The Seattle Mariners have been a team without a GM for almost two weeks now. And it’s going great! Since firing Jack Zduriencik, the Mariners have gone 6-4, filling us with what might have been one final infusion of false hope along the way. They also traded for an international bonus spending slot and made the hopefully-not-way-too-late decision to start Mike Zunino over from square one. It’s been really, really nice.
Eventually someone is going to have to run the Mariners, whether they like it or not. We’ve already identified and discussed one candidate: Jerry Dipoto, who will soon interview for the job. It’s fair to say that Dipoto is at least one of the top two most-discussed candidates. The other? New York Yankees assistant general manager Billy Eppler, who is also reportedly getting an interview.
Eppler’s is a name you might’ve heard before, particularly if you’ve been keeping up-to-date on hot general managers-in-waiting for the last few years. The Mariners are not the first team to take interest in Eppler – you see that above-linked tweet also mentions that the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are going to interview him, just like they did before hiring Dipoto in 2011. The San Diego Padres interviewed him a year ago. The Arizona Diamondbacks wanted Eppler, too, but he didn’t give them the chance.
So who is Billy Eppler, exactly? What has he done? Why ask me when you could ask Wikipedia! According to everyone’s favorite biography-spewing semi-source, the 39-year-old Eppler got his first job in baseball as a scout with the Colorado Rockies in 2000. The Yankees hired him away from Colorado in 2004, and he started to make his way up the organization. He was the team’s first director of pro scouting before being promoted to assistant general manager late in 2011.
Along the way he’s drawn rave reviews from just about everyone he’s worked with. Brian Cashman, the Yankees’ GM, has been just one of many prominent executives across the game who openly sees Eppler as the future of the general manager position. Nobody really expects him to spend his life waiting for a chance, and this could well be the offseason where he breaks through. We know there are at least two teams willing to sit him down and see what he’s all about.
It’s easy just to look at Eppler’s current employer and write off all his successes with “yeah, but money.” The Yankees have a lot of money, and that makes things easier for them. But what the Yankees also have is a strong background in scouting, both domestic and international. They seem to always rank amongst the top minor league systems in the game, and that’s where a lot of Eppler’s work has been done.
Mar 25, 2015; Tampa, FL, USA; New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman prior to the game against the New York Mets at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
As a reminder: draft budgets are more or less set by MLB. Same thing goes for international bonus spending money. The Yankees have had to (mostly) play by the same rules as everyone else, and Eppler’s played a big role in their scouting success. Don’t be thrown off by the endless cash flow: the Yankees are one of the smartest, most well-run organizations in professional sports.
It’s hard to miss the parallel with Jack Z, who was also in charge of scouting for a successful organization before coming to Seattle and
maintaining the awful, unacceptable status quo. But there’s a big difference between the Brewers and the Yankees: New York is an analytics-driven organization top to bottom, while the Brewers rely more heavily on scouting than statistics instead of going for a balance. Eppler’s involved in the Yank’s culture, and that’s a culture of open-mindedness that Zduriencik absolutely did not install during his time in the Emerald City.
What Eppler does not have is experience in the general manager’s role. Cashman is one of the greats, and while it’s nice that Eppler has gotten to work under him, he hasn’t gotten to actually do the job before. The Mariners want a GM with experience, and that technically isn’t something Eppler has. He also admittedly isn’t a “numbers whiz,” despite his youth and involvement in the Yankees organization. Then again, that’s a team with a hugely functional analytics department, so he hasn’t needed to be. It’d be a must to install such a unit in Seattle, of course.
What does Billy Eppler, Seattle Mariners GM candidate have going for him? He’s brainy and creative young executive who’s helped a limitless organization towards success in the one and only area where they’re limited. He brings with him legitimate concerns about experience and approach, but it’s easy to see how those questions could quickly be answered. Is he the right man for the job? Who knows! Hopefully the Mariners will be able to answer that after an interview or three.
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