The 2023 New York Mets season has been nothing short of disastrous. A 42-48 record at the all-star break is the last thing fans imagined following what felt like a magical 2022 season, and this rough time has caused some Mets fans to call for key personnel to lose their jobs.
Billy Eppler is a prime example of someone that I'd guess a majority of the fan base wants to see scapegoated. It's always easy to blame the general manager or manager for the team's struggles, but sometimes it's good to dig a bit deeper.
When going over the things that happened this offseason, I feel like the obvious conclusion is that the players simply have to play better. If anything, I'd make the argument that Eppler actually had a good (but not perfect) offseason.
Contrary to popular belief, NY Mets GM Billy Eppler actually had a good offseason
Let's start with the big fish. The Mets signed Justin Verlander to a two-year deal worth $86.6 million. It has a vesting option for another $35 million for the 2025 season. Verlander essentially got the contract Scherzer signed the year before, just with slightly different terms when it comes to the third year.
Coming off a Cy Young Award, expectations were sky-high for Justin Verlander this season, and I think everyone would agree he hasn't met them. A 3.60 ERA isn't good enough, and he's had too many starts in which he's looked uncompetitive out there. 12 starts in one half obviously is less than ideal as well, as he did miss a month with injury.
My question here is who exactly did you want the Mets to sign to help anchor the rotation? Carlos Rodon just made his first start of the season last week with the Yankees. Jacob deGrom won't throw another pitch this season and will likely miss all of next. Did you want someone like Chris Bassitt as the best pitcher the Mets brought in? The answer is no, and Verlander having an ERA of 1.00 in his last three starts tells me he could have a big second half.
Other players he's brought in have had huge seasons. Where would the Mets be without Tommy Pham, arguably their best hitter? Their two best relievers, Brooks Raley and David Robertson, were acquired this offseason, one via trade and the latter in free agency. The Mets ace this season has unquestionably been Kodai Senga, another player Eppler inked this past offseason. These guys are among the best players on a team that won 101 games a year ago.
The main reason this team has struggled so much is because the key contributors from last year's team have underwhelmed drastically with the exceptions being guys like Brandon Nimmo and Francisco Lindor.
Pete Alonso has hit a bunch of home runs but since the Mets improved to 14-7 on April 21, he's put up an ugly .180/.286/.432 slash line in 61 games. The injury impacted him for sure, but that's over two months of poor production right there. Jeff McNeil has a .659 OPS, Starling Marte is at .644. Those two were all-stars just last season with McNeil winning the batting title!
Even looking at other players like Adam Ottavino who went from a dominant set-up man to a shell of himself. Did anyone dislike that deal when it was signed? David Peterson and Tylor Megill went from reliable depth arms to unusable minor leaguers, (although Peterson has been better since returning to the majors).
Eppler went wrong in two areas. One, leaving the DH situation the way it was. There's no defending that. Two, refusing to sign another arm trying to use optionable relievers. It's a sound strategy if those optionable relievers are any good, but the Jeff Brigham's and Denyi Reyes' of the world are not.
Even with the poorly constructed bullpen, Eppler's task of building a competent one, especially after Edwin Diaz went down, was virtually impossible with any usable reliever not named Drew Smith hitting the open market. Had Diaz been healthy, Raley, Robertson, and Diaz ending games would be quite good.
The guys Eppler brought in have mostly been great. The Mets wouldn't stand a chance had he not brought in guys like Pham, Robertson, and Raley.