The Mets finally have a general manager, and Billy Eppler touched all the bases during a nearly one-hour introductory Zoom news conference on Friday.
But the most important thing said was by owner Steve Cohen, who uttered something that should make every Mets fan swoon: The Mets are going to be big spenders this offseason.
Big, big spenders.
"Our budget today without even signing anybody's already at $185 million or so," Cohen said. "So if we're going to find the right type of talent it’s going to probably be either trades with other clubs or free agents. We don't really have a lot in our farm to supplement what we need, so it's going to require probably spending. And that's what's going to happen.
"I’ve let Billy know that I'm willing to -- for the right deals and the right free agents – to go and get the players we need. We want to be competitive, right? We want to win our division and be in the playoffs and get deep into the playoffs. Right? So we've got to field the team that has the ability to do that, and so I've let Billy and [team president] Sandy [Alderson] know that it's whatever they need."
Cohen spent his first year as owner trying to prove these aren’t the Wilpon Mets anymore. He had minimal success as the team finished with a losing record, fired its general manager and then acting general manager because of embarrassing offfield incidents, and seemed to continue the same sort of disfunction that occurred under the previous ownership (which Cohen referred to as "underfunded" on Friday).
The perception of dysfunction continued through the search that ended with Eppler in the GM chair. The Mets first tried for the second straight offseason to hire a new head of baseball operations to replace Alderson. When that failed again, the Mets pivoted and hired Eppler, a former Yankees executive who was the GM of the Los Angeles Angels from 2016 to 2020 and never had a winning record in five seasons there.
Theories abounded as to why the Mets had so much trouble finding someone to take either job. One selling point had to have been Cohen’s checkbook, and the richest owner in baseball’s stated willingness to use it this offseason had to be music to Eppler’s ears.
"In the conversations with Steve and getting a sense to understand our resources, we’ll be able to take a little bigger swings in free agency," Eppler said. "I don’t think anything’s ruled out right now. That’s going to provide a little more operational runway to look at potentially a different class of player in free agency."
So dream big, Mets fans. Google the list of available free agents and think about the Mets’ needs (pitching is No. 1, Eppler said). And then look at high-priced players who might be available on the trade market. The Mets might be in on all of them.
Eppler, 46, took in the Zoom meeting from his California home. He said he was going to meet virtually with the rest of the front office on Friday as soon as his media obligations were over.
"We have a sizable list of things to do right now," he said, "from a managerial hire, to coaching staff hires to free agency and trade market. We're going to kick it into high gear."
Alderson said he expected his role to "diminish" over time, but he didn’t give Eppler the keys to the whole kingdom yet. Alderson said the Mets will decide in a year whether they want to start a third search for a president of baseball operations who would be brought in above Eppler. The new GM said he was OK with that.
"There's an opportunity here for a year at least," Alderson said, "to establish yourself to grow to the point where we may not even do a search a year from now for an additional person or an additional person above the general manager role."
Cohen said he expects to not be the one who picks the players because he has "a day job" as a hedge fund billionaire. He also said he plans to keep tweeting because "I think people like it. So why not keep going?"
Looming over all of this is a possible lockout of the players when the collective bargaining agreement expires on Dec. 1. If that happens, all business will be halted until the owners and players agree to a new contract, which could set off a mad signing scramble if a deal is reached just before spring training.