Brodie Van Wagenen is probably a very nice guy. He is a great public speaker, aside from that one incident where he ripped Commissioner Manfred when he didn’t realize there was a hot mic recording his words. Van Wagenen is also a great salesman. He did sell Fred and Jeff Wilpon that a former agent could be the general manager for a team in the media capital of the world. He sold the Wilpons that a man who never played professional baseball or was ever a coach or executive in any form for any Major League team that he could run a baseball organization.
Oh, Van Wagenen was connected to MLB. He co-founded the baseball division at the powerful CAA Agency in 2006. So Van Wagenen was no stranger to MLB. But the skills of an agent are much different than what is required to build a successful baseball team.
When you look back on the career of Brodie Van Wagenen it’s important to realize that he simply applied for a job and sold himself really well. This happens all the time in any business. It’s up to the company who is hiring the candidate to make sure they get the right guy. No one should blame Van Wagenen for the mess he created. He was never qualified to do the job. Blame the owners who he sold on his ability to get the job done. Not many of Van Wagenen’s moves worked or improved the New York Mets for the current season and beyond. For a look at Van Wagenen’s greatest misses click here.
The Pros for Van Wagenen
Brodie Van Wagenen’s single greatest move was the contract extension of ace pitcher Jacob deGrom. Van Wagenen was his agent before becoming the general manager so it was going to be interesting to see how this negotiation was going to go. deGrom agreed to a five-year extension just a few days before opening day of the 2019 season. What was surprising to the Met fan base was the quickness of this extension getting done. The dollar amount for the five-year extension was 137.5 million dollars. So deGrom’s salary jumps to 23 million in 2020 and 33.5 in 2021 and 2022. The timing of this extension turned out to be the big story as we found out following the 2019 season.
Two monster contracts were signed in the 2019 offseason. The Washington Nationals re-signed pitcher Stephen Strasburg to a seven-year deal worth 245 million dollars. Strasburg’s contract set a record for the highest annual value for a pitcher in the history of MLB. Just days later the New York Yankees signed free agent pitcher Gerrit Cole to a nine-year 324 million dollar contract breaking the record contract Strasburg just signed. Had Van Wagenen waited until after the season to extend deGrom it almost certainly would have cost the Mets additional years and more money. Maybe deGrom would have that record contract. After all, deGrom had just won his second consecutive Cy Young award while Cole and Strasburg have yet to win their first.
Most trades have not worked out for Van Wagenen. But the one trade that will stick in his win column is the J.D. Davis trade. After a rough 2019 season at the hot corner, the Mets played Davis in left field. Davis would go on to have a big breakout offensive season batting .307 with 22 home runs and 57 RBI in 410 at-bats. Despite having to play left field in 2019 because of his defensive liability at third, Davis has proven the three prospects Van Wagenen dealt for him were worth it. The three prospects Ross Adolph, Scott Manea, and Luis Santana sent to the Astros for Davis have all had some success in the minors. Davis is now firmly planted as the Mets third baseman for the immediate future even though he had a bad offensive season in 2020.
Minor League Callups
The Pete Alonso decision in 2019 was also a big win for Van Wagenen. Alonso started the season as the Mets first basemen and boy did he deliver. He went on to have one of the best rookie seasons in major league history and certainly the best in Mets history. Alonso led all of baseball while setting a Major League rookie record with 53 home runs en route to winning the Rookie of the Year award. He also drove in 120 runs in becoming a cornerstone and the face of the franchise-type player. The Mets could have stashed Alonso in the minors and brought him up in late April just to save a year of arbitration.
The Mets did a similar thing with Andres Gimenez. The rookie shortstop started the shortened season as a late-inning pinch-runner and defensive replacement. When Amed Rosario started to struggle, Gimenez flourished. Now there will be a legitimate discussion in the offseason regarding the shortstop position. Gimenez might have played his way into becoming the starting shortstop.
Sometimes the best trades are the ones that you don’t make. While Van Wagenen has made plenty of trades moving a lot of young players, there were three players who were involved in trade rumors that wound up staying in Queens.
Jeff McNeil was rumored to be involved in the Edwin Diaz trade. As we all know the Diaz trade has been a huge bust so far despite the numbers both players have put up this season. McNeil is a huge fan favorite and is considered a big part of the Mets future. Had Van Wagenen traded away McNeil the Met fanbase would have turned on him before the season even started.
Amed Rosario is the second player who was heavily involved in trade rumors. But in the case of Rosario, he still had not established himself as a player in his brief career. Rosario was just turning 23 years old and still young enough to become a very good player. Rosario was rumored to be involved in a trade for catcher J.T. Realmuto. Realmuto, aside from being a former client of Van Wagenen, was also an available player at a huge position of need for the Mets. Rosario was not traded and Van Wagenen was rewarded with the breakout season the Mets were waiting for.
Without any doubt, the feelgood story for the 2020 Mets was the emergence of Dom Smith. Smith lost his starting position to Pete Alonso in 2019. The Mets tried to find playing time for Smith by playing him out of position in leftfield. While Smith proved he could hit at the major league level, he could not play defense in the outfield. Smith would get hurt and spend several weeks on the injured list. With the Mets having holes to fill coming into the 2020 season there were questions on whether Smith would be dealt to fill one of those holes.
Smith was not traded but still did not have a position for 2020. When COVID-19 came into play the National League decided to allow the designated hitter for the 2020 season. With Yoenis Cespedes occupying the designated hitter spot on opening day, Smith was still waiting for his turn. After 10 games Cespedes opted out of the season and it was finally Dom Smith time. Smith took full advantage of the chance to play every day. With a .316 batting average with 10 homers and 42 RBI in 177 at-bats, Smith is now part of the future. It is not known how close Van Wagenen came to trading Smith.
The Mets New Owner
It was announced on September 14th that minority owner Steve Cohen has agreed in principle to a deal with Fred Wilpon’s Sterling Equities to purchase the Mets. While the sale is still pending owner approval, Cohen would assume 95 percent control of the Mets. This could spell the end of the two-year general manager career of Brodie Van Wagenen. No one really knows what Cohen thinks about the Mets current front office. Cohen has already announced that if he gets approved, Sandy Alderson will be hired as the team President and head of baseball operations.
Steve Cohen is a billionaire. So this could mean that money if not an issue when Cohen or his brass wants to sign a free agent or re-sign one of their own players. Surely any general manager wants an open checkbook once spending season starts. But that does not mean you can buy championships. There are also questions on just how big of a role Alderson will actually have. Alderson did step away from the Mets two years ago when he was battling cancer. Could Cohen have made the decision to publicly announce the hiring of Alderson to appease the other 29 owners just to get the sale approved?
The Mets have very big decisions to make going into the offseason. The starting rotation needs shoring up. The bullpen once again needs to be rebuilt. Will Amed Rosario or Andres Gimenez be the starting shortstop and could one of these players get traded. Dom Smith took over the starting first base position in 2020. If the National League does not adopt the designated hitter full time what happens with Pete Alonso. Will Michael Conforto get locked up before he becomes a UFA after the 2021 season. How will the contract situation of Noah Syndergaard get handled? Is Edwin Diaz ever going to be fully trusted as the closer or do the Mets bring in another closer? What happens with manager Luis Rojas who was not the first choice of Van Wagenen.
By just looking at the moves Van Wagenen has made it’s hard to see him retaining his job. Now if Alderson is really taking over it looks even worse for Brodie Van Wagenen. Alderson likes to build his team through the minor league system and Van Wagenen does not value his prospects. As for now, Van Wagenen is saying all the right things, but surely, he is feeling the heat. Will Brodie Van Wagenen survive an ownership change? Will he be able to sell Steve Cohen and Sandy Alderson the same way he sold Fred and Jeff Wilpon? There are big decisions the Mets need to make this offseason. Is Brodie Van Wagenen qualified to make these decisions?
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