Billy Eppler’s Resignation Was Strange And Sudden
1:56 PM EDT on October 6, 2023
Days after Mets manager Buck Showalter publicly announced that he'd been fired, before coaching his final game, a significantly more shocking move has shaken up the Mets braintrust. General Manager Billy Eppler, the guy who told Showalter he was out, suddenly resigned on Thursday. News broke shortly afterwards that Eppler was under MLB investigation for some IL shenanigans, and though that offers some explanation for why he was forced to abruptly step down, there are a few tantalizing missing pieces at the center of this story.
As David Roth-likers surely know, the Mets ate a whole five-gallon bag of shit this year, winning 75 games and finishing 29 games behind the NL East-winning Braves despite spending more on their roster than any other team in baseball. Such a brutal regression typically begets personnel shuffling, and though Eppler was this failed roster's primary architect, it seemed as recently as this week that his job was safe. Eppler was halfway through a four-year deal with the Mets, and he'd survived a late-August front office purge carried out by owner Steve Cohen, a bloodbath where he fired the team's pro scouting director, farm director, performance director, and baseball development director. Cohen hired ex-Brewers president and GM David Stearns two weeks later to serve as the team's president of baseball operations, which put him above Eppler on the org chart.
At Stearns's introductory press conference on Monday, which Eppler attended (Stearns said he was "looking forward to working with [Eppler]"), Cohen was asked why Eppler stuck around while Showalter was axed. "It’s my goal to build up the management talent in this organization," Cohen said. "I mean, baseball operations are pretty complicated. There’s a lot of moving parts. And you know, building a strong management team is paramount to me. So I viewed it as one and one equals three."
That's not the sort of thing you say Monday about a guy who leaves your ballclub on Thursday, which means Cohen probably didn't know that Eppler was under investigation by MLB. An anonymous tipster dropped a dime on Eppler, according to the New York Post, detailing alleged manipulation of the IL under his management. Toggling struggling and healthy fringe players between the active roster and the IL allows teams to wriggle out from under roster crunch as they try to balance themselves around 26-man limits. Using the so-called phantom IL is a reasonably commonplace practice, though the Mets definitely did it; consider Tommy Hunter's never-ending back spasms. Still, they were in the middle of the pack relative to the rest of the league, with 25 players hitting the IL 28 times, and this doesn't fully hold water as the lone explanation. Per Jeff Passan, "multiple heads of baseball operations departments told ESPN they would not consider phantom IL use an offense worthy of resignation."
This leaves us with a few possibilities: perhaps MLB is making an example of Eppler in an effort to crack down on the practice; maybe this is the league office's way of cracking back at Cohen for the habitual line-stepping that has defined his ownership; there could be something more to the investigation than phantom IL stuff. Also, one wonders who MLB's source is here, especially given the context of Showalter's unceremonious departure and public iciness towards Eppler. All we know for certain is that Eppler is gone, and given the sudden nature of his resignation, we may never get any other answers.