The Mets have made, if not the biggest, the most intriguing hire of the 2018 offseason by tabbing mega-agent Brodie Van Wagenen to be their new general manager. The face of CAA’s baseball division was a late entrant after team executives struggled to secure interviews with executives from other major league clubs.
Van Wagenen, 44, has no experience as a team executive, but he should have a working knowledge of how a front office runs through his work as a player rep. In fact, his lack of formal experience isn’t even a primary question regarding his hire. Here are five deeper questions ahead of Van Wagenen taking the reins.
1. How will Van Wagenen assure his former clients, especially Jacob deGrom, that he won’t use their past professional relationships with him against them in negotiations?
The issue has been raised in recent days by rival agent Scott Boras and players association executive director Tony Clark, who both expressed concerns that an agent-turned-executive could exploit what is said in confidence.
DeGrom, 30, can’t become a free agent until after the 2020 season, but Van Wagenen and the Mets have been talking about a contract extension for a long time. Van Wagenen publicly criticized the club last summer, saying it wasn’t committed enough to keeping its ace. That statement helped fuel the rumors that Mets would gauge trade interest in deGrom.
NL CY YOUNG: Why deGrom is the best choice
Months later, deGrom is in a position to cash in on a Cy Young-caliber season. Who pays him that money will depend in no small part on how Van Wagenen handles the move to the other side of the negotiating table.
To complicate matters, Van Wagenen/CAA also represented two of the Mets’ other foundation pieces, Noah Syndergaard and Yoenis Cespedes. Syndergaard is seen as a trade piece if the Mets decide to rebuild or retool, but Cespedes is anchored to the club for another two years. He’s expected to miss a large portion of the 2019 season as he recovers from surgery on both heels. Would Van Wagenen even attempt to talk Cespedes into waiving his no-trade clause once he’s healthy?
2. Does the team view his agent experience as an advantage in adding big-dollar players?
The Mets have earned a reputation for being cheap relative to their market, but Van Wagenen is taking over at the start of an offseason that will produce mega free-agent deals for Manny Machado, Bryce Harper and perhaps Clayton Kershaw. Below that group are attractive options such as Patrick Corbin, A.J. Pollock and DJ LeMahieu. Mets fans are hoping Van Wagenen is allowed to use his knowledge and, to borrow a Boras dig at the franchise, shop in the prime meats section.
3. How does Van Wagenen like to play?
The Mets attacked like a numbers-driven team under former GM Sandy Alderson, one of the godfathers of data. The offense was built on power and patience and didn’t run much. After Alderson left in midsummer for health reasons, the team became more aggressive on the bases, led by Jeff McNeil, Amed Rosario and Brandon Nimmo, and less reliant on the long ball. The rotation, when healthy, resembles the Astros’ group of power arms. First-year manager Mickey Callaway and the front office went with a 13-man pitching staff for most of the season but could never get the bullpen right. Alderson also emphasized offense over defense, against the trend of run prevention (Jay Bruce’s move to first base was but one example). Van Wagenen’s stances on all of these things will, naturally, influence his roster decisions.
4. Will he be allowed to put together a league-standard analytics team?
Principal owner Fred Wilpon has failed to make the investment to this point, which has left the franchise at a disadvantage as every other club poured resources into finding every possible edge. Reporters covering the GM search have perpetuated the narrative that COO Jeff Wilpon, Fred’s son, is more progressive, which is one reason Bloom was a finalist for the job. Did that tension lead to Van Wagenen becoming a middle-ground choice, or did Jeff Wilpon win? If it’s the latter, then expect to hear a lot about numbers crunchers joining the organization.
5. Will Van Wagenen be allowed to be his own man?
There’s already doubt about that, following reports that the three men who ran the club after Alderson’s departure — assistant GM John Ricco and advisers Omar Minaya and J.P. Ricciardi — are expected to stay. Are they staying to ease the transition, or will they be given a say in moves? There’s also the narrative that the Wilpons meddle. We’ll see if that remains the case as Van Wagenen attempts to make offseason moves.
He has a long shopping list that includes first base, catcher, bullpen and bench. If fans read the perennial teases about “kicking the tires” or “being in on” players, and then read stories about broken-down negotiations, then they’ll have their answer: Nope, same old Mets.
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