Many in baseball are still raising an eyebrow at the Mets’ decision to name super-agent Brodie Van Wagenen their new general manager, but the move is officially in the books after Van Wagenen was formally introduced at a press conference today at Citi Field. The former co-founder of CAA’s baseball division is shifting to the other side of the negotiating table and made clear in his initial comments that the Mets will not be embarking on any kind of rebuild (links via Newsday’s David Lennon and the New York Post’s Mike Puma). To the contrary, Van Wagenen portrayed an aggressive, win-now mindset.
“We will win now,” said Van Wagenen. “We will win in the future. We’re going to develop a winning culture and a winning mindset. We are going to deliver this city and this fan base a team they can be proud of.”
While fans (and quite likely executives) from other clubs had hoped to see the Mets’ new general manager come in with a future-oriented approach and put aces Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard on the trading block, it seems that, too, is unlikely. Van Wagenen plainly stated that he hopes to keep deGrom with the Mets for “a long time” (per MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo). Rather than shopping current stars, it seems the Mets will instead turn to the free-agent market to supplement a promising rotation core but a lineup that is filled with question marks. The rookie GM somewhat nebulously said he “expect[s] to be in on every free agent” — a statement that seems like an over-promise but nonetheless underscores his win-now mentality.
Looking beyond the player element of the Mets’ new hire, there are myriad questions about the infrastructure of the team. First and foremost, it’s been made clear that Van Wagenen has severed all ties with CAA Baseball and is no longer affiliated with the agency. The future of his former clients — they could remain at CAA with another agent or conceivably look elsewhere — isn’t clear, but DiComo and others have noted that Van Wagenen has completely divested from CAA. That process, DiComo notes, was made a bit smoother by the fact that Van Wagenen had a salary as the head of CAA Baseball rather than working on commission from his clients.
As far as internal improvements go, COO Jeff Wilpon stated that there are resources set aside to beef up the club’s analytics and scouting departments. Van Wagenen suggested that his previous work as an agent can help in both regards (Twitter link, with video, via DiComo). There’s surely some validity to that sentiment, as he’s spent nearly two decades seeking to identify talent and represent the best players possible. More recently, agencies have had to become increasingly familiar with newer statistics, data and trends in an effort to best market their players to teams. There’s also little doubt that he’s a deft negotiator, which figures to serve him well in his new role.
Then again, managing an entire baseball operations department while simultaneously dealing with Mets ownership and the New York media will be an entirely different animal. And while Van Wagenen likely does have some scouting acumen and an understanding of the ever-increasing use of data in today’s game, neither has ever been a full-time focus for him. He’ll likely hand pick some new additions to add to both departments for the Mets, and he’ll also have some more experienced baseball ops veterans on whom to rely as he acclimates to a new life within the game.
To that end, though, it’s not yet certain which of the Mets’ former top lieutenants will be working alongside him. SNY’s Andy Martino tweets that special assistant (and former Mets GM) Omar Minaya will stay with the organization, but the futures of fellow special assistant (and former Blue Jays GM) J.P. Ricciardi and assistant GM John Ricco are not yet known.
Turning to the field staff, Van Wagenen proclaimed that Mickey Callaway will return in 2019 and offered his “full support” of the manager as he enters his second season with the club. Specifically, Van Wagenen praised Callway’s “enthusiasm,” his “energy” and his ability to inspire players.
Frankly, it’s not possible to glean the exact approach the Mets will take to putting a contender on the field in 2019 and beyond. There were no concrete numbers put on how much payroll capacity Van Wagenen will have. That’s not unexpected, but it also offers no insight into which types of free agents the Mets can realistically pursue. The Mets have topped $150MM in each of the past two seasons and have a projected $135MM on the books for 2019, per MLBTR’s Jason Martinez, before considering any possible non-tenders. That doesn’t leave much room to add, barring a willingness from the Wilpon family to substantially increase payroll. Perhaps the Mets could look to jettison some mid-range contracts like Juan Lagares or Anthony Swarzak if there isn’t room for payroll to push much further north. Alternatively, players like Travis d’Arnaud and Wilmer Flores don’t seem assured of being tendered contracts.
There are still plenty of unknowns following Van Wagenen’s first interaction with reporters as the Mets’ new GM, but the greatest takeaway from the entire event is that there’s little reason to expect the Mets will be putting any type of significant sell-off of major assets into motion. Van Wagenen set the stage for an active winter in terms of adding pieces to a hopeful contender, and fans will now wait to see whether ownership grants him the means to follow through.