'It’s not a rebuild': Eppler talks Mets' direction

August 1st, 2023

This story was excerpted from Anthony DiComo’s Mets Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

Before taking questions at a media briefing following his trade of Max Scherzer last weekend, Mets general manager Billy Eppler offered some unprompted thoughts regarding the organization’s direction.

“I do want to be clear that it’s not a rebuild,” Eppler said with a fair bit of emphasis. “It’s not a fire sale. It’s not a liquidation. This is just a repurposing of [owner] Steve [Cohen’s] investment in the club, and kind of shifting that investment from the team into the organization.”

Essentially, Eppler’s message was that the Mets’ poor start changed the equation so thoroughly that prepping for 2024 and beyond became more valuable than trying as hard as possible to make a playoff run in 2023. This isn’t a rebuild in part because the Mets plan to invest in free agency again this winter, setting themselves up to be competitive next year.

The question is whether the Mets can achieve that goal without Scherzer. (The two other players the Mets have traded, David Robertson and Mark Canha, were due to be free agents anyway.)

Heading into next season, the lineup is likely to look similar, with Pete Alonso, Francisco Lindor, Brandon Nimmo, Jeff McNeil, Francisco Alvarez and Brett Baty at its core. Pitching is the area in which the Mets can not only supplement their roster, but will have to with Scherzer gone to Texas. Plenty of inventory exists on the free-agent market, including Shohei Ohtani, Julio Urías, Lucas Giolito, Eduardo Rodriguez, Blake Snell, Yoshinobu Yamamoto and others. The Mets will have little choice but to explore those options.

It may work. It may not. The Mets are still in the midst of what Cohen has called a “bridge” strategy to keep the team competitive until its farm system begins bearing enough fruit to make this a self-sustaining operation. Cohen is of course under no obligation to continue bridging; at any point, he could decide that free agency is not worth his money, given the difficulty of extracting value in that arena. It’s possible the Mets might even survey this winter’s marketplace, realize that most of the pitchers listed above will be seeking long-term eight- and nine-figure deals, and decide that’s not the best way to build the organization.

But as of right now, Cohen seems prepared to back up Eppler’s words -- “it’s not a rebuild” -- with additional spending.

“We don’t want to punt,” Eppler said. “We want to have a product that we feel good about and people can feel good about. We don’t want to endure long stretches of being bad.

“Free agency is not the market that we want to rely on to build a championship team. It’s the market that we want to use to enhance the team that we have, but we would rather go to that market for opportunities than necessity. We’re not there yet. That’s going to take a little time. And so we’re still going to have to invest through free agency.”

How the Mets specifically intend to be competitive in 2024 will depend in part on what else happens before Tuesday’s 6 p.m. ET Trade Deadline. But Eppler has made a promise to Mets fans that selling Scherzer doesn’t mean lowering future expectations.

It’s a message he delivered to his players as well: through a phone call with Lindor, a 35-minute pregame chat with Nimmo, and other conversations. In the short term, bridging is going to require quite a bit more of Cohen’s money. Longer term, ownership hopes that won’t be as necessary.