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Carroll’s Column: Massive Changes Continue in Queens for Mets

Mets shortstop Francisco Lindor and third base coach Joey Cora - Image Credit: George Napolitano/Latino Sports

NEW YORK — A changing of the guards in Queens. As the New York Mets began their 2023-2024 offseason last week, the franchise made massive changes in multiple front office departments and at the managerial role — a shake up in the organization from the top-down. 

When news filtered out that David Stearns would be the new Mets president of baseball operations, the conventional wisdom was Billy Eppler would remain as the team’s general manager and he would report to Stearns.    

David Stearns, new Mets president of Baseball Operations – Image Credit: SNY

The two were reported to be close, both professionally and socially. Billy Eppler was seated in the front row at last Monday’s press conference where Mets CEO Steve Cohen formally introduced Stearns as his baseball right-hand man. All of which made Eppler’s resignation three days later as a surprise.     

On Thursday, hours before his resignation, reports surfaced that Major League Baseball was investigating allegations Eppler had improperly used the injured list. Team general managers in all sports have long used injured lists as a way of preventing sending players down to minor leagues or having to release them and risk rival teams signing them. On Friday, former Met and current SNY baseball analyst Todd Zeile concurred this was a minor infraction.      

Daniel Vogelbach – Image Credit: George Napolitano/Latino Sports

The day before, longtime New York Post Mets beat writer Mike Puma reported how Billy Eppler forced manager Buck Showalter to use Daniel Vogelbach as his designated hitter every day. The portly Vogelbach who was acquired by Eppler from the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for talented relief pitcher Colin Holderman who the Mets really could have used this year. Vogelbach could not play the field and was quite slow on the bases. He was taking up a valuable roster space.   

Even worse for Showalter, Vogelbach’s daily presence in the lineup prevented him from giving a day off in the field to stalwarts Pete Alonso and Francesco Lindor, but still be able to take advantage of their hitting. Vogelbach displayed occasional pop and was able to draw walks, but he was more of a liability than an asset to the Mets fortunes in both 2022 and 2023.      

Showalter, to his immense credit, never revealed he was being forced to play Vogelbach against his will. He wound up getting a lot of flak from fans and the media for his seeming refusal to use younger players, when in fact, it was Eppler and his staff who were making up the daily lineup. 

Mets former GM Billy Eppler and Buck Showalter – Image Credit: NY Post

Unlike most Mets fans, Buck never publicly complained about Eppler’s dubious trades which saddled him with automatic outs as Darin Ruf and Tyler Naquin. He also held his tongue at Eppler’s failure to acquire a quality relief pitcher after Edwin Diaz was lost for the entire 2023 season after injuring his leg in a Team Puerto Rico celebration at the World Baseball Classic. 

My feeling is the Mike Puma story was far more damaging to Billy Eppler than the rumored MLB investigation into his alleged misuse of the injured list. Either way, David Stearns did not want to start his tenure running the Mets having to deal with Eppler mishegas.

While his failures outnumbered his successes, Billy Eppler deserves credit for signing both Kodai Senga and Jose Quintana, who were the Mets best starting pitchers in 2023. He also signed outfielder Tommy Pham who became one of the tougher outs in the Mets lineup. 

Kodai Senga – Image Credit: Bill Menzel/Latino Sports

Aside from some bad personnel decisions, my biggest complaint about Eppler was he rarely made himself available to the media. His predecessors: Sandy Alderson, Brodie Van Wagenen, and Zack Scott frequently met with the press. They even enjoyed the give and take. I frequently joked with personable Philadelphia Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski that I see him more than I do Billy Eppler. “Where is Billy?” he would invariably reply.     

To be fair, I once ran into Eppler waiting for an elevator at Citi Field. He was friendly and a good conversationalist. He also has a stentorian voice which is reminiscent of legendary Los Angeles disc jockeys such as Charlie Van Dyke, and the late Robert W. Morgan. Despite having an impressive set of pipes, Eppler always appeared uncomfortable speaking to groups of reporters where he would stammer and not make eye contact. 

Pete Alonso – Image Credit: Simon Lindenblatt/Latino Sports

Mets first baseman Pete Alonso made no secret of his displeasure upon learning of the firing of Buck Showalter. His mood did not improve when David Stearns refused to say getting him signed to a long-term contract before he enters his 2024 walk year would be a priority at his press conference.

All those factors may have contributed to Alonso selecting Scott Boras to be his new agent. Steve Cohen has a good relationship with Boras, who is renowned for his hard-nosed negotiating. It is unlikely Alonso will sign a deal with the Mets during this off-season. He will likely follow Aaron Judge’s lead of signing a contract after he becomes a free agent. 

Steve Cohen meets with the media at Citi Field – Image Credit: Bill Menzel/Latino Sports

Speaking of free agents, former Milwaukee Brewers manager Craig Counsell will be one on November 1. The conventional wisdom is his old boss, David Stearns, would like him to be the next Mets manager. It should be noted the Brewers would like to rehire him, and Counsell is a Wisconsin native, and he is raising a family there. 

Evan Neal vs. NY Giants Fans, Never A Winning Strategy 

New York Giants offensive tackle Evan Neal has had a rough time protecting quarterback Daniel Jones this season. Not surprisingly, he has been hearing boos from some of the Giants faithful at MetLife Stadium and has gotten his share of barbs on social media.

Giants O-Lineman Evan Neal – Image Credit: Yahoo Sports

Last week he responded by lashing out at his detractors on X (formerly Twitter). Neal listened to the advice of the Giants communications department smartly. He quickly removed his tweet and proceeded to apologize for his curt reaction. Neal is 23 and was understandably hurt. Taking on fans, no matter how vile some of them are, is never a winning strategy. 

MGM+ set to partner with NFL Film for third season of NFL Icons

The streaming service and cable network, MGM+ (formerly known as Epix), is partnering again with NFL Films, a third season of its documentary series, “NFL Icons.” The new season begins October 21 with Jim Brown, who passed away last May, being profiled. These are likely the last interviews Brown ever provided. Others who will be the subject of “Icons” are former Pittsburgh Steelers head coach and current CBS Sports NFL analyst Bill Cowher, former Chicago Bears linebacker Mike Singletary, and Hall of Fame former safety Charles Woodson. 

Moonlighting stream now available on Hulu

The terrific 1980s television action comedy, “Moonlighting,” which starred Cybill Shepherd, and made a household name of then-newcomer Bruce Willis, has begun streaming on Hulu.     

Television Industry Returns Back to Normal? 

The end of the Writers Guild Association is great news for the New York television industry. NBC’s “The Tonight Show” starring Jimmy Fallon, and “Late Night with Seth Meyers,” along with CBS’s “The Late Show” hosted by Stephen Colbert returned last Monday. “Saturday Night Live” comes back this Saturday, October 14. On the daytime side of things, CBS’s “The Drew Barrymore Show” returned this week, while NBC’s “Kelly Clarkson Show,” has relocated from Los Angeles and it starts taping next week.

You can read more of Lloyd Carroll’s columns posted weekly on The Queens Chronicle.

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