Billy Eppler Dec 19, 2022; NY, NY, USA; New York Mets general manager Billy Eppler introduces pitcher Kodai Senga (not pictured) during a press conference at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The practice of burying news under the avalanche of Super Bowl hype is well-known.

And Major League Baseball is the latest to practice said tradition, as the league announced Friday afternoon that former New York Mets and Los Angeles Angels general manager Billy Eppler has been suspended and placed on the ineligible list until after the 2024 World Series for reportedly fabricating injuries.

Eppler, slated to continue his work as New York’s general manager under the newly appointed President of Baseball Operations David Stearns, tendered his resignation in October after MLB announced an investigation into potential misuse of the injured list. This was just two days after Stearns was introduced as the team’s head baseball decision-maker.

According to a release from MLB, an investigation revealed that Eppler used a scheme to manipulate the Injured List, fabricating player injuries and submitting false documentation. During the 2022 and 2023 seasons, this practice clearly violated league rules.

A die-hard Mets fan since birth, I’ve witnessed seasons both triumphant and…well, let’s say, eventful. 2023 certainly fits the latter category. While perhaps not unprecedented in MLB, Eppler’s injury list maneuvers were a point of discussion among dedicated fans, who weren’t exactly surprised that the Mets came under fire for improper use of the injury list.

Two roster-related scenarios from last season warrant closer examination. The planned promotion of Brett Baty in April posed a potential challenge, as Tim Locastro, the likely displaced player, would have been subjected to waivers and could’ve opted for free agency — if designated for assignment — impacting the team’s plans.

Locatsro was placed on the 10-day IL with back spasms to clear a roster spot for Baty. The problem is that on April 16 — before a Sunday matchup — SNY’s Andy Martino reported that Baty would be called up. Locastro played in the 4-3 win over the Oakland A’s, pinch-running for Daniel Vogelbach and stealing his fourth base of the season. It’s entirely plausible that Locastro could’ve injured his back in the win over the Athletics, but the timing of the report and the Mets’ constant use of back spams — more on that later — didn’t exactly pass the smell test.

Locastro’s injury saga took a curious turn. The “back spasms” that seemingly paved the way for Baty’s promotion evolved into a thumb injury and, ultimately, surgery for a torn ligament. Locastro was on a rehab assignment when he injured his thumb and was placed on the 60-day IL. He didn’t see the field again until August, nearly four months after his initial injury.

This raised questions about the initial diagnosis and transparency surrounding his status.

The “back spasms” saga started with Tommy Hunter. He landed on the IL just after a rocky outing, in which he allowed five earned runs in two innings of relief in a 10-0 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers, following a pattern for the Mets that season.

By April 3, he was the ninth pitcher on the 40-man roster to miss time due to injury.

So, the Mets needed pitching depth, and one would have to think that few would bat an eye if a 36-year-old pitcher with an extensive history of back injuries would have to go on the IL after throwing nearly 50 pitches in an April game.

The coincidence of both injuries occurring close to roster decisions that would trigger waivers for Locastro and Hunter invites scrutiny. While the legitimacy of their injuries shouldn’t be questioned lightly, these instances raise concerns about the transparency surrounding player status and roster management.

The optics were not good.

But as per ESPN’s Jeff Passan, “multiple heads of baseball operations departments told ESPN they would not consider phantom IL use an offense worthy of resignation.”

That’s why it’s worth begging whether this is just about Eppler or a message to everyone. The severity of Eppler’s punishment compared to potential league-wide practices could indicate MLB and Commissioner Rob Manfred’s desire to crack down on the misuse of the injured list.

Here’s more from the New York Post:

During the World Series, Manfred said, “One of my directions to the [department of investigations] people is we need to finish the Mets and then we need to figure out whether we have a bigger problem.”

That’s led some to speculate if this is the league making an example out of Eppler.

“Of course, I knew about it; we all know about it,” Ken Rosenthal said of the use of the phantom IL during a recent Foul Territory appearance. “And we all know teams have taken advantage of it for years. And they will continue to take advantage of it, but perhaps move slower because of what happened to Billy Eppler. In my mind, in the minds of a lot of people that I would imagine in baseball, he was made an example of. And he was made of an example of, and this is the message that Rob Manfred is sending: ‘Don’t do this anymore, or least — I don’t know — don’t do it to the same extent.’

“That’s fine, but at the same time, to pretend that Billy Eppler was the only one doing this; please, no one believes that…I am quite certain that teams have taken advantage of this over the years. And not just one team — multiple teams, maybe every team.”

It’s interesting to see if Eppler’s suspension sparks a broader investigation into misuse of the injured list across MLB. Whether or not that happens, his case already sheds light on the intricate connections between transparency, media, and gambling in sports.

While Eppler’s actions didn’t explicitly involve media or gambling, they raised crucial questions about responsible reporting and information access. Accurate injury information holds significant weight, impacting fans, media, and the entire betting landscape.

Eppler’s suspension raises more questions than it answers. Will MLB launch a broader investigation into potential league-wide misuse of the injured list? What measures will be taken to ensure transparency and ethical reporting practices? Only time will tell if it is a turning point for the league’s approach to injury reporting.

[NY Post, Jess Kleinschmidt, Andy Martino on Twitter/X]

About Sam Neumann

Since the beginning of 2023, Sam has been a staff writer for Awful Announcing and The Comeback. A 2021 graduate of Temple University, Sam is a Charlotte native, who currently calls Greenville, South Carolina his home. He also has a love/hate relationship with the New York Mets and Jets.