Mets’ answers continue to fall flat about their stated commitment to changing the culture

Nick Laham/Getty Images North America/TNS

The Mets still won’t give straight answers when asked tough questions.

They’ve given us no reason to believe otherwise for the past 11 months. Rather than addressing their real culture problem in a candid and direct way, the Mets have resorted to platitudes like “due diligence” and “stuff happens.”

During last week’s introduction of Billy Eppler as the Mets’ new GM, Sandy Alderson said, rather boastfully, that the vetting process for Eppler was “broader and deeper than any vetting process we had ever undergone.” (The Mets’ previous vetting standards were lower than Jacob deGrom’s ERA, so that’s not exactly a remarkable statement, but that’s beside the point.) The Mets’ process, Alderson said, involved speaking to people in the industry, including those Eppler had worked with but also people outside of his organizations — like the media, for example. That’s at least an improvement from how the Mets used to do their homework on candidates, but it was unsubstantial in detail. It is still unclear just how hard the Mets searched for those who would give a truly unbiased account of Eppler.

So one would think — in keeping with the Mets’ new and apparently thorough vetting process — that if they’re going to hire Eppler, the same GM who hired Mickey Callaway as Angels pitching coach less than a month after the Mets fired him as manager, that he gave the Mets solid answers on that important topic. But if Eppler’s answer to the Mets was anything like the one he delivered to reporters on Friday, it lacked substance and simply wasn’t enough.

When Eppler was asked what he learned from the Callaway hiring process, particularly because he is about to hire a new manager and coaching staff in New York, Eppler’s response was a sleep-inducing let down:

“The industry in general, as Sandy and Steve [Cohen] alluded to, has a vetting process that’s evolved and we have greater resources because of it. In general, the Angels organization has been asked and have answered for it. There’s not really anything more specific I can add today, just that that industry vetting process has evolved.”

Alderson, too, had an unsubstantial excuse at the GM Meetings, one that he’s already used, in an attempt to justify his hiring of Callaway back in 2017. “Mickey honestly was the hottest commodity on the market to manage a team,” Alderson said earlier this month. Just because there was competition to name Callaway as manager does not excuse a team and its top-ranking officials to hastily make the hire. It seems Alderson continues to misunderstand that point, and in doing so, he doesn’t say anything of substance on a critical subject.

While Alderson, in Friday’s press conference, pointed out the Mets spent ample time scrutinizing candidates, left unsaid was why they had to ramp up their vetting process in the first place.

In January, Mets GM Jared Porter was dismissed after revelations that he sexually harassed a female reporter while he worked for the Cubs. That same month, the Mets quietly fired a second employee for sexual harassment, hitting coordinator Ryan Ellis. In Ellis’ case, three female team employees initially told the club’s human resources department about his behavior in 2018. He wasn’t fired until January 2021. Then came the Callaway news, the third sexual harassment allegation involving Mets employees this year.

In another example of the Mets’ failure to give straight answers, Alderson was asked, at the GM Meetings this month, for the difference between the team’s vetting process this year compared to last. Here is Alderson’s answer: “I think the vetting process has certainly expanded. We’re working hard to make sure that it’s more encompassing than previously. I think we all need to understand that stuff happens. It can’t always be predicted, it can’t always be uncovered.”

In addition to his hiring of Callaway, the Mets don’t seem to mind Eppler’s recent history as GM of the Angels. In his last role, Eppler saw former Angels communications director, Eric Kay, indicted for providing opiates to pitcher Tyler Skaggs, who died of “mixed ethanol, fentanyl and oxycodone intoxication.” Kay is charged with distributing oxycodone to MLB players since 2017 and providing the fentanyl that resulted in Skaggs’ overdose death. His trial is set for January.

I asked Cohen how he reconciled his hiring of Eppler to his stated commitment of changing the Mets culture. Cohen’s answer, disenchanting and wispish in nature, took on a similar theme as his top lieutenant’s answers when they were pressed on the same uncomfortable subjects.

“We’ve done our due diligence,” Cohen said. “It’s an organization. Billy’s just one person in that organization. We vetted it in multiple ways, we spoke to a lot of people that were around the organization at that time, we spoke to people within baseball, and we’re incredibly comfortable with Billy and his decision-making and his ethics and his integrity.”

Regardless of the Mets hefty lineup of underwhelming answers to the public, the expectations that the Mets can and should do better remain high. Changing the culture at an organization that endured decades of questionable ownership under the Wilpons is a colossal task. To Cohen’s credit, one of his first statements as owner was to improve it. But to even begin, the Mets need to draw their own lines for what is and is not acceptable. They need to, at least, keep the public and their feverishly loyal fan base informed about that process with more substance than just the general sentiment of, “Trust us, we spent time vetting, and we love this hire.” For now, the Mets have given us little reason to trust them on the cross-check front. Their answers, reliably unsubstantial, continue to fall flat.