Sunday, July 30, 2023

Mets GM Eppler On Scherzer Trade & How “It’s not a fire sale"

Mets General Manager Billy Eppler with the media on Sunday afternoon. Photo by Jason Schott.


On Sunday afternoon, the Mets' trade with the Texas Rangers, in which they sent one of their ace pitchers, Max Scherzer to Texas for top prospect Luisangel Acuna, became official.

Mets General Manager Billy Eppler had a press conference afterwards, and he said, "Regarding the Max trade, you know, kind of given the place we're in and the odds were facing, it was a strategic decision, and you know, we kind of took this opportunity to kind of serve another goal of the organization, which is to enhance the farm system, but I do want to be clear that it's not a rebuild, it's not a fire sale, it's not a liquidation. This is just a repurposing of Steve's investment in the club, and kind of shifting that investment from the team into the organization," referring to the owner, Steve Cohen.

The trade originally had been revealed on Saturday night, but there was a lot to it, starting with Scherzer waiving his no-trade clause to execute the trade. He also immediately exercised his option for 2024, the conclusion of the three-year deal he signed with the Mets, so he will receive $43.3 million next season. The Rangers will pay Scherzer $22.5 million, while the Mets will cover $35 million-plus, according to reports, which covers the remainder of this season and next.

Acuna, primarily a shortstop, will be assigned to Double-A Binghamton. He is the brother of Atlanta Braves superstar outfielder Ronald Acuna, Jr., so it's not hard to envision a day they'll be battling each other in a pennant race. Their father, Ronald Acuna, Sr., played in the Mets farm system.

Acuna, 21 years old, was ranked as the second-best prospect in the Rangers system by Baseball America. According to MLB Pipeline, he is the 44th-best prospect overall in Major League Baseball and third in the Texas system.

In 84 games with Double-A Frisco, Acuna hit .315 with seven home runs and 51 RBI, a .377 on-base percentage, a slugging percentage of .453, 114 hits, 42 stolen bases, 68 runs scored, 25 doubles, and two triples. In the Texas League, he ranked first in stolen bases and runs, second in hits, tied for second in doubles, and fourth in batting average. He is one of six players in the Minor Leagues to have at least 40 steals and an OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) of .800 or higher this season, as his is .830.

While billed primarily as a shortstop, Acuna also plays second base and center field, according to Baseball Reference, which is significant since current shortstop Francisco Lindor is in the second year of a 10-year, $341 million contract.

Scherzer won 20 regular season games in his nearly two seasons as a Met. He was on the mound last September 19 in Milwaukee when the Mets clinched a playoff spot, in what was also his 200th career victory. What will probably be remembered most, however, is what went on in the playoffs. He lost  Game 1 of the Wild Card round against San Diego, in which he allowed seven runs in 4 2/3 innings, and the Padres went on to win the series. 

In his press conference, Eppler addressed more of the ramifications on this trade, as well as the trade of closer David Robertson to Miami on Thursday night, and the path going forward:

On how much further he is open to going at the trade deadline: "I mean, we're going to listen, but our price points are high. You know, we have valuations on our existing personnel and, you know, the bar's high to meet it, but we are willing, in certain circumstances, to use Steve's investment, and kind of repurpose that investment, to serve the larger goal, which is to build a championship organization. You know, the other day, I was talking a little bit about how you try to build a championship at the same time you're trying to build a championship organization, and you're trying to serve both of those masters, and when circumstances arise, you want to kind of embrace your reality and make the best, you know, be at your best, regardless of your circumstances, so we used this opportunity to, you know, bring a player into the organization we're extremely excited about that's close to the big leagues, talent that you can't access and, you know, generally with clubs that are going to go through a rebuild, you have to endure five, six, seven years of losing, and we don't have the appetite for that. We're not going to do that, and so, what we want to do is use Steve's investment and enhance this farm system and get us to our larger goal."

On how the balance of a big payroll at the Major League level while stocking the farm system worked last season, but didn't this year, and how they came to make the decision to be "sellers" at this trade deadline: "Where the odds were for this season, but that doesn't mean we're punting 2024, okay, you know, we're going to have a competitive team. Like I said, we just don't want to endure long stretches of being bad and that's not going to be satisfying to anybody, and so Steve's made the investment. He wants an elite farm system; he's articulated that, you know, I've regurgitated that goal and shared that goal, and that's what we're after.

On possibly still trading big pieces from this roster, while also being competitive next season: "Hard to say, that's hard to say. We just have to listen and see."

On spending money to get a prospect, and how you put a dollar value on that: "Generally, there's, you know, the closer the players are to the big leagues, the higher the premium. There's certain information out there in the public space that talks about valuing prospects and how you value them, and we have some internal models that our analytics group and our player personnel group collaborate on to build those evaluations, and what we just try to do is have a multiplier on the money that we're sending and is that 2X, 3X, and try to find that price within the organization that we're having dialogue with, and if it doesn't happen, it doesn't happen, and we keep the player."

On taking even more advantage of this opportunity to shed payroll and bring in prospects: "But we don't want to punt...We want to have a product that we feel good about and people can feel good about. So, like I said, we don't want to endure long stretches of being bad, okay, we want to invest in the Major League team and when the circumstances are what the circumstances are, we want to be opportunistic, so that's what we're after, and in same cases, we want to invest where the greatest returns are, and that's kind of been a mission for how we kind of think about allocating resources.

On how this season played out and how what they learned will inform the type of player they search for in the future: "You know, I think we've said, you know, probably starting in mid-May that we were a little disappointed with where we are, and then said it again in June, said it again in early July, and you know, just couldn't get the consistency kind of clicking with all of the three components, whether that's the lineup, starting pitching, or the bullpen, and, you know, in the bullpen's case, look, we obviously that took an enormous hit early even before the starting bell even rang (referring to Edwin Diaz's injury in the World Baseball Classic), but another is we had some situations where the performance just wasn't consistent enough for us to be able to deliver like we delivered in the previous season, and so it put us in these circumstances, and like I said, we just want to make the best of circumstances that we're in."

On if the Mets will be as active in the free agent market as they were the past two offseasons: "I don't think we'll be walking in to 2024 with the same preseason odds that we did in 2022, 2023, you know, I've talked with a number of you either on record or just standing around the field at spring training, and one of the things we like to look at is, you know, take the Vegas look, take what you guys say, take your predictions, and really kind of source that through the public channels to get a sense of, like, 'okay, how good do people think we are?, 'how good do we think we are?,' let's get an outside view and crowdsource that outside view, and so, that was putting us at certain win projections and, you know, I don't know if we're walking in with the exact same odds, but like I said, we're going to take pride in, you know, how we go about the game, how we play the game, how we look on the field."

On building a championship team through free agency: "Steve said it, I said it, you know, free agency is not a market we want to rely on to build a championship team. It's a market that we want to use to enhance the team that we have, but we would rather go that market for opportunities rather than necessities."

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