From the moment he left the Toronto Blue Jays, Billy Eppler had the Rangers’ and Angels’ GM jobs on his mind. The Texan had been coming up through the Baltimore Orioles’ system, catching the eye of a large part of their organization and hearing from power brokers about who was next in line to run the team.
That list had to start with former Orioles star and 2002 NL MVP Cal Ripken Jr. and had to eventually become a two-man race with ex-major league pitcher Andy MacPhail, who was well regarded at the time and served as GM from 1998-2004. The Mets came calling in 2006, and MacPhail was hired, joining the club’s ownership group as part of the prior group.
This weekend, the Mets officially announced that MacPhail is no longer part of the team’s ownership group and that manager Terry Collins is out after this season. MacPhail was hired, in part, because he had successfully turned around the long-moribund franchise before.
In reality, the Astros, Nationals and Angels all wanted Eppler to take their jobs. The Astros had been good enough that Eppler felt compelled to make the jump. The Nationals, who just made the playoffs, wanted his help.
But MacPhail wasn’t going anywhere.
“Initially, it was a big deal,” says former Mets farm director Dan Reardon, the club’s director of scouting from 2000-2003. “It was different than when MacPhail was hired. That was the big part of it. For the first couple of days, people were getting excited, like, ‘Wow, he’s going to do that great, this is going to be an awesome organization, it’s going to be something that, like, never happened before.’ But he wasn’t going anywhere. It’s always good to see those type of people leave and give someone else an opportunity. Usually, that guy comes back. It’s great when they leave, but when they stay there, it’s even better.”
Although MacPhail was the only former Met to leave the organization, the reopening of the organization is a welcome event for everybody in a variety of respects. The Mets now have a front office under Chip Hale, a former major league pitcher and bench coach for the Mets in 2012-13. Before MacPhail’s arrival, the Mets’ scouting and player development departments had mostly been run by the father-son combination of Tony and Fred Wilpon. The working dynamic had become somewhat dysfunctional and MacPhail was encouraged to be less involved in decision-making.
“He came in and he was like, ‘Whatever you guys have, I’m happy to do it and I’ll lead from the back,’” says Juan Nieves, who joined the Mets as assistant GM in 2015 after a long pitching career. “I really think the guys were very receptive to what he wanted to do. He was very open to implementing what he wanted to do. He had success in New York.”
Six years ago, there were precious few front-office openings available. Much of that had to do with the influx of money into baseball’s coffers and the end of a number of big-money contracts. Eppler will need to make the same kind of impact with the Mets that the Royals and Mariners executives have made in this region in the last decade and the Dodgers did in Los Angeles the last two years. The new GM’s impact has already been noticeable.
“It’s a huge relief for the Mets leadership and everyone,” Reardon says. “He can come in and say, ‘Hey, if I’m going to be the next GM, I’m the next GM. Here are the three things I want to see the Mets do and if you agree with those, I can give you the resources to do that.’ And I know the Mets board supports that. That’s why it’s a huge relief. It was a big deal to them. They really had to get their act together.”