Thursday, November 5, 2020

It All Begins Monday, but It Might End for Brodie

I've been a bit distracted by the election this week, but I was still quite happy to read in the Post yesterday that the expectations are that Steve Cohen's control of the Mets is expected to begin Monday. Even though it's basically been a done deal since last Friday, it still will be with a sense of relief and excitement that I await that climactic changeover. Honestly, it feels like it's been forever since I've been looking forward to this moment, going back to the original negotiations between Steve Cohen and the Mets last winter. Even my concerns expressed yesterday over labor-management uncertainty won't dampen this anticipation. So, while Monday is generally not my favorite day of the week, this upcoming Monday will be a big exception to the rule if, indeed, the changeover happens.

An interesting question in Mike Puma's piece linked above on the upcoming closing of the sale is the fate of current GM Brodie Van Wagenen. While the man had some ups and downs over his two seasons in charge, I think the broad consensus of opinion was that he was in over his head as a Major League General Manager, and that's my opinion, too. He had some good moments, notably using his skills and connections from being an agent to sign all of the players in the Mets' aggressive amateur drafts the past two seasons. On the other hand, the Cano trade and his difficulties with managing the roster this season were big black marks against Van Wagenen.

I remember back when Brodie was hired after Sandy Alderson stepped aside. I didn't think it was going to work then. This was not because I had any real feel for what the successful agent might bring to the job, but because I knew the Mets under the Wilpons was not the sort of organization where an outside-of-the-box selection like Van Wagenen would flourish. He would have needed a lot of support from both above and below, from an ownership that was willing to roll the dice and innovate and a front office full of solid baseball advisors who could help him manage the hurdles that his lack of any previous front office experience would have created.

The Wilpons didn't hire Van Wagenen because they were prepared to take the team into a dramatic new direction, but because he got along well with Jeff Wilpon. The consensus about Jeff from the people who were familiar with him is that he had an overinflated sense of his own baseball acumen and an inability to listen to advice from those who knew better. As for the team that surrounded Van Wagenen in the front office, I don't think they were completely incompetent. There were good people left over from the Alderson years, particularly in scouting and development. For the most part, however, they were there because they got along with Jeff Wilpon, too. The proof of their failure to help Van Wagenen succeed was the Cano deal, trading for Marcus Stroman while not even attempting to retain Zack Wheeler and bleeding so many young players out of the organization this season through clumsy roster moves.

Brodie Van Wagenen beefed up the Analytics team a bit, but it was still woefully small compared to what the top organizations were doing. He really rubbed me the wrong way early on with that "come get us" nonsense after his first offseason, which predictably blew up in his face. While I can appreciate bravado when it has something behind it, I didn't look at the Mets going into that season as the favorites even before their lack of depth predictably sabotaged yet another Mets season. When Davey Johnson was calling the Mets the team to beat back in the day it was because they really were. He was stating his belief, not just whistling in the dark.

So yeah, a hiring like Van Wagenen's could have conceivably paid off in a much different organization, but it's not surprising that it didn't work here. I really don't blame him as much as the folks who hired him. The Wilpons were always the weakest link in the chain. If they weren't forced to sell the club, it wouldn't have mattered much if they kept the current GM on or replaced him. The incompetence, stinginess, failure to innovate, and overall mismanagement weren't going anywhere.

As for the question of what happens to Van Wagenen on Monday, Puma points out in his piece that Sandy Alderson isn't known as an executive who defaults to handing out pink slips. Puma notes that Alderson kept GM Kevin Towers on in San Diego when he took over as the Padre's president back in 2005. On the other hand, Puma mentions something I hadn't heard before, when Alderson stepped down as Mets GM for health reasons back in 2018, it was also under some pressure from Jeff Wilpon, who wanted to hire Brodie Van Wagenen.

I really am not very concerned about which way the Mets will go with Van Wagenen. He has two years left on his contract, and it might turn out that he is allowed to stay on if he chooses to. I would bet if he does stay on it would not be with complete autonomy in decision-making, nor should it. His skills in negotiating with amateur free agents would continue to be useful. I certainly wouldn't expect to see a repeat of the Cano deal if Brodie did stay on. I'm not worried for the guy personally if he gets canned, either. He'll go back to being a successful sports agent and continue to make a ton of money. We should all share that fate when we fail at something.

Update: After I posted this, Deesha Thosar reported in the Daily News that Steve Cohen's purchase of the club could happen as soon as Friday. Hey, the sooner the better. Fridays are great, anyway, but the purchase finalizing would make this one truly epic.


Jay Jaffe at FanGraphs has an interesting piece on all of the Major Leaguers who had their team options declined this year. When Alderson and his team get to work next week, these players will be a part of a pool of available talent for the Mets to try to fix all of the problems with the current roster. Just looking through the names on this list there are a few guys who seem at least worth a poke to me.

Among the pitchers, Corey Kluber would be an interesting choice on a real incentive-heavy deal. He has a big recent injury history, and will be 35 next year, but was really good as recently as 2018. He can be a real lottery ticket if it comes together. Charlie Morton, about to turn 37, has been effective up until this weird season and has always been very good in the playoffs. Brad Hand and Darren O’Day would be obvious targets for the bullpen, although Hand could be out of the Mets' price range for relievers. Steve Cishek is another guy who endured a tough season but is an interesting guy to look at. He was good through 2019. He'll turn 35 next year but doesn't rely on velocity to pitch well.

I have less interest in anyone on that position player list. Former Met Daniel Murphy will be 36, plays first base now, and hasn't had a great offensive season since 2018. Daniel Descalso might be of some interest as a versatile utility guy, but I think the Mets have better options on their own roster now. Dee Gordon offers a lot of speed and a below-average bat. Howie Kendrick has been very productive with the Nationals, but will turn 38 next year and doesn't seem like a good fit with the current Mets roster. Kolten Wong is the biggest name, but no real fit, either.


In the New York Post today, a Yankees beat writer has a piece on why both the Yankees and Mets might pursue free-agent pitcher Trevor Bauer. The upgrade Bauer would provide to the Mets starting pitching would be obvious, but I think I have a different take on the guy than most.

There are inevitable questions as to how Bauer, a controversial guy to begin with, might fare in the crazy New York media environment. I understand those worries, but I believe that a less overreactive regime running the Mets would be able to handle that fine. My real question would be whether Bauer is completely committed to only signing one-year deals. If he is, I'd probably vote to pass on him this offseason.

This would be for several reasons. Number one is I believe that building the Mets into a true contender to win it all takes a couple of seasons, at best. Trevor Bauer received a qualifying offer from the Reds, so signing him means forfeiting a draft pick. So why do that for one year of him in a season where you're probably not a legit title threat? A player can only receive a qualifying offer once in his career, so signing Bauer to a 1-year deal after next season costs no draft pick and brings him in for the season when the Mets are better equipped for a title run. In the meantime, there are other good options for 2021.

Look, it's not like I'm going to be mad at the Mets if they sign Trevor Bauer for this season. He'd definitely be a huge upgrade. Still, to me, it would make more sense to let it go for a year unless the team can talk him into signing on for a longer deal.

Anyway, I'm so much looking forward to next Monday and watching things start to play out. It will provide fodder for discussion in this space throughout the offseason. In the meantime, please stay safe, be well and take care. Let's go Mets!

 Follow me on Twitter @MikeSteffanos

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