Brodie Van Wagenen Is The Mets' Agent Of Change
Brodie Van Wagenen has a real gift for commanding the room at a news conference. He has terrific hair, looks sharp in a dark suit and red power tie and speaks in a firm, authoritative tone that gives Mets fans license to dream of the glory days of Darryl, Doc, Mex and the Kid. Or at the very least, Matt Harvey carrying a gem into the ninth inning and things going swimmingly until Lucas Duda threw wide of home plate and Eric Hosmer crushed everybody’s hopes with a head-first slide in Game 5 of the 2015 World Series.
You watch him in action and think, "This guy must have been pretty darned formidable in a salary arbitration hearing.”
After years of selling clients on his services and teams on his clients as a prominent agent with CAA, Van Wagenen is putting his eggs in a different basket this winter. He’s making the alternately challenging and fascinating transition to a new role as general manager of the Mets, and trying to do for agents what Frank Cashen, Fred Claire and Ned Colletti did for former sportswriters-turned-franchise architects back in the day.
With the notable exception of Jerry Dipoto, Van Wagenen is moving and shaking on a more ambitious scale than anyone as the hot stove season gets underway.
Shortly before the start of the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas, Van Wagenen unveiled an agenda-setting trade.
He sent Jay Bruce, Anthony Swarzak and prospects Jarred Kelenic, Justin Dunn and Gerson Bautista to the Mariners for Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz, and followed up with a bold pronouncement. Before Cano and Diaz went upstairs to the Foxwoods Club at Citi Field, donned Santa Claus caps and handed out gifts to kids at the Mets’ annual holiday party, Van Wagenen imbued the fan base with a sense of hope that better days await. And soon.
"As I stood in front of you a few weeks ago, I stated that this organization intended to be relentless and fearless in our pursuit of greatness,” Van Wagenen said. "We have a winning mindset, and collectively we believe that everything is possible and nothing is impossible.”
Van Wagenen’s organizational pledge comes with caveats, amid legitimate reasons to think this deal could backfire in a big way. Cano is 36 years old and coming off an 80-game suspension for a violation of the Joint Drug Agreement, and he has reached the stage in his career when he will be a liability once his offensive production slips a notch and there’s nowhere to put him on the field. And did we mention that he’s under contract through age 41, in a league with no DH?
Diaz, 24, is as dynamic as a closer can get. There’s a lot of appeal in having a back-end-of-the-bullpen anchor under club control for four more years. But he’s dealt with a bone spur in his right elbow since he was a teenager, and it’s only natural to feel some trepidation over the staying power of a 6-foot-3, 165-pound pitcher who averages 97 mph. At minimum, Diaz’s 139 games of high-lever- age work over the past two seasons should raise some mild concerns over the possibility of a regression in the near term. That’s how it works with power bullpen arms.
If the idea of the Mets making the leap from 77-85 to instant contention feels like a pipe dream, it’s partly a reflection of the competitive sandbox they inhabit. After several down years, the National League East is looking awfully frisky at the moment.
The Braves have a dynamic young position player tandem in Ronald Acuña Jr. and Ozzie Albies, a franchise staple in Freddie Freeman and a monster farm system, and they just added a dose of veteran leadership with free agent acquisitions Josh Donaldson and Brian McCann. They’re not going anywhere.
The Nationals made the first big free agent strike of the offseason when they spent $140 million on Patrick Corbin, who will serve as Max Scherzer’s wing man in a stacked rotation. Even if Bryce Harper leaves through free agency, a Juan Soto-Victor Robles tandem and the presence of Anthony Rendon, Trea Turner, et al., makes it hard to dismiss Washington as a threat.
The Phillies have some solid pieces, a ton of money and an owner, John Middleton, who’s dying to spend it. And they were 63-48 in early August before the season unraveled, bit by agonizing bit.
Most notably, the Mets raised the sense of urgency by trading away two first-round picks from a system that ranked No. 19 the last time BA assessed organizational talent in August. Most talent evaluators think Dunn has the potential to be a solid mid-rotation starter, and Kelenic has the skills, work ethic and competitive mindset to be a solid big league regular at minimum and a star if everything clicks. If that happens, Mets Twitter won’t be a pretty place come 2022.
"If he busts, he’s Travis Snider,” said one baseball man. "But I doubt it. The kid’s makeup is off the charts. He’s a total (hard ass), but in a good baseball way. That’s what really sells me.”
Amid questions about his roster-building acumen, Van Wagenen is navigating the inevitable minefields in a transition to a different world. When Scott Boras isn’t questioning the propriety of an agent switching sides, Van Wagenen is dealing with the question of whether his long-term relationship with Cano, a former client, colored his baseball judgment in his first major trade.
To his credit, Van Wagenen hasn’t been afflicted by the same sense of cautiousness that seems to characterize so many young, analytically-inclined young GMs these days. Rather than dawdle, play it safe and wait around for a trade that he could sell as a sure "win,” he took the plunge and acted like the guy in charge of a big-market team with big-market aspirations.
"Brodie was clear he’s going to try to win this year, and this deal backs this up,” said a competing GM. "They’re certainly better for 2019 and going forward. Kelenic is the guy who will ultimately dictate how successful a deal it is.”
As Van Wagenen contemplates his next round of moves, it’s "game on” in Flushing, and the Mets are ready to take their cue from their unconventional new leader.
Precisely where he’s about to take them is anybody’s guess.