Did the Mets go “out of the box” or open a “Pandora’s Box” with their “out of the box” decision to hire former player agent Brodie Van Wagenen as the 13th General Manager in franchise history.
Mets co-owner Jeff Wilpon got his man. “Brodie was the front runner for us because of what he talked about in terms of collaboration, his excitement, his feeling of what he could do with this organization, where we are now, and going forward,” Wilpon said at the introductory press conference.
It was a day of smiles, excitement and the good feelings that come with a fresh, new voice. A voice that the Mets hope will usher in an era of sustained winning and success, but there are some aspects of this hire that deserve to be questioned.
In his opening remarks, Van Wagenen declared “We will win now, as Jeff [Wilpon] said, we will win in the future.” I could imagine what the cynical Met fan thought of that but the first follow up question (with all due respect to Paul Simon) should’ve been “What’s the plan, Van.” The new General Manager never really offered any insight into any of his ideas to help the team “win now” and “in the future.”
In his nysportsday.com column, “Ballgame Now in the Hands of Brodie,” my colleague Rich Mancuso wrote, “What we have here is a GM with potential, but lacking in a front office background.” That is the key sticking point of this hire.
Is Brodie Van Wagenen going to be able to negotiate contracts from “this side of the table” now that he’s a General Manager. What about when he has to make a tough decision about a player? Will he instinctively side with the player, which wouldn’t sit well with ownership, or will he be able to separate himself for “what’s best for the team,” even when that decision may not be the “best for the team.”
How about building a farm system that has been lacking for some time. During the interviews, Van Wagenen made it sound like the Mets are loaded with minor league prospects. Ol’ MacDonald had a farm, and the Mets need one badly. According to Baseball America, the Mets had the 19th rated farm system. They need to do better than that.
A conflict of interest was sure to be invoked in some circles but Wilpon said that’s been taken care of. “We have provisions in Brodie’s contract to deal with any conflict of interests,” he said. Even with that so called protection, there will be questions of having an advantage if the Mets do sign a free agent from CAA, Van Wagenen’s former agency.
Speaking of signing free agents, has Van Wagenen convinced the Wilpons to change their tune and spend on an elite free agent. “Provide our players with the support and resources they need to succeed, and when they do, recognize their performances and reward their performances,” Van Wagenen said, but are the Wilpons buying it.
That sounds like it applies to Jacob deGrom, one of the new GM’s former clients. “I believe Jacob deGrom is an incredible talent and I hope to keep him for a long time.” Will Van Wagenen push for an extension? It’s one of the key decisions of the off season for the Mets and will bear watching.
If Van Wagenen and the Mets expect to contend in 2019, they will either have to spend wisely in free agency or be creative in the trade market, or a combination of both. During an interview with SNY’s Steve Gelbs, Van Wagenen cited “eleven different areas” that needed attention but he never specified whether that was on the field or off the field or in the clubhouse or all of the above. Gelbs tried to follow up with a question but Van Wagenen wouldn’t offer any more information.
At the press conference, Van Wagenen came off like a politician running for office. “I intend to make character the backdrop of this organization. We will identify it, we will develop it and we will build around it,” he declared. That’s all well and good but character doesn’t win baseball games, talent does.
During an interview with WFAN’s Mike Francesa, Van Wagenen made it sound as if the Mets are ready to win with the roster as it’s presently constituted, but that notion is as far off as the notion that the Wilpons will suddenly turn into big spenders. Was Van Wagenen touting the company line, was he being delusional or does he really believe that a competitive roster, that will only need some mild tweaking, is in place.
If the Mets hope to contend next season, Van Wagenen and company will need to be creative in trades while making smart decisions when it comes to free agent signings. As usual, the issue is money although Jeff Wilpon said they have the resources that Van Wagenen feels “they need to succeed.” “We do have money put aside to make sure we have the resources there for investments in the front office and scouting development as well as analytics,” Wilpon said.
Even if the resources are there, what about Van Wagenen’s ability to negotiate with other agents and General Managers from the other side. How is he going to be received in those circles? Is he on anyone’s “sh… list” or will some cynical GM’s, who Van Wagenen didn’t see eye to eye with before and didn’t respect the hire, let their egos get in the way and not want to deal with the new man in charge.
Mets ownership believes Van Wagenen gives them an edge because he has dealt with all 30 major league clubs and knows their “wants and needs.” That’s all well and good, but how much does he know about the Mets.
The Mets wanted to go “out of the box” with a hire that has been met with applause and disdain. The question still remains unanswered. “What’s the plan, Van?”