BILLY EPPLER PRESS CONFERENCE
The New York Mets introduced Billy Eppler, the team’s new general manager, at a virtual press conference today.
Eppler served as the Los Angeles Angels General Manager (2015-2020). Over his five-year tenure in Los Angeles, Eppler’s teams never finished over .500. His tenure was highlighted by the signing of Shohei Ohtani in 2017. Prior to that, Eppler spent 12 seasons with the New York Yankees (2004-2015).
BILLY EPPLER PRESS CONFERENCE EXCERPTS
You’ve got Sandy Alderson, Billy Eppler and owner Steve Cohen all available to you. We are going to begin with the first question coming from Steve Gelbs.
Steve Gelbs: My first questions for Billy. This is obviously a roster that over the last number of years has been expected to compete and for some reason just hasn’t met those high expectations. When you look at this group, what are the areas that you feel you really do need to address this off season?
Billy Eppler: As far as our approach for this off season, we want to tackle the free agent market as well as the trade market. We want to look for opportunities it’s evident that we’re going to have some resources behind us, so I don’t think anything eliminates itself at the outset here.
I look at the roster and definitely want to address the pitching … and just really want to reinforce, you know, the overall depth. We also are going to entertain things in the outfield and entertain things in the infield. But after this call I’m going to connect with the senior baseball operations group. I want to hear from them like what they think and what ideas they have to hit the ground running this afternoon. But I think you could walk away from this, knowing that we’re going to be aggressive. We’re going to attack the pitching, infield and outfield.
Steve Gelbs: I have one more for you. Last year after you went through this process for the first time, you said you were somewhat surprised at how difficult it was to find some people for the front office specifically, for the president of baseball operations. What was your takeaway from the process this go round? Did you expect to have similar pushback or did the difficulties catch you a bit off guard again?
Sandy Alderson: When you say pushback, I think there are lots of reasons why people decide that they’re not available. They’re comfortable where they are … wives and kids are at a certain age when they don’t want to move or coming out of COVID … People just are still a little bit uncomfortable at this point. That’s understandable. Let’s not forget that there are contracts, right? I mean, when I give somebody a contract, I expect them to honor it too.
Bill Ladson: What kind of manager are you looking for? Are you looking for a guy who has analytics thinking or he’s old school?
Billy Eppler: I’d love to find somebody that checks every single box — is great in all areas. But it’s interesting that you bring it up because over this past year just learning and reading and rethinking some of the ways that you approach things, I wanted to be able to sit down with the senior baseball ops group and then sit down with Steve and Sandy and collectively talk about what kind of criteria we think might be important for next manager. Do you value, for example, tactical and game management as your primary criteria? Do you value analytics, or do you manage by the ability to connect with the media and the fan base? Clubhouse culture? Do you want somebody that coached in the minor league, for example? That’s critical. I want to make sure I collect all the thoughts and then at that point start to develop a candidate. I have my own feeling on that but I’d rather pull back on giving exactly what that criterion is at this moment in time.
Bill Ladson: I have one more question. How do you change the culture in the clubhouse and on the field?
Billy Eppler: When you have an environment where people feel that they can be vulnerable with each other, where they feel that they can trust one another, that there’s almost like this element of psychological safety where you’re not afraid to speak your mind and you know that if you do speak your mind, that there’s not going to be any repercussions … I think as you create that culture and people start to feel more comfortable as they move.
Deesha Thosar: Both you (Steve Cohen) and Sandy have stated a commitment to changing the culture. With all due respect to Billy, he ran an organization that brought in Mickey Calloway and saw a high ranking employee indicted for providing opiates to players. So how do you just sort of reconcile the two? And is it something that you’ve talked about with Billy?
Steve Cohen: We’ve done our due diligence … We’ve vetted it in multiple ways. We spoke to a lot of people that were around the organization at that time. We spoke to people within baseball and we’re incredibly comfortable with Billy and his decision-making and ethics and his intention.
Question: With a lockout looming, we’ve seen some push in the industry already to get some players signed. Do you feel that you have to kind of get moving on some player acquisitions? Can the manager higher weight, you know, because you are looking at a situation where there could be a transaction freeze.
Billy Eppler: Last night I was starting to get a lot of texts from agents and I responded saying you’ll hear from me today. I’m going to plug right into that … engaging with those guys again on their players. As far as the manager process, I don’t expect it to be done overnight or even be done in the next week. But starting to have those conversations and carve out time each day to meeting a candidate. I think it’d be done simultaneously.
Ed Coleman: You come from scouting background and analytics are becoming much more important in the game, how do you weigh AI test as an evaluator, uh, with, you know, the numbers that you’re provided with every day and, and to try to get the right plan.
Billy Eppler: When we’re looking at an evaluation on a on a player we’re going to take every angle and kind of walk 360 degrees around that player. There’s many elements that you can gather and glean from a player that are not picked up via analytics platform … but ultimately, watching how a player responds and how a player behaves to certain game situations, how their body reacts to things. Those elements can never be incorporated via the analytics platform. One of my mentors — Gene Michael – was very instrumental in teaching me and growing me. Just outside of the traditional qualitative assessment where you talk about hit and hit for power and run and field throw, etc. … He really taught me about trying to evaluate a players, concentration, and focus. I’ve used this comparison a number of times that he would look at like hitters and try to see how they were approaching or how they looked in the on-deck circle and then how their body perhaps reacted to pitches or how an infielder moved. So when I say out in field or moved, I’m not just talking about how quick they move, but how soon they move or an angle that they take to the ball. Taking those qualitative assessments and finding a way to formalize them, put them down on paper and then integrate them with some of the information that you’re getting that’s more quantitative based … When you can really put all of that together and then spit out a projection for a player that’s when you feel that you have all the tools at your disposal.
Justin Toscano: Throughout the last decade, as you worked your way up through baseball, what was your perception of the Mets from afar?
Billy Eppler: My perception of the Mets was an organization that had this rabid fan base and wanted to see their club do great things and for reasons that happen in a lot of places, your depth gets challenged. Personally, that’s one of my bigger takeaways over the last 10 years in baseball is that importance of depth … when that is tested and you don’t have places to turn it’s just not easy to go execute a trade – especially when the news gets out that you might have a hole on your roster. All of a sudden the supply and demand trade off definitely takes effect.
Justin Toscano: Your conversations with Billy throughout the process, what struck you most about his vision?
Steve Cohen: We’re dealing with someone with a vast array of experiences. He’s a pro. He knows a lot about the game, he’s worked under some really good people and so we were just impressed by his communication skills, his knowledge of the game. I think he brings a lot of different skill sets to the table and I think that’s what this organization needed.