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(Opinion) Give the Wilpons Some Credit: Van Wagenen is a Gamble which might work

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens, File)

I love baseball. I’ve also been a childhood fan of the Mets growing up so I’ve read a lot of columns on the subject. Many of these columns are extremely critical of ownership and this franchise. Today we need to give Fred and Jeff Wilpon, the owners of the New York Mets some credit. They have taken a huge gamble in hiring Brodie Van Wagenen, a former agent, to lead the franchise going forward.

I’ve seen a lot of takes out there on sports talk radio, the internet, in print with other columns, and even amongst my friends about how this is essentially “an absolute joke”. It’s an easy take to make and a popular one.  After all, the Mets are a pretty easy target if you think about it.

I’m all for being fair and want to give credit where credit is due. This is what I want Amazin’ Prospects to be all about. We are seeking to provide unparalleled independent coverage of the New York Mets Minor League System and that starts with being honest not only with you but with ourselves. There is a chance that Van Wagenen is going to be an unmitigated disaster in the role of general manager but there’s also a chance that he is the choice that could propel the Mets to become the franchise they desire to become. There simply is not enough data to make a take one way or another so we’ll have to wait and see. However, I think we should be optimistic based on what could have been.

Now I, along with many others thought that Doug Melvin was going to get the job. He would have been a safe choice and would have aligned more with decisions the Mets have made in the past. When Melvin left the position of General Manager for the Milwaukee Brewers back in 2015 he said, “the job has grown to the point that it’s probably suited to somebody younger than me. You can see this with a lot of clubs. The general manager’s role is changing”. It was stunning to me that Melvin was getting another crack at running a franchise afterwords as powerful as those were even after almost twenty years experience at the helm.

A younger (and probably more popular choice amongst fans) would have been Chaim Bloom. His experience using analytics interested me (even though I’m not a pure disciple of the religion of analytics) along with the amount of time spent with the Tampa Bay Rays. Of all the teams, I find the Rays interesting in their progressive approach to the game. Bloom likely represented more of what Melvin was speaking of as to where the general manager position is going. A couple of drawbacks though, for one the Mets historically haven’t bought into analytics completely, selecting Bloom would be a rather drastic change in their approach. Secondly, there’s this whisper around those who cover baseball daily that Bloom isn’t good with the media. When it comes to New York and specifically the Mets that’s a huge problem. A major role of the General Manager is to shield the ownership from a lot of media interaction since the role essentially runs the day to day baseball operations of the team.

I thought Van Wagenen spoke well in the press conference the Mets held introducing their newest general manager. This was punctuated when Van Wagenen said, “We will win now, we will win in the future. We’re going to develop a winning culture and a winning mindset. We are going to deliver this city and this fan base a team they can be proud of.” There was the talk of free agency, of bolstering analytics and the player development departments. But lots of questions remain too.

Upon accepting the role of general manager for the New York Mets Van Wagenen has reportedly divested himself from all interests in his former agency. There’s a question about a conflict of interest now that Van Wagenen will be negotiating on the other side of the table. There is a large and widely publicized list of Van Wagenen’s client list that is on the Mets. That list includes major leaguers like Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Jason Vargas, Yoenis Cespedes, Brandon Nimmo, Todd Frazier, and Robert Gsellman. That list also includes minor leaguers like Tim Tebow, Anthony Kay, Justin Dunn, and David Peterson. Jeff Wilpon took the question from reporters about how this will be handled by answering that there are provisions in Van Wagenen’s contract after having discussions both with Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association. Wilpon declined to reveal the details of those provisions to the many media members present at the press conference.

Some questions were answered today. Mickey Callaway will likely get another crack as manager of the big club after Van Wagenen said: “I fully support him.” Many more questions will need to be answered. How will Van Wagenen’s experience as a player agent come into play with free agency discussions? How will this team run with analytics and player development? What changes will there be to the organization both at the major league and minor league levels? Most of all, how will Van Wagenen’s decisions pan out for both now and the future of the New York Mets?

Make no mistake, this wasn’t a safe pick at all. It is (as I titled my column here) a gamble. This fits the mold of the Mets the last few years. This organization has gambled by basing a team around starting pitching. They backed up that starting pitching squad with a roster full of primarily home run hitters, a gamble that didn’t pan out over the last couple of years. It is fitting in a way that they gambled with their general manager vacancy. This was the team that in 2015 put out Matt Harvey to attempt to complete Game 5 of the World Series against the Kansas City Royals, they lost that gamble too.

A business owner I’ve come to respect in my life has a really neat saying, “no balls, no blue chips”. I think that translates to more than just business but into life as well. You have to take risks in order to achieve large goals. Baseball is both obviously a business and an allegory on life as well. Heck, you could say it’s a gamble to see if Amazin’ Prospects is going to work out. While it took a lot of the former to hire Brodie Van Wagenen as opposed to a sure thing to lead this team in the future comes with it a hope that there are a lot of blue chips on the way for the New York Mets. Let’s wait and see how it all turns out. The only thing we do know is this ─ It’ll sure be interesting for the blue and orange how this turns out either way. The staff of Amazin’ Prospects and I are excited to be joining that ride and seeing how this all turns out.

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  1. Pingback: Mets Spring Training News & Notes: February 21, 2019 – Amazin' Prospects

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