By Sean Menickella
After a prestigious 18-year run, former player agent Brodie Van Wagenen has decided to take his career to new heights. He is now the General Manager for the New York Mets.
Van Wagenen has had a colorful and very successful 18 years brokering some of the largest contracts in the history of the sport. Deals such as Robinson Cano’s 10-year, $240-million contract in 2013; Ryan Zimmerman’s six-year, $100-million deal in 2012; and Yoenis Cespedes’ four-year, $110 million contract in 2016.
However, shifting from negotiating lucrative contracts for clients to building a team to win is no simple task. Ideally, a player-oriented professional like Van Wagenen would bring essential knowledge to the role. He understands players’ motivations and desires more than most front office decision-makers.
He would know what incentives and contracts top players desire and can use it to secure essential pieces. Ironically, this is exactly why this hire has become so controversial in the sports world.
Breaking down potential conflicts of interest
Van Wagenen’s former list of clients, many of whom play for the Mets, makes conflict of interest a glaring issue. During a press conference at Citi Field in late October, those very issues arose. When asked about possible conflicts of interest, Jeff Wilpon – the Mets chief operating officer – spoke for the new GM, claiming provisions in his contract that would deal with any conflicts of interest, a response that did not sit well with many.
There are those who described the move to hire Van Wagenen as unethical and flat-out foolish. Despite working as an agent for MLB players, Van Wagenen has no experience working with an organization on any level. On top of that, his client list includes several of the Mets big-time players such as Jacob deGrom.
DeGrom, arguably the best pitcher in pro baseball and certainly the best on the Mets roster, was a client of Van Wagenen. Because of the relationship that players and agents must have, we can safely assume deGrom divulged certain confidential information to his then agent, such as how long he intends to play, how much he is willing to sign for, and his problems with the organization – information that players wouldn’t want management to know.
Are we expected to believe that Van Wagenen would not spill the beans to his organization to retain a player he has been quoted as saying is a special talent?
That’s not the only player on the Mets roster that Van Wagenen and the Creative Artists Agency (his former employer) represented. The list includes Noah Syndergaard, Robert Gsellman, Todd Frazier, Tim Tebow and Justin Dunn. It’s not surprising that the hire has rubbed many the wrong way, though it is noteworthy that Van Wagenen has divested himself of all CAA shares and commissions.
Rare, but not unprecedented
This is not the first time a player agent has moved into the front office of a professional organization, but Van Wagenen is by far the most prominent to do so. History reveals mixed results when an agent transitions to a front office.
Dave Stewart left his sports agency “Stewart Management Partners” in 2014 to take the GM position with the Arizona Diamondbacks. The project was short-lived as the team fired Stewart in 2016 after two losing seasons.
Rich Hahn and Dennis Gilbert joined the Chicago White Sox’s front office. Gilbert is a special assistant and Rich Hahn is now a respected GM of the organization. Hahn had a very brief career as an agent and never reached the magnitude in which Van Wagenen did.
In the NBA, Bob Myers of the Golden State Warriors and Rob Pelinka of the LA Lakers are both former agents and have probably experienced the most success through their transition to the front office. Bob Myers has built a dynasty in Golden State, and Pelinka managed to lure LeBron James in free agency just shortly after his first year in the role.
In the end, we are left with more questions than answers when it comes to the Mets’ new GM. Are undisclosed contract provisions and backroom conversations with Tony Clark supposed to answer the serious ethical questions being raised? Will an inexperienced Van Wagenen be able to steer the Mets to a championship? He has stated that the goal is to win now, so the pressure is on.
Something that many people will follow in the coming months is how the players will be handled, especially deGrom and Syndergaard.
Though many have doomed the hire, Van Wagenen has already proved himself a competent, capable and forward-thinking baseball mind. His career as a player agent has shown as much. Regardless of whether or not he will do an excellent job as a GM, the hire is still troubling.
The Mets organization and ownership have openly disregarded the confidential relationship between player and agent. Regardless, this offseason will answer many of the lingering questions about Wilpon’s decision, the impact of potential conflicts of interest and the future of the franchise under Van Wagenen.
Sean Menickella is a retirement plan consultant and Advisor to MLB players at The Beacon Group of Companies a broad-based financial services firm based in King of Prussia, Pa.
Securities and Advisory services offered through LPL Financial, a registered investment advisor. Member FINRA/SIPC.
Featured Image: FRANK FRANKLIN II/AP