Mets general manager Billy Eppler speaks during a news conference...

Mets general manager Billy Eppler speaks during a news conference at Citi Field to announce the Mets' re-signing of Jeff McNeil on Jan. 31, 2023. Credit: Jeff Bachner

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — It’s popular GM-speak these days, when they're asked about a team’s title chances, to refer to October’s unpredictability and the perils of the short series come playoff time.

They’re not wrong.

But in the case of the Mets’ Billy Eppler, he doesn’t get to use that excuse. Not when he’s running a $374 million roster this season, by far the highest in baseball history and nearly $100 million more than the next-closest franchise, which just so happens to be that team in the Bronx. Like his former Yankees boss, Brian Cashman — a member for decades — Eppler has joined the exclusive World Series or Bust club.   

With every dollar owner Steve Cohen invests in this year’s team, the greater the pressure  that will be applied to Eppler, and there’s no sidestepping that reality.

The Mets are about to begin Season Three of Cohen’s three-to-five-year championship timeline, and judging by the checks he’s writing, the hedge-fund titan appears to be getting a little antsy after his 101-win team got bounced in the wild-card round last October.

When I asked Eppler about the heat that comes with such an exorbitant payroll and a renegade owner willing to spend mind-boggling money to win, he quickly cited a recent ESPN story that cited data suggesting the 2015 Dodgers and 2004 Yankees actually exceeded the base CBT threshold by a similar percentage rate (the 2023 Mets are $144M over the $230M base, according to FanGraphs calculations).

“We’re not exactly in new frontier,” Eppler said Saturday.

Maybe Eppler should have picked a better crowd to associate with. The 2015 Dodgers, you may recall, were bounced in the Division Series by the World Series-bound Mets. The 2004 Yankees continue to live in infamy for blowing a 3-0 ALCS lead over the Red Sox, who rode that wave to their first title in 86 years.

Those are two Octobers these Mets should hope to avoid at all costs, regardless of how random the universe may be. And when you’re buying players like baseball cards, you might as well embrace the Black Hat role. Cohen has no problem doing it, so there’s no need for Eppler to undersell the financial muscle they’re flexing in Queens.

GMs don’t like their success being attributed to merely paying for wins, but there’s no escaping that on these Mets, whose every move is viewed through the prism of Cohen’s billions.

And it sure beats the alternative. No team is better at doing more with less than the Rays, and they’ve won exactly zero titles (two World Series appearances) in the 25-year history of the Tampa Bay franchise. Cohen’s Mets will never be accused of doing things on the cheap, but there’s a price to pay for that in terms of accountability.

“With the payroll comes expectations, but we have high expectations for ourselves,” Eppler said. “So it’s nothing added. This team feels good about where they are . . .  We just kind of make it all about us. Not about the external circumstances or what the payroll is or anything.”

Ideally, that’s a sound strategy. But real life doesn’t work that way. You can’t separate the cost from the performance, and the 2023 Mets will rarely be mentioned without attaching their price tag in the same breath.

And if Carlos Correa’s ankle hadn't scared Cohen away, this  actually would be a $400 million club. Cohen — over a martini during his Hawaii vacation — agreed to give Correa a 12-year, $315 million contract, believing him to be the final piece of his championship puzzle. Had Correa passed the physical, the Mets would have invested nearly $800 million in players in the offseason, a number that implies no budget exists when acquiring talent.

To that end, Eppler was asked Saturday if it’s “difficult” to spend that much, with the perception that the Mets become defined by throwing money at everything.

“What you’re really trying to do is just fill out the roster,” Eppler said, “and the market’s going to dictate where you have to go with that. It’s something that we consider, something that we’re aware of, something that Steve and I talk about regularly. But ultimately, he made a commitment to the fans.

“He and [Cohen’s wife] Alex are completely supportive providing the resources for us to kind of do this Stage One of our blueprint while we build the underbelly here to where it’s satisfactory.”

That “underbelly” is the minor-league system, and Eppler refused to dip into any of the Mets’ top 19 prospects at last year’s trade deadline in order to stay the course in building organizational depth. That’s resulted in Eppler leaning on Cohen — baseball’s richest owner — to purchase whatever the Mets need at the major-league level.

Again, there’s no need to apologize for it. The trick is to make that money do what it’s supposed to do — deliver a championship. And when you’re paying two aces with a combined age of 78 a total of $86.7 million this season, Cohen probably is looking to get that World Series ring sooner rather than later, closer to the three years of his pledge than the five.

“This team’s built to win,” Eppler said. “And we’re going to look to do that. I know that as opportunities arise, it’s my job to take every opportunity to Steve and walk through the calculus of that. Think about it probabilistically with him, and he thinks in probabilities. That’s an added benefit of working with him.”

That’s what the money’s for — to keep increasing the odds in the Mets’ favor, as much as a checkbook can do so. Now the challenge is to make sure it pays off.

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