GM Billy Eppler: Mets not holding 'fire sale' despite trades

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Monday, July 31, 2023

After trading Max Scherzer to the Texas Rangers, general manager Billy Eppler insisted the New York Mets are not tearing down their underachieving team.

"I do want to be clear that it's not a rebuild. It's not a fire sale," Eppler said Sunday at Citi Field. "It's not a liquidation."

So maybe Justin Verlander will stay put in the end.But now, would he actually choose to be traded?

"I think it largely depends on how the organization views next year," Verlander said. "I think Max is a tough sign for trying to go back at it. So, I'm committed to trying to win a championship here, but if the organization decides that that's not exactly the direction that they think is a best fit for next year and go for it again next year then yeah, I would be more open to it."

New York traded Scherzer to AL West-leading Texas for minor league infielder Luisangel Acuna in a high-profile deal both teams announced Sunday after news of the agreement broke Saturday evening.

Acuna, the younger brother of Atlanta star Ronald Acuna Jr., was rated one of Texas' top prospects. The Mets said he will be optioned to Double-A Binghamton, where he will initially play shortstop.

The 39-year-old Scherzer waived his no-trade clause to complete the deal, and the Mets will send cash to Texas. The three-time Cy Young Award winner also agreed to opt in on the final year of his contract in 2024 at $43.3 million, and the Mets are paying about $35 million of the remaining $58 million on the right-hander's contract, sources told ESPN's Jeff Passan.

"A bit surprised with that one," Verlander said. "Max was obviously an integral part of our team for next season. So, when you see that happen, you can't help but think [about] what's in store for next year. We play this game to win. We want to win a championship and we want to have the opportunity to do so. It changed my opinion a little bit, so tough to see it happen."

Eppler said he was engaged in conversation with different teams about Scherzer and that when he talked with him Friday, he mentioned a trade was possible. After pitching Friday night, Scherzer said he wanted to speak with the front office about the direction of the team.

"Obviously, [you] kind of leave the stadium and see some of the comments that he made and wonder what happened because obviously things came together really quickly," Verlander said.

Following an 11-6 loss to Washington on Saturday night, Mets players wondered who might be dealt next.

Eppler said he texted center fielder Brandon Nimmo after talking to Texas and Scherzer's agent, Scott Boras, and then met with the outfielder for about 35 minutes Sunday. The Mets re-signed Nimmo to a $162 million, eight-year contract last offseason.

Eppler also spoke to star shortstop Francisco Lindor, who was acquired from Cleveland in January 2021 and signed to a $341 million, 10-year deal.

"They understand," Eppler said. "It's not a fire sale and it's not a liquidation. So they got it."

The fourth-place Mets (50-55), one of baseball's biggest disappointments this season under third-year owner Steve Cohen, unloaded Scherzer just days after sending closer David Robertson to Miami for two minor leaguers Thursday night.

Robertson was set to become a free agent after this season, but Scherzer could have turned down a trade or opted in with the Mets next season.

More trades could occur before Tuesday's deadline, including a potential deal involving the 40-year-old Verlander. The three-time Cy Young Award winner, who also has a no-trade clause, earned his 250th career win Sunday in a 5-2 victory over Washington.

"We're going to listen, but our price points are high," Eppler said. "We have valuations on our existing personnel and the bar is high to meet it but we are willing in certain circumstances to use Steve's investment and kind of repurpose that investment to serve the larger goal, which is to build a championship organization."

Verlander is signed through next season with a potential option for 2025 after agreeing to an $86.7 million, two-year contract in December.

"I have some ability to control my destiny. I'm just a person that likes to gather information. No idea who's interested, what's going on, who Billy has been speaking with," Verlander said. "I just think an open communication with the front office and see what their plans are with me, for the organization. Obviously, I'm sure there's a lot of moving parts happening right now, and we'll see what happens the next couple of days."

After winning 101 games last year, New York began the season with the highest payroll in major league history at $355 million. The Mets have not been over .500 since June 3 and started the day 18 games behind first-place Atlanta in the NL East and seven games back in the wild-card race with a string of teams to catch.

"We just couldn't get the consistency clicking," Eppler said.

The 21-year-old Acuna was batting .315 with 7 homers, 51 RBIs and an .830 OPS in 84 games with Double-A Frisco this season. He also had 25 doubles and was leading the Texas League in stolen bases (42) and runs (68).

"Ultra-athleticism," Eppler said. "The arm strength, the hit ability. He's working on lifting the ball a little bit more and just being able to get the ball airborne a touch more. Strong plate discipline, strong contact skills. Just really excited to get a prospect of his caliber into our system."

Acuna was the third-ranked prospect in Texas' farm system and No. 44 overall in the majors, according to MLB Pipeline.

"Right now, he's going to come in and play shortstop right away. But there will probably be some positional versatility," Eppler said. "I know he's already played a little second and center field. And so we'll probably get an opportunity to do that. But I'd like to talk to him about that first."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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