NEW YORK -- Before the Mets even made Billy Eppler’s hiring official, agents from around baseball began texting the new general manager about their free-agent clients. Eppler took little time in responding.
Already seven weeks into the offseason, the Mets recognize that their lengthy GM search made the rest of their winter priorities a touch more difficult. So, Eppler made a point of getting right to work, trying to catch up to other teams around baseball that have had complete front offices for weeks.
“We have a sizable list of things to do right now, from a managerial hire to coaching staff hires to free agency and [the] trade market,” Eppler said last week on his introductory conference call. “We’re going to kick it into high gear.”
The process has already begun as the Mets look to tick off several of the aforementioned tasks.
1. Find a manager
Logically speaking, this is the next item on the Mets’ to-do list, though it’s not necessarily the one that will happen first. Just as they underwent an exhaustive GM search, the team intends to take its time hiring the right manager, with all the vetting that the process entails. The way Eppler sees it, the managerial search is a task he will spend time on every day, but not one that will consume him fully.
“I don’t expect it to be done overnight or even be done in the next week,” Eppler said. “But starting to have those conversations and carving out time each day to meet a candidate, I think [that] can be done simultaneously.”
When asked what sorts of traits he values in a manager, Eppler demurred, saying he first wanted to canvas New York’s other front office executives to ascertain their views. In an ideal world, Eppler added, “I’d love to find somebody that checks every single box and is great in all areas.” But Eppler did drop at least one hint, calling it “critical” that the Mets find a manager with an “ability to connect with the media and the fan base.”
Popular names around the baseball landscape include Brad Ausmus and Joe Espada, though Eppler’s list of candidates is likely to include many more names than those. Only once that process is complete will the Mets begin filling out their dugout staff, which currently includes only pitching coach Jeremy Hefner.
2. Sift through free agents
Already, the Mets have watched Eduardo Rodríguez, Justin Verlander and, yes, their own free agents Noah Syndergaard and Aaron Loup sign elsewhere. The pace of early free agency has been frenetic, but until making an offer to Steven Matz this week before he agreed to a deal with the Cardinals, the Mets had yet to be seriously involved.
That should change soon, particularly for a club focused on overhauling its pitching. Significant questions surround every returning rotation member, giving the Mets incentive to chase free agents from around the game -- Matz, Marcus Stroman, Kevin Gausman, Robbie Ray and plenty of others.
In the outfield, the Mets will need to acquire at least one player to replace Michael Conforto -- if not Conforto himself, then perhaps Kris Bryant, Nick Castellanos, Starling Marte or Seiya Suzuki. Bryant could also fit snugly at third base, where the Mets would love to upgrade from J.D. Davis.
If there’s a theme here, it’s that the team plans to shop at the top of the market to fill its areas of need. Eppler indicated that the Mets are more likely to spend money than they are to give up significant prospects in trades, which is the obvious strategy considering owner Steve Cohen’s deep pockets.
However, it remains to be seen how willing the Mets might be to sign free agents who would cost them Draft-pick compensation (generally, a team's second selection in a Draft). The team is in a unique position with pick Nos. 11 and 14 in the upcoming Draft because it did not sign top pick Kumar Rocker last year. As a result, the cost to sign a player with Draft-pick compensation attached would be higher for them -- No. 14 overall -- than for other teams.
“We want to look for opportunities,” Eppler said. “In my dialogue with Steve and with Sandy [Alderson], 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.”
3. Fill out the front office
This may not be something the Mets address this winter. But eventually, the team is going to want to define its front-office structure more clearly.
Upon hiring Eppler, team president Sandy Alderson said he will stay involved in baseball operations as a resource, but that he expects his role to diminish over time. Assistant GMs Ian Levin and Bryn Alderson also figure to maintain significant influence in the front office, along with analytics head Ben Zauzmer and others. The Mets have no shortage of bodies in-house to complete their list of offseason priorities, and they’ve been on an analytics department hiring spree for the better part of three years.
More hiring should occur in time. A year from now, the Mets could appoint a president of baseball operations over Eppler. They could also elevate Eppler to that job title, or simply keep things as they are now. In the latter scenario, the Mets would likely empower Eppler to bring in scouts and assistants of his own choosing.
These are answers that will shake out only in time; for now, the more pressing issues revolve around preparing the roster and coaching staff for 2022.