From the seat behind a desk clear of clutter, Mets general manager Billy Eppler inched forward, his eyes alert as he spoke. For the last 20 minutes of this conversation in his spring-training office last week, Eppler carried his typical calm, friendly tone. Then the topic shifted to the constant dialogue he shared with owner Steve Cohen during the most active winter in franchise history. Suddenly, he was talking demonstratively.
Eppler mentioned “Thinking in Bets” by Annie Duke, a book about making decisions, which he called one of his favorites. Duke, an accomplished poker player, wrote the book for people like Eppler, folks at the controls of major operations who are comforted by the idea that even the best calls don’t always yield the best outcomes. People like Cohen, a hedge-fund manager, comprise the target audience, too. Operators of both worlds wager in high stakes.
“I’m making bets on this side and he’s making bets on this side,” Eppler said, his hands gesturing and his voice rising. “So when we talk probabilistically, he gets it. Like, he’s got it. Then his questions become really advanced.
“That’s what makes the phone call exciting. This is not going to be a one-way conversation with me saying, ‘Hey, I’d like to do this.’ It’s more like, ‘Let’s talk about the probabilities and band of outcomes here.’ ‘Let’s talk about the opportunity cost here.’ ‘Let’s talk about what the alternatives are.’ Then it’s, ‘Let’s talk about the farm system.’ And then, ‘Let’s think probabilistically about all these things and model this out.’”
I get stimulated in those types of conversations.”
In the offseason, the Mets conducted business like the player at the poker table with mountains of chips in a game with no limits. Most times, they acted aggressively. Other times, they passed. Always, they loomed as a threat. The money belonged to Cohen. The recommendations on how to play every hand derived from Eppler.
No team in all of baseball influenced the market more than the Mets. By the end of arguably the most critical winter in franchise history, the cost of winning totaled approximately $445 million, including penalties for exceeding thresholds, which would be a record for a luxury tax payroll. The Mets signed 10 players to major-league contracts, tying a franchise high for a single winter. For good measure, they executed a few trades, too. Every move was guided by a process. All baseball executives lead busy lives packed with pressure. Then there’s Eppler.