In Their Own Words: Brodie Van Wagenen's Path To Mets GM
Brodie Van Wagenen had a unique rise to becoming the Mets' general manager, and he certainly made a splash once he got the job.
The Mets' new man of action has a long history in baseball, and he has been making an impression on people since he was 14 years old. Here is a sampling of some of the more interesting insights about Van Wagenen that did not make it into our magazine feature, including Van Wagenen's potential as a player, why the Mets wanted to go outside the box with their hire, and how Van Wagenen became an agent in the first place.
Responses have been lightly edited for clarity.
Mets chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon:
On Brodie Van Wagenen’s appeal: "It was multiple things. It was a progression from having dealt with him on the other side as an agent and also the ballclub and seeing how he acted and how he reacted on different issues when they came up. When you deal with an agent and you sign a player to a contract, it’s not just one interaction and then they’re out of the picture. There are constant things. Unfortunately guys get hurt, guys have injuries, guys have different issues that go on and we constantly kept in contact with all of that. And we even built a relationship at the time with a deal that didn’t go the right way for the Mets and the player signed elsewhere, which was Robinson Cano. It’s ironic that he’s back with us now because we went through a bit of a process when he was a free agent 5-6 years ago now. But I had my eye on trying to do something a little out of the box and doing something that hadn’t been done before. At least exploring the options throughout our process of putting a number of people that might have not been on the radar before."
On wanting to hire “outside the box”: "I think it was to make sure we explored everything and not just sit back and say, ‘OK, general managers in baseball fit this mold.’ At the time, I think there were sort of three molds. It was the old school mold, which just did scouting and development and didn’t believe in analytics. It was the new school that believed in analytics, and then some of the hybrid which is a little bit of both. Nobody had ever thought about a player agent at that time, and I did speak to more than one player agent that we considered. And I did speak to player agents that have turned and gone onto the team side from other sports as well."
On Van Wagenen’s vision: "I liked when I asked him, ‘Can we do something that will be sustainable and repeatable over the next 10 years?’ and we look back after 10 years and say, ‘Wow, the Mets really have had a great run.’ That’s what I wanted. I didn’t want him just coming in here trying to make deals to get his next contract. I didn’t want him coming in here just making deals to try and prove he can do it and push things to a point where it would leverage the future. So everything he’s done in his plan from the beginning after we spoke about that really hit on all those topics of, ‘OK, we want to get better now, we want to get better in the future.’ How do we do that and how do we balance that?"
On what made Van Wagenen the pick: "I think we had three finalists that all could have done a really good job, and I think they all were worthy of being a GM. We just thought, where we sort of looked at it at the end, this was out of the box, this was something a little different, and we thought that might entice the fanbase and be best for the organization. The fans could get behind him. He would be a great spokesman for the team, and something that we could rally around and move forward for long-term success."
On Van Wagenen’s first few months as GM: "The give and take, the amount of information that I need, I’m getting. A lot of it I don’t have to ask for. He’s coming to me first before I even ask for something and get me up to speed and get me in the loop of what I need to know about, what he and the rest of the staff are thinking about. Don’t short-sell that Brodie is very smart by himself, but I think one of the smartest things he did is a great trait that you see from good leaders and great leaders—he’s not scared to surround himself with just as smart people and willing to learn and listen to others around him, and he’s built out a great front office for us."
Former Stanford coach Mark Marquess
On Van Wagenen as a player: "He was a great player. He came in with the class of A.J. Hinch, we had quite a lot of good players as freshmen and Brodie started as a freshman in right field for us and played almost every game. Sophomore year did the same thing. And then he dislocated his shoulder his junior year and never really recovered from that. He was never really able to play. Sometimes you can DH somebody, but the dislocated shoulder affected his ability to swing the bat. His junior and senior year he wasn’t able to play, but he was still part of it, and as crazy as it sounds he was kind of a leader of the team his junior and especially his senior year even though he couldn’t play."
On Van Wagenen’s potential pre-injury: "He was an outfielder, he could run, he stole some bases, he had a good arm. You never know who is going to make it and be a big leaguer, but he was like a lot of players that I have. He was going to get drafted. Now whether he made it or not, how do you make the adjustment? I don’t care how talented you are, there’s a huge adjustment from being college player playing 3-4 times a week and playing everyday. You never know who can make that adjustment. But it wouldn’t have been a surprise to me if he could have played in the big leagues. You just don’t come in and start for our program at that time as a freshman. That doesn’t happen very often."
On Van Wagenen’s personality: "He was very competitive, a team guy, talented. If I asked him to something, whether it be bunt or hit and run or take a pitch or whatever, he was not selfish. Whatever he needed to do to help the team win. Everyone says that, but not everyone does that. A lot of guys it’s, ‘What’s my average? I don’t want to bunt. I don’t want to take a pitch. I’m going to be drafted.’ He and A.J. Hinch are very similar in that regard. It was very special to have players of that ability, to be team-oriented and really able to communicate. People skills are critical, I don’t care if you’re a baseball player or a coach or a businessman, whatever it is, and not everyone has that ability. Brodie had it, A.J. had it. It serves you well, and he had that along with the competitive drive to be successful and to win and that’s the key of playing athletics. You learn how to win and how to come back from a loss. For Brodie, his loss was his ability to play the game he loved. That’s the thing you came away with, what he was able to do in a very frustrating situation for himself."
On if Van Wagenen as a GM is in character from what Marquess saw in college: "Absolutely. He’ll go after it, he’s not going to back off and when he makes a mistake—and he probably won’t make many—he’ll learn from it. Guys like he and A.J., they don’t make the same mistake twice. They learn from it and then adjust."
Brodie Van Wagenen
On his flurry of activity after being hired: "What I am is, I try to outline goals. And once the goals are identified, I try to build a gameplan to achieve those goals. When I was going through the interview process I had outlined what I thought could be a successful plan for the club, and that plan was sort of focused on build not rebuild. And building upon the talent that existed on the roster, in particular on the starting rotation. Once I got the job, I really identified the areas where we could be most positively impacted and then set out a gameplan to try to go fill those areas of need. I think the first deal that was made was a byproduct of that and everything sort of fell in place after that."
On the risk of immediately trading prospects as an incoming GM: "The two players that were the headliners of the prospects that we moved, Jarred Kelenic and Justin Dunn, I had seen both of those with my own eyes. I had seen Kelenic in the showcase circuit for the draft. Justin Dunn I’d seen in a variety of capacities. So I think I did know at least the talents of both those players and learned a lot more about them once I was inside the walls of the organization. You always have to give up something to get something. It’s a tough decision whenever you give up players that have the potential to be big leaguers and I do think that both of those guys do, but at the end of the day the ability to get (Edwin) Diaz and the ability to get a three-hole hitter in Cano ultimately won the day."
On his front office hires: "I want to try and surround myself with people that are better than me, smarter than me, more experienced than me. And I feel like if we can do that then we’ll have a better opportunity to succeed. One of the areas that was well-chronicled that I did not have experience in was, the perception was, scouting and player development were weaknesses in for me. By bringing Allard (Baird) on board, he’s as experienced a baseball executive as there is in both of those areas. And for him to be able to bring leadership with him and hit the ground running out of the gate, it was a huge shot of adrenaline for us. And then with Adam Guttridge, Allard is old school and Adam is new school and very progressive in his player analysis, and I wanted to try to surround us with that perspective as well. Fortunately, Jeff and the ownership group were willing to give me the resources to invest in our scouting department, our player development department, our analytics department and our health and performance department as well, and we’ve set out to do that."
On being the subject of more media focus as a general manager than as an agent: "It’s very much an adjustment, because as an agent my belief is that it’s about the player and the support team is behind the scenes. I actually believe that is true in this job as well, that it is about putting the players in the situations to succeed and letting them be the stars and celebrating them for their talents and their performance. But I recognize that my change and coming from the outside world and coming into this job in this city, especially during the offseason, our players aren’t playing games right now, so more of the attention is focused on the hot stove than maybe will be the case the next couple of weeks when games start back up again. The transition I think has been different for sure, but not one that has been surprising."
On if moving into a front office was ever a career goal: "I think a lot of baseball players, when you face the reality you won’t be able to make a career playing the game, there are aspirations to make an impact in the game in a front office or ultimately the agency world, which is where I was doing it. But there was a desire to stay in the game in some way, shape or form. So for me, I think when I was in the agent world it wasn’t really a focus or ambition of mine to move to the management or front office side. What my goal had always been was to view myself as, ‘How can I make a positive impact in baseball?’ And I felt like I was able to do that working with one player at a time, one individual at a time."
On if he views the Mets GM job as his way of making the majors: "No, because I felt like I was already there. Working with the players, I felt like I was already working in Major League Baseball, working in our sport. I was just working in it from another side."
On his first job in sports: "My wife, or fiancé at the time, was in law school at University of Chicago, so I followed her there figuring that for somebody who wanted to work in sports to be able to start fresh, Chicago was about as good of a city as any. So I started trying to access my network to find out who I knew in Chicago and was trying to find my way into one of the professional sports teams. Long story short, I was hired to work for the Chicago Bulls in their marketing and sales department and got my first taste of the business side of professional sports. After being on the business side for a year and a half I realized I really would like to continue my sports career, but I wanted to do it in an area where I felt like there was a little bit more of a direct correlation between what I put into it and what I got out. In the mid-90s the Bulls had as probably an easy of a sales product as you can have. You had a ten-year waiting list for season tickets, they had Michael Jordan’s second championship run. Most of us could show up to work everyday and we were going to sell out the stadium no matter what we did."
On the job that introduced him to the agent world: "I ended up working for a new media company in LA and we were building official websites for athletes, so my job was to identify which athletes had a reason to have an online business, and that ultimately we could build the platform for it and then build a modernization plan in the digital space. The company was named Athlete Direct, it was sort of the sub-unit under the holding company Broadband Sports. I was the business development guy, I got to reach out to all the agents in the game and effectively negotiate what amounted to endorsement deals for their players. We ended up signing 350 athletes during that time. So as a result I got a chance to meet and negotiate with all the top agents in sports in that period in time, and I was able to do it at a young age. The internet space was just emerging at that point in time, so I was in a position where I was negotiating in a space on more of an equal footing because most of the agents to that point were still new to the space as well and so it afforded me the chance to interact with them in a way that I probably wouldn’t have if I was working for another type of product. It was through that process that I realized, you know what, I’d seen the good, I’d seen the bad, I’d seen the ugly of the agent world and felt like there was something that I had to give in terms of trying to be in a position where I was going to be a player-first advocate and be able to maybe fill a void where I could be younger and more relatable to the players than some of the guys were at the time."
On getting his first job as an agent: "I had done a lot of business with IMG in those years. I had worked with the IMG football agents, the IMG hockey agents, the IMG golf and tennis agents, and then I had done some deals with Casey Close in the baseball division. As I was transitioning out I had a chance to talk to a number of the different agencies and IMG, Mark McCormack was the pioneer of sports agencies at large, and IMG had a great reputation. I figured if I was going to enter that space I would want to do it with the most reputable brand possible."
On the competitiveness of playing transferring over into being an agent: "I never viewed it as a competitive drive because I didn’t really enter the business to try and beat the competition. It was more of a commitment to try to be somewhat selfless. I don’t want that to be kind of self-congratulatory. But I wanted it to be a little bit self-sacrificing, to say it’s not about me, it’s not about my competition, it’s about the players that I’m lucky enough to represent. I felt like my mission and my competitiveness was built to try to do everything in my power to have those players be successful and be able to accomplish their own goals."
On Stanford: "When I was trying to decide where I was going to go to school in the first place and where I was going to play, it was one of my dreams ever since I saw Paul Carey hit the grand slam in the 1987 College World Series on TV. Stanford was the place that I wanted to go to. I felt like it was the one, at that point in time, really true place where you could get the best of both worlds where you got to play for big-time college baseball and then also be able to get a top-flight degree. For me, it was never a belief that I was going to school for one thing. I wanted to make sure I left there with a degree and figured no matter what happened in baseball I’d have a platform to do whatever I wanted to do in life with that degree."
On the type of player he was: "I peaked early. When I was at my best, I could run, I could hit for a little bit of power when I was still playing the infield, that power tool was dramatically reduced once I moved to right field. But I feel like I played hard, played with passion and enjoyed every minute of it."
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Former Stanford infielder Brian Dallimore, a four-year teammate of Van Wagenen's.
On his first impression of Van Wagenen: "This is what I remember most about Brodie. The first day when we got on campus, it’s a little intimidating. You’re a freshmen, you’re rolling into Stanford as big as it is, as great as it is, so you know, you’re a little unsure of things. First day I got to the baseball field, classes haven’t started or anything, I just go there to maybe play catch or get a quick workout in with some of the people there, that was the first time I ever remember seeing Brodie. This guy comes out onto the field and it was like just full of confidence. It was like man, this guy knows he belongs here. That was one thing that stood out for me right off the bat, how full of confidence he was."
On the type of teammate Van Wagenen was: "He was a great teammate a good guy. He’s got this charm and charisma to him that has this kind of authentic quality to it and that’s what kind draws people in. The day he became an agent, some of us that know him looked each other like, ‘Oh that’s perfect for him. That’s exactly him.’ Not at all surprising, the success that he had as an agent. Not at all."
On how Van Wagenen responded from his career-ending shoulder injury: "The difficulty, we entered as freshmen together and we had quite a big freshman class that year. A.J. Hinch was a part of that and a couple of other guys. Part of that is we were all very young and we’re just kind of scrapping to do our best whatever we can and Brodie had some good parts early in his career. In the midst of that, him getting hurt with his shoulder, I don’t think a lot of us knew much about injuries at the time. None of us had really been injured a whole lot. You just don’t know the severity or what different injuries mean if you haven’t been exposed to them. So when he got injured, and I remember him talking about his shoulder, I don’t think at the time a lot of us understood the severity of the injury. Ultimately that’s what took him away from the game, but up unto that point, his first two years he was competing and contributing. It’s unfortunate because he was putting himself, just like we all were, we were fighting for playing time, fighting for any bit of success we could get. And those were the years, our freshman and sophomore year, where we were just kind of laying the foundation to start to have some success and he was doing the same. And unfortunately, the injury kind of took all that away from him."
On Van Wagenen getting on top of the dugout to rally the fans in the 1996 regional: "I totally remember that. That says a lot about Brodie, right? At this point we’re all seniors, this is our senior class, this is our last run, and there’s a couple of us that had good careers up to date and we’re definitely planning on playing after. And obviously the writing was on the wall for Brodie that he wasn’t going to play anymore. . . . That’s how much he cared about his buddies in the program. Being the guy who should’ve been a big part of that, right? Being part of that class and should have been a big part of it on the field, and that got taken away from him. He still did his best to still be a big part of it. I look at it as more of a friend, and a teammate, it would have been easy for him to be somebody who says, ‘Hey, you know what, this was all taken away from me, time for me to move on.' But he was every bit as interested. He was still a part of that success even though he wasn’t wearing a uniform, and that was what was cool about it. He genuinely cared about our success, even though he was in the bleachers. Those are the things that I most remember about Brodie. It was like, golly, in a time where it probably could have been pretty painful for him, he was doing his best to make sure we had some success."
Former Crespi (Encino, Calif.) High assistant coach Craig Sherwood
On what Van Wagenen as a high school player: "When he came into the school he already had advanced skills. I thought he was a very good infielder. I thought he had not only good skills, but good knowledge of the game also and he handled himself smoothly."
On how quickly it became apparent Van Wagenen had Division I potential: "I think he came in with a confidence that goes along with the ability, and the work ethic was there also. He didn’t just show up. He’d be there early and late. But he worked hard at his craft. He was actually a quiet player too. He wasn’t really a boisterous guy. He was there to play, and we thought he had skills to go to the next level. We were lucky at Crespi to get a lot of top athletes there and he fit in right away. For his age, I thought his skills were advanced. It was just a matter of getting stronger and getting the speed of the game for the high school level, and he did a really good job with that."
On Van Wagenen becoming a leader: "His leadership skills were always in place. And it wasn’t so much with his mouth. It was more by his actions, his attitude. He talked when he had to talk. He wasn’t a quiet guy. But the mouth didn’t control his game. His actions did."
On the lasting memory of Van Wagenen: "To me it was an attitude. He had a good soul and his attitude, his work ethic. When it’s all said and done, those are the things that stayed in my memory."