6:10PM: Eppler resigned to avoid being a distraction to the club during an ongoing MLB investigation into Eppler and the Mets allegedly making improper use of the injured list, as per a report from the New York Post. (Link to our full post on this story.)
3:23PM: Mets general manager Billy Eppler has resigned from his position, according to a press release from the team. Mets owner Steve Cohen said that Eppler “led this team through a 101-win season and postseason berth last year and he will be missed. We accepted Billy's resignation today as he decided it is in everyone's best interest to fully hand over the leadership of Baseball Operations to David Stearns. On behalf of the Mets organization, we wish him all the best.”
Eppler himself issued a comment in the release, saying “I wanted David to have a clean slate and that meant me stepping down. I hope for nothing but the best for the entire Mets organization.”
Given how Stearns' first few weeks have seen the Mets cut ties with manager Buck Showalter and make some other personnel changes within the front office, it doesn't seem shocking on paper that Eppler is also on the way out. That said, Eppler had been expected to continue as GM and serve as Stearns' top lieutenant, making today's news “a major surprise” in the view of SNY's Andy Martino. Two full years remained on the original four-year contract Eppler signed with the Mets in November 2021.
The Amazins brought Eppler into the fold with the hopes of stabilizing a front office that had become a revolving door. Sandy Alderson stepped away from the GM position in July 2018 due to a battle with cancer, with John Ricco, J.P. Ricciardi, Omar Minaya handling matters on an interim basis until Brodie Van Wagenen was hired a few months later as the new general manager. Van Wagenen's tenure lasted for a little more than two years (until Cohen bought the team), and incoming GM Jared Porter lasted only six weeks before being being fired due to reports of a past incident of sexual harassment. Zack Scott then became interim GM but lasted less than a year, as a DWI charge led the Mets to ultimately part ways.
Even with the lockout interrupting much of the 2021-22 offseason, the Mets still spent big both before and after the transactions freeze, with some of Eppler's biggest strikes happening in the few weeks between his hiring and the early-December shutdown. That winter saw the Mets bring Max Scherzer, Starling Marte, Eduardo Escobar, Mark Canha, and Chris Bassitt into the fold, while also hiring Showalter as the new manager. The result was a 101-61 record, the second-highest win total in the Mets' franchise history. However, New York still had to settle for a wild card slot after losing the NL East crown to the Braves on a tiebreaker, and the Mets' playoff run quickly ended with a three-game loss to the Padres in the NL Wild Card Series.
With Cohen sparing no expense on player payroll, Eppler kept the big moves coming last winter, bringing both new faces (Justin Verlander, Kodai Senga, Jose Quintana, and more) to Queens on pricey free agent deals, re-signing Mets staples Edwin Diaz and Brandon Nimmo, and even extending other regulars like Jeff McNeil. The result was an Opening Day payroll of over $330MM — far and away the biggest in baseball history, with a record luxury tax hit to match.
Unfortunately for the Mets and their fans, the large payroll meant an equally large disappointment when the team simply failed to get on track. With injuries playing a factor, New York finished only 75-87, resulting in a midseason pivot that saw Scherzer, Verlander, Canha, Escobar, Tommy Pham, Dominic Leone, and David Robertson all dealt, primarily to add some new young talent to the organization since the Mets ate most of the remaining salary involved in these trades.
“One of the goals here is to expedite the longer-term goal. We're trying to restock and reload the farm system,” Eppler told reporters at the trade deadline. “You have to go through a little pain to get where we want to go, but I feel like the organization is making strides towards a better future…..Going into 2024 we don't see ourselves having the same odds that we did in 2022 and 2023, but we will field a competitive team.”
It remains to be seen how the Mets could operate under Stearns, and whether their plan to take some level of a step back next season will impact how they spend, or how they acquire talent. Whatever the outcome, Eppler won't be part of the plan going forward, so hiring a new general manager as Stearns' number two will now also be on the Mets' to-do list.
Only 48 years old, Eppler already has a lengthy resume in baseball. Beginning as a scout in the Rockies organization, he moved on to a decade-long run in the Yankees' front office that saw Eppler promoted first to scouting director and then to assistant GM under Brian Cashman. The Angels hired Eppler as their general manager heading into the 2016 season, but was fired in September 2020 after the team failed to post a winning record in any of Eppler's five seasons in charge. He then briefly explored a new career path running WME's baseball representation division, but was only in that job for a few months before stepping down to take the Mets' GM job.
Eppler's seven seasons as a general manager saw his teams deliver a 508-523 record, with only the 2021 Mets finishing above the .500 mark. Despite the lack of results, it is still difficult to truly evaluate Eppler as an executive given the circumstances of both his jobs. Angels owner Arte Moreno is known to carry a heavy influence over his front office's decisions, and the Halos' string of losing seasons has continued even after Eppler's departure. Eppler had more autonomy in New York, though Cohen's desire to instantly make the Mets into a contender with no regard to payroll created its own set of unique pressures. Eppler also had to combat the perception (and perhaps even the reality) that was something of a placeholder GM, only brought in once the previous choices were fired in quick succession, and with Cohen ultimately always intending to hire Stearns or a bigger-name executive like Theo Epstein or Billy Beane.
While Eppler's resignation appears to have caught the Mets somewhat off-guard, there may no ulterior motive beyond what Eppler expressed in his own statement. Having the former front office boss still in the organization as the second-in-command is an unusual situation, and it could be that Eppler had a change of heart after his first few weeks working under Stearns. Resigning now gives Eppler a jump on the offseason, perhaps for a fresh start with another club or for a job outside of front office work, given his past association with WME.