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Mudville: May 25, 2024 9:40 am PDT

The best thing about a second chance is the clean slate

Billy Eppler and the Mets are in desperate need of a second chance.

The Mets are in Second Chance Heaven.

Eppler’s first shot as a GM was an absolute disaster with the Angels even with the signing of Shohei Ohtani, who basically signed himself to the Angels. Mike Trout’s talent has been wasted, you know the rest of the story.

Eppler has a lot to prove and so does the owner Steve Cohen, who is entering second and third chance territory with the Mets after only one season of being the guy who replaced Jeff Wilpon.

I was in on the original Zoom Call in November of 2020 when Cohen laid out his grand plan for the Mets, the “three to five-year championship’’ window and all that stuff about wanting to be the Dodgers.

It was all words because the reality was pretty much a disaster.

Imagine instead that first day if Cohen had simply said what was going to actually happen with his team. Imagine if it were somehow a magical Reality Zoom Call.

It would start with something like: “Hey, devoted Mets fans who have lost all hope, I’m going to give you Jared Porter to lead the Mets out of the darkness …’’

Who, Steve?

“And then when that fails, I will give you Zack Scott!’’

Who is that?

“Then when Scott gets busted for DUI and is no longer welcome on the Mets staff I will take on a world wide search for the best candidate to run this team, your team. In the meantime, Ian Levin and Bryn Alderson will be promoted to assistant GMs to help run the show.”

The essential truth of baseball is nothing is promised. You can make all the plans in the world and dreams may not come to. It is a game of talent, desire, health and luck. Personalities have to mesh and a team has to come together.

Again, who? What?

“Then after the world-wide search is complete, I will name failed Angels GM Billy Eppler, former Yankees assistant GM, as our new fearless leader.’’

What? Wait? Are we being punked?

Imagine if Steve Cohen had somehow said all that, the Reality Zoom Call the Mets would become, on that first day.

No one would have believed it. But, yes, it all became Mets reality.

And this is not a cheap shot. As a wise baseball man told me so long ago about the game: Truth is stranger than fiction.

That is more true today than ever before in the game.

The poorly played games are endless. Base-running is a lost art, as is contact hitting. Starting pitchers are out of the game before you can blink an eye but they are still being paid like $21 million a year even if they hadn’t pitched in a year or two and are coming off Tommy John surgery.

More on all that later in Baseball or Bust.

No, if I really wanted to take a cheap shot at the Mets and their owner I would also have Cohen say: “And as for players I will overpay tremendously for a shortstop who will start a revolt against the fans by orchestrating a thumbs down movement amongst the players.’’

But I would never do that.

The reason I bring all of this out is because I want to help Steve Cohen.

I want him to be a good owner for the Mets. I want the Mets to succeed. I want the Mets to challenge the Yankees. I want “Once Upon a Time in Queens,’’ to be more than a long ago fairy tale.

I want the Mets fans to be proud of their team after years and years and years of being a laughing stock. I really do. I want Billy Eppler to be better than he was with the Angels. I knew Billy long ago with the Yankees, a nice guy who had the benefit of the late Gene Michael to guide him along baseball’s winding road.

I know Billy can’t be worse than he was with the Angels, but some would have you believe it was the owner’s fault Arte Moreno or Joe Maddon’s fault or before that Mike Scioscia’s fault.

Actually, it was all Billy Eppler’s fault.

But that is the great thing about failing. You can learn from your mistakes and Steve Cohen will enable Eppler to have enough money to out-spend some of his mistakes now, a huge benefit that is given to the likes of Eppler’s old boss Brian Cashman with the Yankees.

Billy Eppler.

It’s time for some reality Steve. Step back and look at what a mess your team has become under your ownership, and then and only then, you can fix it. You and Billy.

You need more than Yes Men around you at the Mets.

You need to clean this mess up. As for the tweeting, keep tweeting I don’t care and I don’t think the players mind, either. The Mets have it easy now and so does every other major league team with the media no longer allowed in the clubhouse. The players have never been so off-limits as they are now, yet they still manage to get themselves in trouble with things like Thumbs Down 👎 Mets fans.

Before we go any further, let me help Steve and Billy a little. I don’t want to be negative. Like I said, I’m here to help.

Acquire starting pitching. As much as you can. The Mets could have done more to sign Noah Syndergaard. Think back to all the little skirmishes Thor had with the Mets through the years. There clearly was a lack of trust there and in the end he bolted to the Angels for a few more million dollars and more sunshine.

The Braves beat you to the NL East title this season and then went on to win the World Series. Only if the Braves are stupid enough to lose Freddie Freeman will they then fall back and even the Braves can’t screw that up although Freeman should have been signed at the end of 2021 spring training.

I want Eppler to raise his pitching sights a little higher than the likes of some of his re-tread signings with the Angels like Matt Harvey, Trevor Cahill and Julio Teheran.

You see, that is the big problem. Eppler has not shown to be creative in the pitching market. Justin Verlander came off the board with his re-signing with the Astros on Wednesday. Every day the pitching mountain gets a little more difficult to climb. I would have gone hard after Verlander, but that ship has sailed.

Make a run for Robbie Ray who just won the AL Cy Young Award. Same goes for Kevin Gausman. Make a decision quickly on Marcus Stroman, Max Scherzer, too. Aim high.

I also think back to that wonderful day in Port St. Lucie not too long ago when the Mets starting rotation posed on the mound at the stadium for a group picture and I was there on the infield looking at them.

From left to right there was Bartolo Colon, Matt Harvey, a smiling Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler.

Steve Cohen.

That was the Mets pitching present and future. That was going to be championships. It shows how fickle this game can be and how the greatest of rotations could disappear. If one picture tells the story of the Mets it is that picture.

The essential truth of baseball is nothing is promised. You can make all the plans in the world and dreams may not come to. It is a game of talent, desire, health and luck. Personalities have to mesh and a team has to come together.

Some may see it as a sad picture. I prefer to see it as Team Reality checking in with baseball and the essential truth: You can never have too much starting pitching, even if these days they forbid you to go three times through the batting order.

Having said all that, it’s not that hard to make fixes to a team if you actually watch the games. I’m still amazed the Mets never talked to Brian Sabean or Dan O’Dowd or others, but it is what it is and for Cohen it is all about telling the story through numbers.

Again second chances are great, during his tenure with the Angels from 2016 season through 2020 with the Angels here are some numbers for Eppler: the Angels’ winning percentage from 2016 moving forward under Eppler: .457, .494, .494, .444, .433.

I’m no nerd, but I sense a downward trend.

The Mets posted a .478 winning percentage this past season and really had to work that hard to be that bad. They took it to a new level. It took a lot of bad baseball. I saw it.

Of course, most people in charge of baseball teams and their acolytes, spend a lot of time on the computer and breaking down numbers. They don’t watch games.

Just look how the Braves won the World Series, Mets. They made successful trades on the run.

But they also have coaches who actually coach and demand the best from their players, coaches like Ron Washington, who works day in and day out with the infielders to hone their skills. The Braves played great infield defense and that was a difference maker.

The Mets are into firing coaches. Hey, anybody can be a hitting coach, just look who the Orioles hired. Good luck to both Matt Borgschulte and Ryan Fuller. I will be curious to watch their progress. The Marlins just hired two good coaches, hitting coach Marcus Thames, former Yankees hitting coach, and third base/infield coach Al Pedrique. Perhaps Eppler will bring Buck Showalter in as manager. The Mets sure could use leadership.

New Angel Noah Syndergaard.

How about hiring good instructors, Mets.

Now a little bit more on the future of the game as promised earlier.

A couple of talent evaluators I know just got back from the Arizona Fall League and were appalled by the lack of instruction going on in that league. Players are not being pushed it’s another country club.

The lack of instruction is a major problem throughout baseball.

Coaches are being hired to read numbers to players, be their friends, and work on sequencing but not on the sweat equity end of the game or the “get your head out of your ass’’ end of the game as was once part of the demands of the coaching ticket.

So Steve, if you want to fix the Mets now that you have been around a year, hire instructors throughout your organization who actually instruct. Don’t look for shortcuts, look for coaches and instructors who actually work. I know that sounds a little simple-minded, but one of the big problems with baseball is the lack of baseball instruction.

Amazin’ isn’t it.

One talent evaluator said this about the Fall league All-Star Game: “All the right-handed pitchers have the same Driveline inspired straight up, short in the back, tremendous shoulder pressure deliveries. Dr. Andrews will see 90 percent of these guys soon.’’

The evaluators said catching talent stood out and what was more impressive was the catchers were not getting on one bended knee. They caught. That is a shoutout to Phillies catching prospect Logan O’Hoppe and Blue Jays catching prospect Gabriel Moreno.

Another solid prospect worth mentioning is Red Sox first baseman Tristan Casas. Not only for his ability but his work ethic. Casas, a la Pete Alonso from a few years ago, pushed to get extra work on the field and that is not always the case in the Arizona Fall League.

Then this comment: “No BP or infield/outfield, a disgrace,’’ one evaluator said of the All-Star Game. “A few good bats in the starting lineups. Infielders should all go to Ron Washington this off-season to learn the basics. Outfielders should learn to throw accurately to bases and home … All in all our game is in big trouble if this is the best product. This violates what Fall League was supposed to be about.’’

As for some of the regular AFL games, the walks were off the charts, as were the length of the games.

“It was bleeping horrendous,’’ one evaluator said.

And before I forget, I cannot let Carlos Correa’s criticism of Derek Jeter pass quietly. It seems like we are in Stupid Season in baseball.

Correa said this about Jeter: “Derek Jeter, how many Gold Gloves did he win? Five, I think he won … Derek Jeter didn’t deserve any.’’

Jeter has five World Series rings too and there will be a contingent of nerds who will side with Correa, who is a free agent shortstop, but I believe Jeter brought a lot to the position that cannot be measured by numbers.

He also brought something to the game that Correa has not: Class.

As one wise baseball person told me of Correa: “How many people are you going to alienate as a free agent, where you go, ‘My gosh, is this a guy we want to invest $250 million in, who is criticizing Derek Jeter?’’’

Fair question.

Teams really have to figure out how they spend their money. Correa has his Platinum Glove and will get his Platinum Money. He may even have a Platinum Trash Can. The Braves won the World Series in six games this year over the Astros, exhibiting class, good for them.

The Mets and Steve Cohen and Billy Eppler have a lot of catching up to do, a last chance second chance.

45+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

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