Wednesday will be the 100th day on the job for Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen, and he will mark the occasion by traveling to Port St. Lucie, Florida, with much of his front-office inner circle to help get spring training started.
A bunch of Mets already are there, even though pitchers and catchers don’t have to report until Feb. 13. The team also is running a prospect minicamp beginning Tuesday.
With spring unofficially here, Van Wagenen says he feels good about the roster and organization he reshaped in recent months.
“I feel really proud about what we’ve been able to accomplish not only in terms of roster moves, but we’ve built a management team with some really talented, experienced baseball executives and been able to make real investments in the different departments and analytics, health, performance, scouting and player development,” Van Wagenen said Monday. “We feel like the work that has come together as a group has really paid off, and hopefully we can continue to have collaborations across all departments as we go forward.
“We’ve got depth, we’ve got talent. We’ve got the ability to combine veterans with young players, we’ve got leadership, we’ve got enthusiasm. It’s not just me who believes in this team. I think the players really believe in this team, and we’re excited about that.”
Van Wagenen spoke outside Citi Field, moments before a tractor trailer full of the Mets’ equipment took off for Florida. This is a time of boundless optimism, and Van Wagenen has the fever.
The Mets upgraded at second base (Robinson Cano), catcher (Wilson Ramos), versatile infielder (Jed Lowrie) and bullpen (Edwin Diaz, Jeurys Familia, Justin Wilson). They also added outfielder Keon Broxton, freed up Jeff McNeil to fill a utility role and protected against the prospect of first baseman Peter Alonso struggling in the majors.
And that’s not to mention the higher-profile front-office changes — assistant GMs Allard Baird and Adam Guttridge, executive director of player development Jared Banner — and other supplementary hires up and down the organizational hierarchy.
The Mets did not, however, pursue top free agents. With reasonable fits just about everywhere at the outset, the Mets haven’t been connected to the best outfielder (Bryce Harper), best infielder (Manny Machado), best starting pitcher (Dallas Keuchel) or best relief pitcher (Craig Kimbrel). All of those players remain available on the open market.
That’s a sticking point for some fans. Van Wagenen prefers to look at it differently.
“Fans always have a right to their opinion. I encourage them to have an opinion; that’s what being a fan is all about,” he said. “Hopefully the fans recognize we did make a big offseason splash; we just spread it around among a number of different players, be it free agency or trades. There’s a lot to be excited about. We have not been quiet about our belief in this team, and our players have expressed the same.”
At this time last year, Van Wagenen — then a prominent agent with the Creative Artists Agency — accused owners of conspiring to suppress free-agent salaries after a slow offseason, going as far as to threaten that “a fight is brewing.”
Now, as a slow offseason nears an end with many of the top free agents still unsigned, he took a more diplomatic tone, suggesting the Mets are an exception because they were proactive in filling their needs.
“In the past I was concerned about the behavior overall as an industry,” Van Wagenen said. “For us, I set out to create our own behavior and [was] not worried about what the market was going to look like.
“Hopefully as a sport, we can be a compelling entertainment product in all the cities we’re in. I think sports in general should be about putting the best product on the field and trying to compete every day. We’ll try to do that here.”