move to the Big Apple because “it’s a big stage and some people would just prefer to be elsewhere.” Eppler, 46, embraced what he termed New York’s “rabid fanbase.”

“Big buildings. It’s intimidating,” he said. “It makes you feel really small. But if you go and you learn and evolve, the city starts to teach you. I think the city teaches patience. I think the city teaches resiliency and ingenuity, and there’s really no other place like it.”

Cohen and Eppler said during a digital news conference that money will flow. They need to replace pitcher Noah Syndergaard, who agreed to a $21 million contract with the Angels.

“We want to tackle the free-agent market as well as the trade market,” Eppler said. “In my dialogue with Steve and Sandy, it’s evident that we’re going to have some resources behind us. So I don’t think anything eliminates itself at the outset here. And I look at the roster and definitely want to address the pitching.”

Eppler spoke from his home in California, while Cohen and Alderson sat together at Citi Field. The Mets have not won the World Series since 1986, and since then have had three principal owners (including feuding co-owners) and 11 general managers (not including interims). The manager Eppler hires to replace Luis Rojas will be the 12th.

Cohen bought the Mets last November. He brought back Alderson and hired GM Jared Porter, who was fired in January after 38 days over revelations of sexually explicit text messages.

Zack Scott, Portér’s replacement as interim GM, was sacked following an arrest on drunken driving charges and after the Mets became the first team to spend as many as 103 days in first place and then finish with a losing record (77-85).

Eppler, a San Diego native, is familiar with Gotham from his time with the Yankees from 2004-15, when he rose to assistant GM. He moved back to California to become GM of the Los Angeles Angels, and was fired a year ago after five losing seasons. He was hired in September by William Morris Endeavor Entertainment as a partner to run its baseball player representation practice with Jim Murray and Michael Stival.

During Eppler’s time with the Angels, the team hired Mickey Callaway as pitching coach after he was fired as Mets manager, and Major League Baseball suspended Callaway in May through the 2022 season following an investigation of sexual harassment allegations.

Eric Kay, the Angels’ former director of communications, has been indicted in federal court for conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute a controlled substance and distribution of a controlled substance resulting in death or serious bodily injury, charges connected with the death of Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs.

“It’s an organization, and Billy’s just one person in that organization,” Cohen said. “We vetted it in multiple ways. We spoke to a lot of people that were around the organization at that time. We spoke to people within baseball, and we’re incredibly comfortable with Billy and his decision-making and his ethics and his integrity.”

Eppler would say only that the industry vetting process has evolved.

Eppler understands Cohen and Alderson may hire a president of baseball operations above him a year from now.

“This is not necessarily a one-person job,” Eppler said. “If that comes to pass, then I would welcome that opportunity because I know that it’ll be somebody that kind of looks at the world similar, or looks at the baseball world, I should say, similar to how I do.”

He cited the late Gene Michael, a longtime Yankees executive, for teaching him to evaluate players’ focus and movement, not to just rely on analytics.

Cohen said he enjoys interracting with fans via Twitter. When it comes to roster decisions, he says he defers to the baseball department.

“It’s not my job to dictate who the players are going to be,” Cohen said. “My job is to when they come to me, is to say, `Yeah, let’s do it. Let’s spend on this. Let’s make this trade, I agree.’”

And looking to the future, Eppler will help supervise a front-office buildup.

”The resources that I talked to Steve about being able to have here give me a really good feeling that we’ll be able to shore for some of those issues and really build a comprehensive best-in-class scouting operation, player development operation, performance science and analytics operations,” Eppler said. “Those departments will ultimately drive the long-term success.”

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