Agent of change: Van Wagenen vows winning culture with Mets
NEW YORK (AP) — At first, the New York Mets reached out to Brodie Van Wagenen simply for recommendations.
Preparing to begin a general manager search last summer, Mets chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon already had a long relationship with Van Wagenen and figured the powerful player agent could offer some quality candidates thanks to his vast network of contacts developed during nearly two decades of negotiations.
Turned out, the more they talked, Wilpon started to think Van Wagenen himself was the right man for the job — despite his unorthodox background.
And when Wilpon late in the season suggested Van Wagenen switch sides at the bargaining table to take over the Mets' baseball operations, Van Wagenen was intrigued. They discussed all the parameters over a private breakfast, and an atypical idea soon became a reality.
"I recognize I am not the path of least resistance," Van Wagenen said Tuesday.
At a crowded news conference in a sprawling club area on the fifth floor of Citi Field, the 44-year-old Van Wagenen was introduced as the 13th general manager in Mets history. Given a four-year contract, he vowed to bring a winning culture of positivity to a stumbling organization coming off consecutive losing seasons.
"I intend for players to be the priority of this franchise going forward," Van Wagenen said, wearing a necktie in Mets blue and orange. "We have a lot of work to do in the coming days and weeks to build a championship roster and to put a good process in place for good decision-making. But I want to assure all Mets fans that every person in this organization will be fearless and relentless in our pursuit of greatness. Everyone will be working together in this effort."
Wilpon called the GM search exhausting. He said it began with a list of about 40 names that was narrowed to 10-12 candidates and then three finalists. And he detailed why he and his father, Mets owner Fred Wilpon, chose Van Wagenen to replace Sandy Alderson and build a "sustainable" winner.
"He's a leader. He's organized. He's going to be collaborative with our entire staff," Jeff Wilpon said. "He's got a plan. He's got a deep analytic background. He's got deep scouting background. He finds players before we even get to see them in the minor leagues and things. His player development and scouting will be tremendously important to the entire organization.
"He's going to bring some excitement. He's going to bring a different look at things than we've had from traditional GMs," the COO added. "We're really energized by this."
Van Wagenen represented big names all around the majors, including Mets stars Jacob deGrom, Yoenis Cespedes and Todd Frazier. Seven players on the team's current 40-man roster are clients at CAA Baseball, where Van Wagenen was co-head after co-founding the division in 2006.
And that number doesn't even include another now-former Van Wagenen client, Mets minor leaguer Tim Tebow — the 2007 Heisman Trophy winner and ex-NFL quarterback.
Jeff Wilpon said he spoke with the commissioner's office and players' union chief Tony Clark about the hire, and there are provisions in Van Wagenen's contract "to deal with any conflicts of interest."
Van Wagenen, who had to give up his career as an agent to take the Mets job, said he has divested his interests at CAA. He said he kept clients apprised of his plans throughout the process, and many were supportive and enthusiastic about the "fresh perspectives" he could bring to a major league front office.
But when buzz began to build about Van Wagenen flipping labor-relations roles, some players and rival agents did express concern.
"Some decide to use situations as a platform for their own self-benefit, but I'm not concerned with those people," he said.
His switch is not unprecedented.
Dennis Gilbert, Rick Hahn, Jeff Moorad and former big league pitcher Dave Stewart previously made the move from baseball agent to front-office executive. NBA general managers have done the same. NFL executive Mike Tannenbaum, vice president of football operations for Miami, worked as an agent between jobs with the Jets and Dolphins.
"Tony Clark and I have been in constant communication throughout this process," Van Wagenen said. "I'm very confident that I'll be able to work with everybody on both sides of the aisle."
Van Wagenen insisted his new job actually won't be that different from his old one. He said he already has a scouting network in place from his 18 years as an agent, when his mission was talent acquisition — same as it will be with the Mets.
"I think this team needs to build, not rebuild," he said.
Van Wagenen voiced support for Mickey Callaway, who went 77-85 this year in his rookie season as Mets manager. The new GM also noted the valuable experience of assistant GM John Ricco and special assistants Omar Minaya and J.P. Ricciardi, the trio running baseball operations since Alderson stepped down in late June following a recurrence of cancer.
Jeff Wilpon has said he would like all three to return — though that didn't ensure they would be retained. Ricco, Minaya and Ricciardi all attended the news conference, but Van Wagenen said he hadn't made any final decisions about his staff.
"We will invest in our scouting department, we'll invest in our player development, our health and wellness, and our analytics," he said. "All will be priorities. Throughout my career I've come to understand that character and makeup are critical keys to success. I intend to make character the backdrop of this organization. We will identify it, we will develop it and we will build around it."
He does not anticipate an unusual level of owner involvement.
"They've given me full autonomy for building the systems, hiring people that I want to, putting (together) a major league roster," Van Wagenen said. "There is no general manager, there is no president of baseball operations in the game that has the ability to write checks, so I will be working together with them to determine what the right price points are for all of those investments."
Large scoreboards and smaller television screens all around the ballpark displayed a welcome message for Van Wagenen, with a photo of him smiling. He opened his formal remarks by paying tribute to the man he's replacing, saying Alderson was a role model to him since his college days at Stanford and he hopes to lean on him going forward.
"It's humbling to stand here today as I try to follow in his footsteps," Van Wagenen said.