As he left his position as prominent agent and head of baseball at CAA, Brodie Van Wagenen entered his new job as General Manager of the Mets, surrounded by countless questions. However, while some people continue to wonder about his preparedness and potential conflicts of interest, one thing is clear -- he isn't short on confidence.
"I think 84 wins is light," Van Wagenen told WFAN's Mike Francesa on Monday. "If we do the things we're capable of, we're going to win. We're not afraid of the competition outside of the division, and we're certainly not afraid of the teams inside the division. We will and should be a playoff team."
The confidence emitting from Van Wagenen isn't just limited to fans, players and media, but is also being noticed by rival executives.
"He's been as accessible, upbeat and engaged as any front office we have dealt with this off season," a current GM told me earlier this week. "The confidence in his ability, his staff and his roster, quite frankly, it comes through and has been noticed by us and other teams. He's always been that way, though. So far, Brodie has been the same direct, high-energy, focused guy he was as an agent."
Personally, I like him being bold out of the gate. It's exciting and more fun as a fan. I also think it's a smart, leadership tactic. I've worked for leaders, been one (to a certain extent), and I've gained a ton of respect for the responsibility that comes with the role and the need to quickly get people on the same page.
And, no matter how you slice it, Van Wagenen has unapologetically worked to set a new standard in Mets thinking.
There have been times when Van Wagenen has worked to restrain himself, falling back on the organization's tradition of talking only about 'competing.' But I also hear a man that would love to climb the Empire State Building, make boasts at the top of his lungs, and guarantee things like Joe Namath circa late 1968.
I mean, before making a single significant acquisition when on radio again with WFAN, Van Wagenen exuded confidence in his team's inevitable success.
"I have confidence in the guys in the clubhouse," he said during October. "I think there's a future ahead of us - and I wouldn't have taken this job - if I didn't think there was an opportunity to win. ... I'm gonna bring a culture with the glass all the way full and make sure it's fluid to the top. I'm gonna earn believers one day at a time."
The upside to this approach is if the Mets do win, especially as a direct result of Van Wagenen's additions these past few months, the new GM will look like a prophet. The Mets getting to the 2019 postseason, let alone a World Series, would create the type of immediate fan equity that no executive before him had ever experienced.
I mean, even Frank Cashen, Steve Phillips and Omar Minaya needed at least one or two years after taking over before returning the Mets to October.
"I find it inspiring," an anonymous player on the current roster told me, not wanting to reveal himself because he hadn't reported to camp and wasn't sure yet where his teammates stood on the issue. "Players always enter camp feeling fresh and confident. If he doesn't believe in us, though, and is unwilling to shout it loud, then what are we doing here?"
The Mets have been here before, with players feeling the same way as the above...
In the spring of 1986, after the Mets had finished in second place and won 90 games two years in a row, manager Davey Johnson stood in front of the team and repeated to reporters that his squad was set up to dominate the National League.
"It motivates you because it's based on the truth," 1986 infielder Howard Johnson told me via text a few days ago. "To say something that isn't true doesn't have a lasting effect."
The Mets went on to dominate and, with the help of one or two miracles in the postseason, won 116 total games and the 1986 World Series.
"We made so much progress year over year, then did such a good job putting on some finishing touches that winter, it was obvious what we could do on the field," Davey Johnson told me. "Early in the spring, I could see we were gonna be dominant - and would dominate."
He also mentioned that Cashen and ownership were not thrilled with his statements, noting it caused them unnecessary business pressures. Of course, in his typical Cowboy way, Johnson didn't care.
"It wasn't my first nor my last run in with an owner and GM," he said smiling. "But, my job is to lead men. And if I saw it in them, if I believed in them and don't say it, what kind of manager and leader would I be my guys?"
The downside, though, is if the Mets again struggle, which could simultaneously put Mickey Callaway's job in question, Van Wagenen will be relentlessly second-guessed. He'll be faced with claims that all along he was 'unqualified,' 'didn't spend enough money,' or 'was poor at talent evaluation,' as well as countless other fair and unfair charges that may or may not have led to the team's third-straight losing season.
Along those lines, and no doubt pumped up by acquiring Johan Santana a few months earlier, Carlos Beltran found his Davey Johnson and made a similar statement just months after suffering an epic collapse to lose the NL East to the Phillies.
"Without Santana, we felt as a team we had a chance to win the NL East. With him, I have no doubt that we're going to win in our division," he told reporters February, 2008, in St. Lucie. "This year, I say to Jimmy Rollins (and the Phillies), 'We are the team to beat.'"
Unlike the 1986 team, though, in less than seven months, Beltran, Santana and their 2008 squad would go on to suffer a similar collapse to what they experienced in 2007.
Mike Pelfrey, who is currently the pitching coach for his alma mater Wichita State, was a prominent pitcher on both 2007 and 2008 teams. He told me by text earlier this week that, despite how things ended during both years, he still appreciates that Beltran took a stand.
"As a teammate, we had his back and supported him," Pelfrey said. "He was a leader and his voice carried. He had a lot weight in the clubhouse. It might of added bulletin board material for the Phillies, but what was he supposed to say?"
Along those lines, Van Wagenen talked a lot this winter about working to eliminate the roster's 'ifs,' which he believes doomed them at multiple turns the past two years during those middle-third games.
In this department, he has understandably gained confidence in his roster's ability to win in 2019. The Mets are without question set up to have a better, more versatile team than they did in 2018. However, whereas Van Wagenen started this winter hot, acquiring young closer Edwin Diaz, veteran infielders Jed Lowrie and Robinson Cano and reputable catcher Wilson Ramos, things have been mostly quiet since the holidays.
"I think there are a lot of openings (for guys to play)," Van Wagenen said to Francesa this week. "We have so many good players, good options, a lot of variations. There will be at-bats for everyone."
It's easy to see the positive, and speak about it in bold terms in the days and months before Opening Day. But the fact is, despite him adding depth and positivity, his second baseman and fifth starter (Cano and Vargas) are both 36 years old. Lowrie, who is 34 and has not played in a major market since 2011, is forcing natural-hitter and infielder Jeff McNeil to the outfield, where he has minimal experience during his professional career.
Similarly, while Brandon Nimmo had a sensational 2018, which was his first full season in the big leagues, it's quite probable that he's due for the standard sophomore slump. Meanwhile, Van Wagenen's choice at catcher, Ramos, is 31 and been injured on and off the past two seasons. And his back-up, Travis d'Arnaud, has missed more than 50% of games played since 2014.
Lastly, at first base, the team is betting on Cano, a breaking-down Todd Frazier, a sporadic J.D. Davis, and a rookie, Peter Alonso, who is powerful and exciting, but has yet to play in the big leagues.
The point is, like it or not, like most teams, Van Wagenen's roster still has plenty of 'ifs.'
This is why it would be great to see Van Wagenen further back up his bold talk by locking up a major player, such as Bryce Harper, with a nine-figure, long-term deal. Despite all of his additions, the Mets still have a need for Harper's bat and personality. Plus, the team's payroll begins plummeting after next winter...
"Those guys make every team better, but right now, I think we're going to focus on the guys we have now in camp," Van Wagenen told Francesa this week.
Fine, if Harper is too big of a commitment, I'd have an easier time exhaling and fully buying in to Brodie's confidence if - at the very least - he would make one more impact acquisition, be it Dallas Keuchel, Craig Kimbrel or even Gio Gonzalez.
I say this because, in the end, as Pelfrey explained to me, all of the above is just words for the hot stove and, once the bell rings, everything changes.
"The game is played on the field," he concluded, insinuating that everything else is for media, fans, the stove, even management, and everyone that doesn't put on the uniform.
Pelfrey's point is paramount, especially since so much can happen during the course of a 162-game season. I know, I know, it's cliche to say it, but that doesn't make it any less true. Every team has winning and losing streaks, injuries, drama, unity, and loses at least a third of the games they play. And, long after the offseason quotes, talk of dominance, and wins predictions fade, it's how all of the above shakes out during the other two thirds of games played that ultimately determines who does and doesn't get to the postseason.
This is why it's also fair to say that those middle third of games will go a long, long way in determining whether Van Wagenen was wise or foolish, and whether he'll be considered a prophet or a problem by being so bold this past winter.
Matthew Cerrone (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Contact) is lead writer of MetsBlog.com, which he created in 2003. He also hosts the MetsBlog Podcast, which you can subscribe to here. His new book, The New York Mets Fans' Bucket List, details 44 things every Mets fan should experience during their lifetime. To check it out, click here!