At a press conference in New York Tuesday, the New York Mets introduced their choice to lead the team back to contention in 2019 and beyond.
Brodie Van Wagenen is the new general manager in Queens and although the team made a show of presenting him to the press and their fans, there are few people in baseball who are not familiar with the young new executive.
Van Wagenen has negotiated deals and shared ideas with all 30 MLB teams over the years in his role as co-head of baseball operations at Creative Artists Agency (CAA). He was one of the most successful player agents in the business until he accepted the Mets job.
Now he will flip his focus from protecting the best interests (and grabbing as much money as possible) for players to guarding the interests (and saving money) for his new team.
The switch in roles has many baseball people questioning how or whether he can handle the inevitable conflicts. Among the players Van Wagenen represented is Jacob deGrom, who is coming off a Cy Young-worthy season and destined for an arbitration hearing this offseason.
The Mets’ new boss also represents five other Mets and six more are represented by other CAA agents. This has elicited concern from several venues.
Fellow agents aren’t on board.
Van Wagenen’s peers in the agent business expressed concern about an agent switching sides. Scott Boras called into an ESPN radio show before the deal was finalized to question trust issues on both sides of the table.
“How does a player know an agent won’t make that change at any time?” asked Boras. “Why would he tell you the most intimate things in the world, knowing you might be negotiating against him?”
He went on to question how owners can trust an ex-agent to always have the team’s best interests in mind. “They might be expressing loyalty to you, but they also have a group of people they worked with a long time who they were loyal to.”
Agent Josh Kusnick of Double Diamond Sports chimed in, too. “Fundamentally, I don’t know how you untangle yourself from those conflicts that will arise with players or colleagues you used to work with.”
Players watching closely
Major League Baseball Players’ Association head, Tony Clark, reports that players from around the league are calling with concerns over how Van Wagenen could use confidential information against former clients.
Clark says he is confident the Mets’ GM will honor and treat privileged information appropriately. Mets’ owner Fred Wilpon told reporters the team discussed the matter with the MLBPA and the league offices, leading to some contract language that addresses their concerns.
The union will undoubtedly monitor deGrom’s arbitration process, as well as negotiations involving all of CAA’s clients on the Mets.
MLB offers advice
The league offices have not issued any formal direction or opinion on the hiring of Van Wagenen. It is not the first time a player agent has been hired for a front office role in MLB.
Dave Stewart and Jeff Moorad had stints with the Diamondbacks. A more promising precedent comes from the NBA, where former agent Bob Myers guided the Golden State Warriors to success.
Word from the Mets is that MLB expects Van Wagenen to sit out negotiations with former clients. If that includes all CAA clients, that means the Mets’ GM will be sidelined in negotiations with almost half the team.
Of course, there is no way to monitor or enforce any restrictions on Van Wagenen’s behind-the-scenes involvement, a fact acknowledged by the MLB advisors.
What the Mets say
New York says it hired its first choice for the job, which apparently did not include any of the young analytics-driven favorites from around the league.
Wilpon says Van Wagenen offered a plan combining analytics, scouting, and development that convinced the Mets’ brass he was the best choice to lead the team.
In his role as a player agent, Van Wagenen says identifying talent and grooming it for the Big Leagues was a vital skill. He hit on improved analytics and integration of analytics into the game management as key to making the Mets a contender in 2019.
Boston cites a similar effort and acceptance of analytics by their young manager, Alex Cora, as the key to their World Series Championship season.
Mets fans hope returning manager Mickey Calloway can do so well with it.