By MIKE FITZPATRICK
Updated: November 18, 2021 09:01 PM
Created: November 18, 2021 08:17 PM
NEW YORK (AP) - The New York Mets finally found a general manager, hiring Billy Eppler in a move announced Thursday night following their long and ridiculed search.
Eppler was fired as GM of the Los Angeles Angels a little more than a year ago after five unsuccessful seasons. But he landed the same position with the Mets after a recruiting process that became the butt of jokes while dragging on for more than six weeks since the 2021 season ended.
Eppler gets a four-year contract to become the 16th general manager in Mets history and their fifth head of baseball operations in 13 tumultuous months. He will be introduced by the team Friday via Zoom.
With an uncertain offseason already underway, his return to New York marks a major step toward restoring stability in the front-office structure under owner Steve Cohen and team president Sandy Alderson.
"I'm so thankful to Steve and Sandy for what I consider an opportunity of a lifetime," Eppler said in a statement. "We have a lot of work to do and will systematically begin to work towards our goal of building a perennial winner."
The 46-year-old Eppler was GM of the Angels from 2015-20, overseeing five straight losing seasons. The team went 332-376 (.469) under three managers, with a rotating cast of supporting players around Mike Trout and Albert Pujols.
Unable to provide enough pitching, an aggressive Eppler did land some big fish for Los Angeles with the help of owner Arte Moreno's checkbook. He lured two-way sensation Shohei Ohtani to the Angels and signed free agent third baseman Anthony Rendon to a $245 million, seven-year contract. Trout got a $426.5 million, 12-year deal.
"Billy has the experience, character, and respect of the baseball community that will allow him to attract the players and front office talent to lead the Mets forward," Cohen said. "He is a leader who has worked in two of baseball's biggest markets and his talents and personality will move us closer to my goal of sustained success."
Although the Angels didn't win much under Eppler, he boosted a previously barren farm system with several prospects now making an impact on the big league level, including All-Star slugger Jared Walsh, Brandon Marsh, Jo Adell and Reid Detmers.
"One of the most honest people I've met in this industry. Great talent evaluator," Angels manager Joe Maddon said of Eppler at the end of the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. "I'm certain he's going to land firmly on his feet."
Two months ago, Eppler joined WME Sports as part of their baseball representation.
"Over the past two decades, Billy has been a scout and an assistant GM. He's also more than familiar with the New York market. This uniquely qualifies him to lead our efforts going forward," Alderson said. "He's smart, he hustles and has a keen eye for identifying talent. He's going to make us better. I am really pleased that we have someone of his caliber leading the Mets."
Eppler graduated from the University of Connecticut in 1998 with a finance degree and worked in scouting and player development for the Colorado Rockies from 2000-04. After that he joined the New York Yankees and became a rising star in their front office. He was director of professional scouting from 2006-11 and an assistant GM under Brian Cashman from 2012-14.
Eppler will surely be busy right off the bat with the Mets, who have 11 players who became free agents and remain unsigned. The group includes infielder Javy Báez and starting pitcher Marcus Stroman. Right fielder Michael Conforto declined the team's $18.4 million qualifying offer Wednesday, and pitcher Noah Syndergaard left the Mets on Tuesday for a $21 million, one-year contract with the Angels.
Syndergaard had also received the $18.4 million qualifying offer from New York.
With a GM finally in place to direct the search, the Mets now will turn their attention to picking a new manager after Luis Rojas was let go Oct. 4 following two losing seasons.
Rojas was hired across town Monday as the Yankees' new third base coach.
Alderson, who turns 74 next week, has been running baseball operations since acting GM Zack Scott was placed on paid leave following his arrest in late August on charges of drunken driving. He was fired Nov. 1.
Scott was promoted to the role in January when Jared Porter was fired after fewer than 40 days on the job following revelations he sent sexually explicit text messages and images to a female reporter in 2016 while working for the Chicago Cubs.
Porter and Scott were hired last offseason after Alderson and Cohen failed in their search for a president of baseball operations. The club hit a similar roadblock this offseason and pivoted to GM again.
Alderson said several candidates were unable to get permission from their current clubs to interview for the job, while others declined because they were too comfortable personally or professionally where they are.
He said he was a little surprised by how many candidates had turned down the Mets. Largely, though, he thought New York itself was keeping people away.
"I don't want to give you a timeline," Alderson said last week at the general managers' meetings in California. "We've already blown through what most people would say is a reasonable timeline."
Alderson, whose son, Bryn, is an assistant general manager with the Mets, did not rule out the possibility that a president of baseball operations could be hired above the GM in a future offseason.
"Assuming we only hire one person, there will be at least a year runway for that person to demonstrate their ability and their potential," Alderson said. "I've said this to others in the past - that's the opportunity. That's all you can ask for. And demonstrated ability tends to get rewarded.
"If you're looking to be comfortable, this is probably not the place, the Mets are probably not the place to come," he added.
Alderson joked at the GM meetings that he'd interviewed so many candidates for the Mets job that "probably half the people are going to be here today."
Late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel also found humor in the situation, tweeting that "after much thought, I have decided to withdraw my name from consideration as GM of the @Mets."
AP Sports Writers Greg Beacham and Jake Seiner contributed to this report.
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