By Bob Nightengale |
Brodie Van Wagenen looked fabulous on the dais Tuesday with his designer suit and blue-and-orange tie, flaunted his brilliant speaking skills, and exuded an aura of confidence throughout the press conference.
Still, no matter the elegance and grace of the presentation, the unveiling of Van Wagenen as the new general manager of the New York Mets is one of the strangest and most perplexing hires in Major League Baseball history.
Sure, Van Wagenen, 44, is extremely bright, talented, has a deep baseball background, and is one of the best in the entire industry negotiating players’ contracts.
But up until a day ago, when he was officially decertified by the MLB Players Association, he was a player agent.
And, until Tuesday, he had never worked a single day in a baseball front office, with no experience as a farm director, a scouting director or even as a propeller head in a team’s analytics department.
For the past 18 years, he was a prominent agent.
Today, he is considered a traitor, at least by his former colleagues.
My God, wasn’t it just nine months ago when Van Wagenen, the co-head of the baseball division at CAA (Creative Artists Agency) openly accused MLB owners of collusion? He also threatened that players might be willing to boycott spring training in solidarity, never mind that it would have violated federal laws, which could have caused the National Labor Relations Board to issue an immediate injunction.
Four months ago, Van Wagenen was attacking the Mets. He threatened them at the All-Star Game saying they should either sign his prized client, ace Jacob deGrom, to a long-term contract or trade him.
Now, here we are on Halloween Eve, and Van Wagenen is overseeing the entire Mets organization.
Pardon our confusion.
It took two questions into the press conference to ask about deGrom. Van Wagenen was responsible for getting deGrom the most possible money he could from the Mets just 24 hours ago, and now he’s responsible for getting deGrom to sign for the cheapest amount of money.
The Mets have a huge advantage at the negotiating table now. CAA represents seven Mets players on their 25-man roster, and Van Wagenen knows everything about his former clients. He knows whether they really want to stay in New York or not. He knows the intimate deals of their health issues. Most important, there can be no more bluffing, because he knows exactly what it’ll take for them to sign a long-term contract.
This is the conflict that has agents infuriated, players curious and union chief executive Tony Clark concerned, saying several players have already reached out to him.
“If someone made a commitment to a player saying I care about your interests, and then took all that information to work for a team and used that to negotiate against me,’’ agent Scott Boras said, “I would be very upset. I would never violate the trust that I have with any player.’’
Jeff Wilpon, Mets chief operating officer, insists there will be no conflict, saying Van Wagenen not only divested himself of all interests of CAA, but that he’ll be excused in negotiating with any of his former players.
Sure, and we’re supposed to believe that at no time, not now or ever, will Wilpon or anyone else in the Mets front office casually ask Van Wagenen, “Hey, what’s your best-guess on just what deGrom is willing to take to keep him in the organization before he hits free agency in two years?”
You really think Van Wagenen won’t spill his guts, or let Wilpon know whether deGrom ever complained about a sore elbow or shoulder, or that perhaps he’s willing to take less than the Mets envision since he’s more worried about financial security than setting contract records?
“Jacob deGrom clearly has established himself as the best pitcher in baseball,” Van Wagenen said at his press conference. “I believe Jacob deGrom is an incredible talent and I hope to keep him for a long time.’’
The New York Mets are proud to announce the signing of Jacob deGrom to a contract extension in 3…2…1.
It’s this potential conflict that has every CAA marquee client under siege, with agents from every part of the country trying to steal them away from CAA, saying they can’t possibly get fair representation with their chief crossing enemy lines.
One day, he’s an agent widely praised by his peers for getting that $110 million contract from the Mets for injured outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, and the next, he’s the GM who’s responsible for the Mets having one of the worst contracts in the game?
So, is Cespedes supposed to make Van Wagenen feeling awfully proud or awfully stupid?
Perhaps it’s unfair to presume that Van Wagenen’s former clients playing for non-Mets teams will also be at a disadvantage at the negotiating table, but, hey, Van Wagenen works for the other side now, and it’s open season on that proprietary information.
And, oh, yes, now that he’ll be in New York full-time, how long will it take for MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred to enlist Van Wagenen’s assistance at the negotiating table when they begin talks for their next collective bargaining agreement?
Well, all we know for sure is that the Mets’ front office will be the greatest show in the game, and under more scrutiny than perhaps any team in the game.
Van Wagenen realizes there will be plenty of enemies out there, whether it’s his former peers who resent him out of jealousy, loathe him from their days of competing against one another, or management officials who resent him for getting the job without experience.
He was awfully shrewd in his first remarks thanking his predecessor and role model, Sandy Alderson, warming the hearts of the old-school fraternity by announcing he would be hiring more scouts and developmental people while also increasing their analytic staff, and telling the players they should be celebrated.
He made sure Mets fans were elated, too, announcing there will be no tear-down in Queens, with hopes of playing until late October.
“We will win now,’’ Van Wagenen said. “We will win in the future. We will deliver a team this fanbase and this city can be proud of.’’
The opening show is over now.
It’s time for the reality series.
We can’t wait.