An “outside the box” move was what the Mets went with when they signed a pitching coach to become their manager in 2018 with Mickey Callaway. This lead to lukewarm results as Callaway seemed challenged by the leap to a manager and is looking to bounce back in 2019.
With Sandy Alderson stepping down as Mets General Manager at the end of 2018 season, the Mets required a new face to guide this franchise that was in question of continuing to try and contend, or become sellers and rebuild. The Wilpons, again, decided to be unconventional and hire a prominent players agent to switch professions to run their franchise. Van Wagenen was the co-head of the Creative Artists Agency (CAA) baseball division and represented prominent players such as Jacob DeGrom, Yoenis Céspedes, and Robinson Canó.
With the hire, much of the fanbase was left wondering what type of general manager Van Wagenen would be. Van Wagenen Addressed this in his introductory press conference.
Van Wagenen took the podium with poise and confidence and put out a mission statement stating “we will win now, we will win in the future. We are going to develop a winning culture and mindset. We will deliver this city and fanbase a team they can be proud of.” He also laid out his plan of attack, which seemed lofty at first, but was accomplished throughout the offseason.
The Restructuring of the Front Office
“We will invest in our scouting department; we will invest in our player development, our health and wellness, and our analytics.” This was the sentiment laid out by Van Wagenen in his opening statements. How well did he attack this area of the team in this offseason?
The Mets were able to retain John Ricco, former assistant general manager. Many around the game didn’t know if Ricco was going to remain with the Mets following the departure of Sandy Alderson and JP Ricciardi. Ricco has been promoted to a newly created position, senior vice president/senior strategy officer. Ricco will now be in charge reporting directly to COO Jeff Wilpon and will be involved in the team’s business and baseball operations departments, most notably with arbitration hearings and building projects.
Just as Ricco is staying with the organization, the Mets also held on to Omar Minaya, as he will continue to be a special assistant to the general manager. Omar Minaya was brought back during the Sandy Alderson regime to assist the Mets in their advanced scouting, most notably in regards to international talent.
With Van Wagenen’s inexperience in a major league front office, having Minaya, a former General Manager with the Mets from 2005-2010, the experience will undoubtedly help guide Van Wagenen in learning his role throughout the season.
One of Van Wagenen’s major hires to the front office in the offseason was Allard Baird who was appointed Assistant General Manager and Vice President of Scouting and Player Development. Baird, another former GM with the Kansas City Royals, was most recently working with the Boston Red Sox as vice president of player personnel and professional scouting. Baird has vast scouting knowledge and is known for finding low-risk, high-reward players on to rosters to make immediate impacts. Baird was brought in to further assist in the Mets scouting, which Van Wagenen said he would address.
The Mets also brought in Adam Guttridge to be Van Wagenen’s assistant general manager who has a strong background in analytics. Guttridge had worked in baseball research departments for several teams including the Rockies and Brewers before he went on to co-found NEIFI (normalized empirical individual forecasting index), where he co-developed the Automated Prospect Model. The Mets have had one of the smallest analytics departments in baseball, and Van Wagenen knew he had to address this when taking the position.
Guttridge is a budding talent in the analytics field and is an excellent hire for the Mets to boast this department. In an interview with the NY Post, Guttridge stated “Yes, I’ll be involved in player development, but really, we don’t see a wall between player development and scouting, player development and analysis, scouting and analysis. These are all kind of the same disciplines, and the job of this department, again, is to apply good science and good baseball judgment toward improving all of those areas.”
Therefore Guttridge and Baird will be a cohesive group in combining scouting and analytics to identify the best talent for the team’s growth.
To continue the front office overhaul, Allard Baird influenced the Mets to bring in Vice President / Player Personnel of the Red Sox, Jared Banner, as their new farm director. Many in the industry believe Banner is a future GM and was a big asset to Dave Dombrowski. Other notable additions to the front office were bringing in former Mets Al Leiter, John Franco, and David Wright as special advisors along with ESPN Analyst Jessica Mendoza. Wright has already embraced the role as he participated in the Winter Meetings and he was a crucial cog in finding the financial structuring of Jacob DeGrom’s contract extension.
Where the Mets failed to surround Mickey Callaway with the necessary bench coach to guide Callaway in his first season as manager, they made sure to surround Van Wagenen with supporting staff to create a smooth transition from agent to general manager.
The Realignment and Additions of the Coaching Staff
As stated earlier, Callaway was left without an experienced bench coach with Gary DiSarcina, which led to notable mistakes, most notably with the Mets batting out of order in Cincinnati. This has been addressed, as Van Wagenen hired Jim Riggleman as the new Mets Bench Coach. Riggleman has managed the Padres, Cubs, Mariners Nationals, and most recently was the interim manager with the Reds. Riggleman has been on record stating he is not here to be the successor of Mickey Callaway, rather to be an influential voice in helping Callaway with in-game management.
Another notable addition to the coaching staff was Chili Davis, whose philosophy on hitting is an old-school approach focused on situational hitting. The Mets have preached on-base percentage and hitting for power during Sandy Alderson’s time as general manager. Davis teaches an opposite field approach, especially against the shift. The Mets have been showing early signs of embracing this approach, as they have been hitting the ball the other way at much higher rates than typically seen.
The Player Transactions
Another mission Brodie Van Wagenen set out for the Mets was to limit the “ifs” on the Mets. This meant, not expending all of the Mets financial resources on the high-end free agents, but to spread out those commitments to a multitude of players. Therefore, The Mets acquired recent all-stars Edwin Diaz, Robinson Cano, Jeurys Familia, Jed Lowrie, and Wilson Ramos. Along with these major signings, Van Wagenen added depth signings of J.D. Davis, Rajai Davis, Gregor Blanco, Rene Rivera, Adeiny Hechaverria, Hector Santiago, Luis Avilan, Keon Broxton, and Carlos Gomez. The Mets accumulated a wealth of personnel to raise their floor in case of injury, which always seems to find the Mets.
Along with the necessary depth, Van Wagenen allowed for the best 25 players to come up north with the team. This was most apparent with Pete Alonso. Alonso was an offensive powerhouse during spring training, and although the Mets are losing a year in control with Alonso, Van Wagenen wanted the best lineup on the field, which Alonso has continued his torrent hitting in the first weeks of the season.
Van Wagenen’s first offseason with the Mets has been high-energy, with moves occurring in all facets of the team. The front office is situated to assist Van Wagenen in learning the position as scouting and analytics are being invested in. The coaching staff has been situated in a way to support Callaway’s in-game strategy, to bring a new hitting strategy to the Mets’ offense, and to continue developing the Mets strong pitching. The players brought in have greatly enhanced the Mets length in their lineup, while adding needed major-league quality depth.
Van Wagenen may be inexperienced in a front office role, but it’s clear he takes he pushes himself to be successful in any of his occupations, and there shouldn’t be any skepticism in the work ethic he will bring towards this franchise. He was highly successful as a players agent, and so far, he has been successful in keeping the Mets relevant and in position to contend in a competitive National League East.
Photo: Kevin R. Wexler/NorthJersey.com Video: MLB.com