NEW YORK — Brodie Van Wagenen officially crossed the line from player agent to baseball team executive on Tuesday, introduced as the 13th general manager in the history of the New York Mets.
Of the many questions he faces, perhaps none is more important than how he now handles business relationships with former clients, notably Mets right-hander Jacob deGrom, the likely 2018 National League Cy Young Award winner and free agent in two years.
“Didn’t expect that question,” joked Van Wagenen when asked how the new GM plans to deal with the team’s stud pitcher after saying at the All-Star Game that the Mets needed to either commit long term to deGrom or move him to another team.
“Jacob deGrom has clearly established himself as the best pitcher in baseball,” said a more serious Van Wagenen. “Make no mistake, I believe Jacob deGrom is an incredible talent and I hope to keep him a long time.”
While speaking with a group of writers later at the press conference, Van Wagenen presented his vision of what the future looks like, with deGrom as a centerpiece.
“Regardless of who the player is, and that applies to Jacob and other players on the team, we need to identify who we want and who are part of the solutions, we need to figure out how to keep them, we need to figure out who doesn’t fit and figure out to convert those guys into other assets,” explained Van Wagenen.
“But right now I want to identify who the great players are, and Jacob deGrom is certainly one of them, and keep them for a long time.”
However, when it comes time for the Mets and deGrom’s new representative at CAA to sit down and discuss a contract extension, Van Wagenen will not be part of the process. Jeff Wilpon, the team’s Chief Operating Officer, told reporters that when it comes to financial discussions with former clients like deGrom and current Mets Noah Syndergaard, Yoenis Cespedes, Todd Frazier, Jason Vargas, Robert Gsellman and Brandon Nimmo, Van Wagenen must recuse himself from negotiations.
“I don’t think it hamstrings us because we have other people to help, but he can give us direction — he just can’t be involved in the negotiation,” explained Wilpon.
“Is it something we are worried about? No. And we gave it a lot of thought; and, obviously, I went through the process of making sure everyone was OK with doing this kind of arrangement and bringing an agent into our side before we (hired Van Wagenen).”
“I understand I am not the path of least resistance. So, I appreciate this opportunity”#Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen pic.twitter.com/5IemKhtcDj
Van Wagenen was quick to point out that he spoke to his clients before joining the Mets front office and made sure that they were OK with the move.
“I kept them abreast as this process evolved,” explained the 44-year old general manager. “I didn’t want to surprise any clients. I wanted them to understand what I was settng out to do and how it could potentially benefit them in bringing a player’s-first mindset into an organization. They were fully up to speed.”
And how exactly did his former clients — specifically deGrom — react to this news?
MORE: Five questions on the Mets hiring of Brodie Van Wagenen
The smooth-talking Van Wagenen did not exactly provide many specifics.
“I think to a man, not only with my Mets clients, but also to clients around the game, there was a tremendous amount of enthusiasm, tremendous amount of support and I think a belief that I might be able to bring some fresh perspectives to the team side.”
“We will win now, we will win in the future” – Brodie Van Wagenen pic.twitter.com/kj8AoSEKKS
Of course, Van Wagenen can maintain great working relationships with his clients, but if Mets ownership does not pony up for top-tier free agents or to retain current team cornerstones like deGrom, then the Mets will not be able to fulfill his vision of a sustainable winning organization.
Wilpon did not share what the team budget is for 2019 when asked by reporters, but did say that his new executive is in sync with ownership.
And when the names of free agents Bryce Harper and Manny Machado were mentioned, Van Wagenen offered a firm, bold response.
“I intend to be talking to every free agent on the market,” stated Van Wagenen. “I expect to be in on every free agent. And if they fit into our roster, we’re going to go after them.”
Brodie Van Wagenen inherits a manager in Mickey Callaway who rode a strong second half to a 77-85 record his first year in the Mets dugout this past season.
So, will Callaway return as Mets skipper in 2019 or will Van Wagenen make his own hire?
“I fully support him” said Van Wagenen, who added that he’s been in contact with Callaway and that the manager will be in New York later in the week to meet.
“I think one of the themes I’ve discussed today and will continue to be a calling card of this new regime is a cultutre of positivity. He has enthusiasm. He has energy. And I want to embrace that and use that to inspire players.”
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There’s also the fate of front office holdovers John Ricco, Omar Minaya and J.P. Ricciardi. All three helped run baseball operations after Sandy Alderson stepped aside as general manager last summer due to health reasons, and each was present at Tuesday’s press conference, though none was made available to speak with reporters.
Ricco joined the organization in 2004 and is the current Vice-President, Baseball Operations and Assistant General Manager, while both Minaya and Ricciardi as Special Assistants to the General Manager and former MLB GMs themselves.
“I hope to have multiple assistant general managers,” offered Van Wagenen. “I hope to have existing group of people here and build around them, regardless of what the titles are.”
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