Break The Mets?

A year ago tonight, the Mets hosted the San Diego Padres in a must-win wild card game where Jacob de Grom summoned enough talent and grit to tough out a victory that proved to be his last in a Mets uniform.  The Mets are nowhere to be found on the field as this year’s Elite Eight starts off today, but, boy, are they in the news.  In spades.

Three days after the David Stearns era was ushered in, with Buck Showalter being shown the door, his projected partner in analytical crime Billy Eppler “resigned”, and as SNY’s Alex Smith reported, one of the biggest–and I mean literally biggest–reasons many cited by hardcore fans as a reason for Showalter’s fall from grace, Daniel Vogelbach was cited, with Eppler revealed to the reason why Buck was so stuck:

Vogelbach slashed .233/.339/.404, and while his on-base clip was above the league average of .320, he failed to hit for much power, ending the season with 13 home runs in 319 plate appearances.

But even when Vogelbach was struggling, he still seemed to be a mainstay in the lineup, appearing as the team’s DH in 78 games, by far the most of any player on the roster (Mark Vientos is next up at 34 games).

Now there appears to be more clarity on exactly why this was the case.

According to Mike Puma of the New York Post, now-former manager Buck Showalter “met resistance” from now-former general manager Billy Eppler when wanting to use different DH options against right-handed pitching.

Showalter “was told he had to play Vogebach,” a source told Puma.

We’ve also previously written about Vogelbach’s close ties to Pete Alonso, so perhaps there was a bit more in Eppler’s mind than mere numbers.  But whatever it was, it was minor compared to what else had apparently been going on.  As THE NEW YORK TIMES’ Michael S. Schmidt and Ken Belson reported yesterday, other examples of Eppler’s manipulation skill sets caught someone’s attention:

Major League Baseball…is investigating whether the Mets’ front office cheated by putting healthy players on the injured list.  The investigation into the Mets began when an anonymous whistle-blower sent the commissioner’s office a letter that said the team’s general manager, Billy Eppler, had put at least one player on the injured list this year even though the player was not injured.

The commissioner’s office does not know who sent the letter. Among the possibilities is one of the Mets’ trainers, according to one of the people familiar with the matter. At least one of the trainers is said to have acknowledged to others this season that he was concerned that the team was breaking the rules because a player who was healthy was put on the injured list, according to the person.

Were this the extent of the alleged implications, Eppler being run out of Flushing on a rail might have been enough to satisfy even the most red meat-rabid Mets fans facing a long title-less winter for the 37th consecutive year.  But as Schmidt and Belson continued, there’s an even bigger target that’s apparently in trouble, too:

Major League Baseball…will examine whether the team’s owner, Steven A. Cohen, knew or should have known if his team was breaking the rules, according to two people familiar with the matter.

The investigation — which will look at a range of individuals, from trainers to baseball operations personnel — will put the conduct of Mr. Cohen’s team under scrutiny three years after he bought the Mets for about $2.3 billion. Four years earlier, he walked away largely unscathed from a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation in which he was accused of failing to properly monitor an employee of his hedge fund who went to prison for insider trading.

Mets’ fans boards on Facebook are rife with conspiracy theories that extend far beyond this report, citing frustration from other owners whose profit margins have been compromised by Cohen’s insatiable desire to give the team he loved as a rich kid from Great Neck another title.  Cohen threw more than $200 million at a whole lot of high-risk veterans, most notably Cy Young veterans Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander, combined age 78, who spent a good deal of time injured or ineligible while in New York and were both cast aside at the trading deadline when it became obvious to all but the most blindly faithful denizens that there would be no post-season action in 2023.  That is, for the Mets, since Verlander is starting Game 1 for Houston this afternoon against Minnesota and Scherzer is hoping to see action in Texas’ series with Baltimore.  With Cohen covering quite a bit of these players’ salaries.

And ardent Mets fans are particularly sensitive about Cohen as he was seen as a savior when he took over the team from the inept Wilpon regime during the pandemic.  Save for those billions, I’m pretty sure he and I would be buds.  He’s a geeky Jewish guy named Steve who loves the Orange and Blue.  I’ve read dozens of posts from passionate fans that have trumpeted his accessibility, as well as that of his family, to the Citi Field crowds, even as this disappointing year unfolded.

We wouldn’t be inclined to let the kind of accusations that Schmidt and Belson cited about how Cohen made his money get in the way.  We endured a couple of Brooklyn Dodger-worshipping schmucks who trusted Bernie Madoff, remember?

But if any of the financial implications of Eppler’s ineptness that have been pointed out in the same article are accurate, that’s a horse of a different color:

Declaring healthy players to be injured may not have as direct an impact on a game as, say, stealing catcher’s signals to their pitchers. But it can have a significant impact on a team’s ability to retain players. Each team has a set number of players it can keep control of during the season. But if a team puts healthy players on the injured list, it increases the number of healthy players it can carry without having to part ways with them or allow other teams to claim them.

Putting healthy players on the injured list can also have implications for whether they achieve bonuses for time spent on the field or reach certain performance thresholds. Less playing time often leaves players with lower stats when they try to make an argument to teams in the future that they should be signed and paid more.

If that was a factor in allowing Eppler to keep Daniel Vogelbach around, that’s reason enough for me to support Rob Manfred demanding a few million from Cohen to atone for that sin.

Releasing Vogelbach and saving on his food tab might offset whatever such a fine could be.

All in all, it assures that the Mets will at least be winning the tabloid wars for the foreseeable future.  We haven’t even gotten into the free agent market, with supposed Shohei Ohtani-whisperer (and connection to coveted Japanese pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamato, cut from the same cloth as the Mets’ best 2023 signing, Kodai Senga) Eppler now out of the picture.   And depending upon how draconian Manfred may decide to be, we may see Uncle Steve lean even more heavily on those damn analytics than open his wallet.

Good Lord, those analytics might even convince Stearns to KEEP Vogelbach.

It’s gonna be a loooooooooooong winter.




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