Assessing 2023's front offices: Billy Eppler's New York Mets were better than you might think

New York Mets GM Billy Eppler actually had a good season signing free agents. However, New York's farm system undermined Eppler's overall work.
New York Mets pitcher Justin Verlander (left) speaks to the media with general manager Billy Eppler.
New York Mets pitcher Justin Verlander (left) speaks to the media with general manager Billy Eppler. / Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Billy Eppler 2023 front office WAA impact for New York Mets: +0.6 games. Rank in MLB: 13. Rank in division: 4.

In his second and final season presiding over the dispersal of owner Steve Cohen’s substantial fortune, Billy Eppler certainly put forth the effort.

Eppler’s front office made 66 moves involving major league talent since the conclusion of the 2022 postseason. Although only 28 of those 56 worked to the advantage of the Mets (the other 38 produced negative impact), the totality as measured by Wins Above Average still worked out to a technically positive +0.6 games.

WAA is used in this series of front office evaluations because it is a zero-based version of WAR, therefore enabling valid approximations of impact against wins and losses.

The fact that Eppler’s record was positive at all, even if by less than one game, will probably surprise Mets fans who expected much more. One year earlier, of course, the Mets won 101 games; this year they won 75.

The season represented Eppler’s first, and as it turned out only, opportunity to run the Mets without direct oversight. He had been hired as general manager by team president Sandy Alderson following the 2021 season, and took over full responsibility when Alderson was named a senior advisor one season later.

Eppler, of course, resigned earlier this month shortly after Cohen named David Stearns as the team’s new president of baseball operations.

Given the freedom to act as he chose, Eppler chose to dive full bore into the free agent market. No fewer than 24 of the front office’s 66 personnel moves involved signing an available player or re-signing one to a multi-year deal.

Several of those decisions got headline attention, notably the three-year, $121 million contract given to Justin Verlander, and the signing of Japanese star Kodai Senga through 2028 for $90 million.

And in that limited but important realm, Eppler succeeded. His 24 free agent signees generated +5.3 WAA for the 2023 Mets, Senga and Verlander accounting for +4.5 of that +5.3.

The Mets’ problem involved the lack of attention given to the two other most important talent acquisition areas, trades and farm system development.

Eppler worked the trade market with only slightly less vigor than free agency. He acquired 13 new faces to Queens in transactions with other teams. However, the net impact of those 13 measured -0.7 WAA.

The Mets system, meanwhile, proved to be a borderline disaster. Eight 2022 farmhands got the call at one point or another in 2023, but only one of them (lightly used starter José Butto) generated a positive value. Butto had a 3.64 ERA in seven starts in brief April, May, August and September appearances.

But elsewhere the results were pretty desultory. Brett Baty got the call at third base when a higher-priced veteran flopped, but Baty only hit .212. Mark Vientos got 233 plate appearances, mostly as a DH behind Daniel Vogelbach, and batted .211. Between them, Baty and Vientos were a -3.8 WAA millstone around the necks of the Mets.

Here’s the full short-term and long-term statistical profile on the 2023 performance of the Eppler front office. Again, all figures reflect group Wins Above Average.

Acquired by trade, waiver claim or purchase:

  • Since October 2022, 13 players, -0.7 net impact
  • Prior to October 2022, 1 player, -0.8 net impact

Signed as a free agent or extended for multiple seasons:

  • Since October 2022, 26 players, +5.3 net impact
  • Prior to October 2022, 4 players, -0.8 net impact

System products:

  • Since October 2022, 8 players, -5.3 net impact
  • Prior to October 2022, 0 players, 0 net impact

Traded away, waived, sold, released or lost to free agency

  • Since October 2022,  21 players, +1.3 net impact
  • Prior to October 2022, 9 players, +5.8 net impact

The route going forward for the Mets is yet to be determined. For Eppler, the two seasons he spent running the team represent his second less-than-satisfactory experience. He ran the Angels from 2016 through 2020, seasons in which that team never played .500 ball and never qualified for postseason.

Eppler’s own contributions to the problems in Anaheim involved running up a negative short-term WAA impact for his various decisions four times in those five years. With that track record, it will be interesting to see which team gives him another chance, and with what portfolio.

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