The Brodie Van Wagenen Era in Mets history will officially begin this afternoon during a press conference introducing him as the team's GM to fans and media.
He's going to be asked a ton of questions, he'll do interviews with SNY and other local media outlets and, as a result, begin to clarify his play for bringing success back to Citi Field.
Here are six questions I hope get asked of Van Wagenen and the answers I hope and expect us to hear...
Is Van Wagenen tasked with winning or rebuilding?
This is easy. Based on comments made by Jeff Wilpon, and given how the team's search for a GM played out, the Mets have zero interest in entering a rebuild. Instead, everyone involved clearly expects to return to the postseason next year, otherwise they would have hired a GM with experience rebuilding and restructuring.
I expect Brodie Van Wagenen today to take to the podium and state, in no uncertain terms, that he is joining the Mets with the goal of winning a World Series as soon as possible. I'm sure he will discuss developing talent and the importance of a strong farm system. But, by the time the press conference is over, I bet we will have heard him talk more about winning next year than harvesting players for five years from now...
How is this going to happen?
It's true the Mets made the playoffs in 2015 and 2016, but it's also true that they've finished below .500 eight of the past 10 seasons, including the past two years. So, I don't know how any one can conclude that they are not in need of a major injection of talent.
My hunch and hope is the Mets intend to buy their way to a more talented roster resulting in increased odds that they can get back on track to where that thought they were a few years ago.
Van Wagenen does not have the experience needed to rip a team down, trade for prospects, restructure an entire farm system and rebuild with homegrown talent. He does, however, have experience getting teams to spend money, including the Mets, who (as an agent) he convinced to give $100 million to Yoenis Cespedes and a three-year deal to get Jason Vargas. As a result, it's reasonable to think he intends to convince Mets ownership to again spend on proven, quality talent, like they did more than a decade ago, as opposed to go at it with part-time, left-over and Quadruple-A players because they're inexpensive.
Who will be the core of the Van Wagenen Era?
Van Wagenen has to push to ink Jacob deGrom to a long-term contract, otherwise he'll lose total credibility around all corners of the market place. It was just three months ago that he insisted deGrom (his client) was worthy of such an extension and, if he wasn't going to get one from the Mets, they should trade him to a team capable of supporting him with the necessary runs and dollars. To suddenly go the other direction would indicate he either lied three months ago or is no longer in control of his actions. In either case, he looks weak.
Beyond deGrom, Van Wagenen can and should lean on Michael Conforto, Brandon Nimmo, Jeff McNeil and Amed Rosario. The rest of his big-league roster should be up for grabs in trades with immediate benefit for next season. The above five players are talented enough to build around, but those are all Sandy Alderson players. Van Wagenen needs to put his own big-time, colorful, impactful stamp on the roster.
In other words, like the Marlins did with Jose Reyes in 2011, Van Wagenen should be allowed to meet Manny Machado at the airport next week holding a $300 million check and contract to sign in Queens. The end.
This level bold move on day one would signal to every team, reporter, agent, fan and free agent that the Mets are back in the business of doing whatever is necessary to win, not just 'compete.'
Is team culture important to Van Wagenen? If so, what will it be?
Talent wins baseball games. But, talent, trust, camaraderie and teamwork win the World Series. To get it, team culture matters because it can galvanize people around a common goal and help to put ego aside. The clear and defined team culture creates a beacon, it keeps people in line, and establishes a way of doing business by providing values and principals that can be leaned on during high-pressure and difficult situations.
The Yankees and Cardinals pride themselves on being professional, classy and respectful of their opponents. The Red Sox and A's pride themselves on being scrappy, unconventional and playing free and easy. The Dodgers value flare, power and glitz. What does Van Wagenen value?
Ideally, the Van Wagenen culture will be consistent with Mickey Callaway because, according to multiple reports, he will remain on for at least one more season as the team's manager. Callaway indicated one year ago that he wanted to create a culture centered around putting players first, being prepared, working hard and being focused on executing the day's game plan.
Team culture does not take hold over night. Typically, it starts with one or two successful, influential players on the roster, after which similar players are acquired or emerge and, once it reaches a tipping point, other and new players begin to adhere to the majority.
Machado is a super talented, flashy, win-at-all-costs player with a reputation of playing dirty, but he does it in a way that inspires his teammates and makes him popular in the clubhouse. His personality, production and style of play are often a rallying point for more or less every roster he's been on, including this year's Dodgers with whom he played only three months. In signing him to a mega deal with a major commitment, Van Wagenen would be making Machado's style of play a way of being for his Mets.
This is important because Machado is counter to the clean, efficient, family-friendly experience desired by Mets ownership during the past 10 years. However, if Mets ownership and Van Wagenen want to return to their 80s identity of being a bit scrappy and tough, more new jack hustlers than compromising statesmen, which is how I believe is more desired by the team's fans, Machado is the man to put on a mantle. These values and identity do not have to be inconsistent with Callaway, but they are 100 percent opposite of what the team has been during recent history. In the event Van Wagenen wants a nice, classy, Yankee-like roster, neither Machado or Bryce Harper will be a fit.
Is Van Wagenen about the best possible player? Or, is a fundamentalist?
The tradition in baseball is to field a roster with strong up-the-middle defense, guys at the top of the order that frequently get on base, a clean up hitter with power, a catcher with a strong arm and a high-leverage reliever to pitch at least the final three outs of the game. The more recent trend is to forgo defense and forgive strikeouts in favor of unabashed power. On the mound, new GMs forgive efficiency and command for less walks and more strike outs. Speed and stolen bases are less important, and who bats where is based more on statistical trends and match ups than it is on ego and experience.
In the event Van Wagenen wants a more traditional team, he has to acquire a more reliable, fielding-first, every day center fielder and catcher. He's also going to need to pay for a closer.
In the event he wants mostly strike outs from his rotation, he should do nothing.
In the event he wants a power-first, everything-else-second lineup, he's going to need to believe in Jay Bruce and the return of Cespedes, and also pay big money (or trade Noah Syndergaard) for a legit hitter.
The more realistic outcome, at least in year one, will be a combination of all of the above options. In either case, Van Wagenen will need to have a clear goal, which will dictate how each of the above is prioritized.
How will Van Wagenen implement stats in to his thinking?
Van Wagenen is 44 years old, loves baseball and went to Stanford. To think he doesn't understand or care for statistical analysis is silly.
Nevertheless, it's assumed he has no understanding of or experience building a baseball systems and advanced statistics department. This is true in the context of working in MLB. However, I expect to learn today that, as the head of the baseball division at an elite sports agency built around identifying and putting value on talent, he has no doubt needed to build out a systems and stats department to combat the major-league front offices against whom he's been negotiating.
The point is, Van Wagenen is experienced, it's just not the typical experience. Frankly, the previous sentence is the overarching theme to this entire Van Wagenen experiment.
As I said yesterday, his unique experience (as it pertains to his competition) provides the Mets a blank slate from which to do something different and maybe for the first time actually be the innovators. Or, his lack of traditional experience will be a total bust. I don't expect anything in between, but it's a gamble worth taking and I'm eager to see how he answers all of the above questions through his actions during the next few months.
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!