How Mets GM Billy Eppler just missed out on Padres’ top job

AJ Preller has made quite an impression in his eight years as the Padres’ general manager. But that job was originally supposed to go to Billy Eppler, who is now the Mets general manager, the Padres’ wild-card round opponent.

In 2014, Mike Dee, then Padres team president, thought he was ready to hire Eppler, then the Yankees’ assistant general manager, after a breakfast in Boston. Dee even told the property that Eppler was her man. But after informing Eppler that he was returning to the West Coast to prepare a formal offer, Dee changed his mind. Dee recalled Friday that he met Preller at a hotel at Los Angeles International Airport to tell him he had finished second, and that meeting changed his decision.

« He convinced me to hire him on this three-hour dinner at a hotel in LAX that ended at 2 a.m., » Dee, now Audacy radio executive, said before the 7- 1 of the Mets against the Padres. « I called [then-Padres managing partner Ron Fowler] at 5 a.m. and told him that I had changed my mind and was going with Preller. AJ presented a compelling case to a guy who likes people to present compelling cases.

Billy Eppler and AJ Preller
Corey Sipkin; Getty Images

Several other people with the Padres recall that the team did indeed come close to signing Eppler. But the final call changed everything. Preller eventually sold the Padres property when they were among the lowest-spending baseball teams before, and their roster now includes four superstars — Juan Soto, Manny Machado, Yu Darvish and Fernando Tatis Jr. — that’s how ‘they got to the playoffs (minus Tatis, who’s suspended for PED).

Eppler also did well, managing the Angels for five years before landing the job with the Mets. He had a winter like few others, when the Mets signed free agents Max Scherzer, Starling Marte, Mark Canha, Eduardo Escobar and Adam Ottavino, going five-for-five, which is a free agency rarity. And that’s also how he took the Mets to the playoffs.

Neither man wanted to talk about what might have been, however. Preller said: “That’s in the past. In Cincinnati,” (quoting Patriots coach Bill Belichick’s line when he doesn’t want to talk about something), and Eppler didn’t return messages about the hiring that never was.


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