The Mets Bewildering Move

Huh? Unless you’ve been averting your eyes from all things baseball so as to not witness yet another Red Sox world championship, you already know that the New York Mets named super-agent Brodie Van Wagenen as the 13th non-interim General Manager in club history. I must say that out of all of the publicly-disclosed candidates, he was my least favorite choice for the role.

I somewhat swam against the tide of public opinion and was in favor of Doug Melvin, especially after his post-interview press conference when he seemed to correctly identify every Met issue. He also earned extra points for almost fleecing Sandy Alderson back in (sigh) July of 2015, when he nearly acquired Wilmer Flores and Zack Wheeler for a washed-up Carlos Gomez. Tampa Bay’s Chaim Bloom was my next choice, as going all of the way back to the mid-90’s Expos teams I have long advocated the Mets hiring any one of the architects of that prospect-rich, shoestring budget team. That Expos franchise seemed to just be able to find gem after gem, didn’t they? The Rays are their spiritual heir, coming out of nowhere nearly year after year to put together an exciting and watchable team rostered by players you haven’t heard of before.

Look, none of us can say with any certainty today that this is a good hire or not. But on the surface, this is a move fraught with potholes. The biggest is Van Wagenen’s former occupation, complicated by his relationship with several key Met players. It’s kind of like having a consultation with an attorney on Tuesday, only to arrive in court on Thursday to find the self-same barrister working for the opposing side. Toss in those comments from Player’s Union head Tony Clark, and this has all of the makings of a disaster, both at the operational level and from a public relations standpoint.

The other concern is from the early reports of the Mets plans to keep the triumvirate of Omar Minaya, J.P. Ricciardi, and John Ricco in place. This appears to be a confusing co-mingling of power and responsibilities, a Machiavellian plot  probably hatched by Jeff Wilpon to keep all of his lieutenants at bay and at each other. Add the return of Mickey Callaway as manager (a move endorsed by Jeff) and one thing that is very clear  is that the team is not getting a strong man at the tiller.

One has to wonder was said to Van Wagenen to get him to leave his very lucrative position. I assume he has made enough money to be set for life, as it isn’t like he can go back to his old role if (or when) he flops here. There is the hope that he convinced the Wilpons that he is the guy to help them act more like a big-market team. Maybe he has some connections to some rising hotshot analysts and player-development types that he plans on bringing in. At age 44, he is certainly not “old school,” but he clearly lacks the experience his predecessor brought to the table—not that this is a bad thing.

We will see, I guess. And, with 45 days between now and the end of the winter meetings, we probably won’t have too long to wait. Meantime, this situation is best summed up by that sage Ned Flanders: As the tree said to the lumberjack, “I’m stumped.”

A Mets fan since 1971, Dan spent many summer nights of his childhood watching the Mets on WOR Channel Nine, which his Allentown, PA cable company carried. Dan was present at Game 7 of the 1986 World Series and the Todd Pratt Walkoff Game in 1999. He is also the proud owner of two Shea Stadium seats. Professionally, Dan is a Marketing Manager in the Bulk Materials Handling industry. He lives in Bethlehem PA with his wife and son, neither of whom fully get his obsession with the Mets.
  1. DanB October 31, 2018 at 3:14 pm
    We have heard for a long time that the Wilpons are more “hands on” than most owners. We have also heard that Jeff Wilpon has been the defacto GM for a while now. I am sure Jeff Wilpon would love to name himself GM but he knows it would open him up to public criticism. I bet he also loves having a scapegoat to blame when things go wrong (like they did with Sandy Alderson when he left — a pathetic path chosen by a pathetic owner). Knowing all of this, do we think the Wilpons would prefer a baseball insider like Doug Melvin who knows the proper roles of owners and GMs or someone who has never been behind the closed doors of a team and might be unsure of protocol? Would the Mets prefer someone who has other options, who could say “no” knowing they could get a job from another team eventually or someone who would of never been considered for the job by any other team? Someone who had to turn his back on his previous career? Someone who now owes the Mets for his position? I don’t care what was said at the press conference, but in my eyes, the Mets have just announced that Jeff Wilpon is the new GM of the Mets. I don’t see Van Wagenen having anymore control over they team than the trifecta of GMs that held the position before him.
    • argonbunnies November 6, 2018 at 10:46 am
      As much as I remain skeptical regarding owner meddling rumors (I have seen very little actual evidence of how the Wilpons interfere), it’s certainly not far-fetched.

      If I were a billionaire running a baseball team, and I wanted my team to win and beat all my billionaire buddies’ teams, I’d sure as heck be hands-on. I’d want it to feel like my victory, like my shrewd moves got us there.

      I’m honestly less sure what many hands-off owners are in it for.

      Given that all we have are rumors, though, I do find it very hard to guess which dumb moves come from Fred, or Jeff, or the GM, or someone the GM’s delegated authority to.

      There were enough patterns under Alderson that I’m pretty comfortable blaming Sandy for a lot of them. I completely agree, though, that Van Wagenen’s relationship with the Wilpons will be very different than Alderson’s. You make a great point, Dan, about Van Wagenen sacrificing all leverage in taking the Mets GM job. He really cannot afford to get fired. Not a great starting place for honesty and pushback to ownership.

  2. argonbunnies November 5, 2018 at 1:39 pm
    I was hoping for Bloom, to at least catch the Mets up to the current cutting edge of team construction.

    That came with no guarantees — perhaps by the time Bloom had reshaped the roster, the cutting edge would have advanced, and the overall inertia of the Mets’ organization would have kept them behind. Getting objective eyes on the Mets’ talent might also have meant a rebuilding phase, as the current core simply may not be good enough to contend in 2019 or 2020.

    So, instead, the Mets went with a guy who looks good on camera and claims the 2019 team can compete and has literally zero idea how to run a baseball franchise.

    The best case scenario is that Van Wagenen brings an outside perspective to solve problems no other teams have solved (strengthening pitchers’ fingers and forearms to minimize stress on the UCL, teaching splitters to minor leaguers because they’re currently rare in MLB, etc.).

    The worst case scenario is… well, I think Dan B spelled it out perfectly.

  3. DaveSchneck November 5, 2018 at 6:45 pm
    I was in the likely majority in preferring Bloom or Ng, and like Dan I was more comfortable with Melvin than most others. This move certainly comes with significant risk, but IMHO and Met GM hire comes with significant risk given the history and ownership.

    Ultimately, Jeff was the driving force behind this and got the hire he was most comfortable with, and he was able to convince his dad. Like most met fans, I do not for Jeff. But, in the end, if the Mets are going to succeed, they need the ownership to be convinced by a good leader that will be correct more often than being incorrect, especially on the big decisions.

    Alderson had a tough task and while he put up way more losing seasons than winning seasons, he was able to get the team to the World Series once an stabilize the team through an existential financial threat to its owners. His experience and discipline contributed to this. The downside of his tenure, some driven by his illness, was being detached to a degree with the latest trends in baseball, and creating relationships with the young exec generation now impacting the game. So, I think BVW has good penetration in this area, is likely more entrenched in the analytics and scouting than we non-baseball folks think, and has a good relationship with Jeff. Time will tell, and the NY market is impatient, unforgiving, and tabloid-like, but this can work out very well for the Mets and its fans too. It is actually a very interesting time to be a Met fan, maybe even moreso if any of the other GM candidates were hired.

    • argonbunnies November 5, 2018 at 10:40 pm
      I agree with that last part! The shift from dinosaur to total unknown certainly is interesting.

      Just like with most things Mets, part of the interest is the potential for complete disaster…