After four months and 40 names turned into a dozen interviewees, then three finalists, then, finally, one new Mets general manager, Jeff Wilpon said he ended up with the person he wanted all along: Brodie Van Wagenen, an agent-turned-executive who wowed the Mets with his plan for turning the team back into a winner and is tasked with seeing that plan through.
The Mets introduced Van Wagenen, 44, Tuesday at a news conference at Citi Field, with Wilpon praising him for his “bright ideas” and “collaborative approach.” The theme of the day was a familiar one for when a franchise makes a change at the top: building a sustainable winner.
“We will win now, we will win in the future,” Van Wagenen said. “We’re going to develop a winning culture and a winning mindset. And we will deliver this city and fan base a team they can be proud of.”
The details on how Van Wagenen will go about that were for another day, Wilpon said.
“We hired our first choice,” said Wilpon, the Mets’ chief operating officer who was friends with Van Wagenen before this hiring process. “Being a team builder, his positivity and the process he plans to go through to bring this organization to a sustainable, winning position. That’s the key word we want to use, sustainable. We want to be a sustainable organization moving forward.
“He’s going to bring some excitement, he’s going to bring a different look at things than we’ve had from traditional GMs, and he’s got the full support of the ownership behind him and is going to bring a sustainable winner. We’re really energized by this, I think it’s going to be a lot of fun for years to come.
“I haven’t seen my dad this excited about a hire we’ve made in a long time.”
Fred Wilpon, principal owner, sat in the front row, more than 100 Mets employees watching from the rows behind him. In the chairs next to Fred Wilpon: assistant GM John Ricco and special assistants to the GM Omar Minaya and J.P. Ricciardi, whose futures with the Mets are to be determined by Van Wagenen in the coming days. Van Wagenen said he expects to make external hires and have more than one assistant GM.
The hoopla formally ended a process that began when Sandy Alderson stepped away in June because of cancer. Van Wagenen acknowledged Alderson in his opening remarks, calling him a role model since Van Wagenen arrived at Stanford on a baseball scholarship in 1992, when Alderson was Oakland’s GM.
“Sandy, if you’re listening, I hope to lean on you a lot as we go forward in this new chapter,” said Van Wagenen, who never worked for a team before.
Since 2006, Van Wagenen had been the co-head and co-founder of the baseball division at Creative Artists Agency, which represents Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Brandon Nimmo, Todd Frazier and others with the Mets and around baseball. As part of joining the Mets, Van Wagenen divested completely from CAA.
The switching of sides puts Van Wagenen and the Mets in an unusual, perhaps awkward, position. Jeff Wilpon said there are provisions “to deal with any conflict of interest,” and that Van Wagenen will have to recuse himself from some discussions involving, for example, a contract extension with deGrom, among other negotiations.
“He’ll have to set an overall tone for the organization, which way he wants us to go, and we’ll have to have some others be responsible for doing the actual contract right now,” Wilpon said.
Such recusations do not fully address the MLB Players Association’s concerns about personal, sensitive information Van Wagenen acquired in his role as an agent making its way into a team’s dossier on a player. Wilpon and Van Wagenen said they were both in touch with MLB and the MLBPA during the hiring process, and Van Wagenen kept his clients abreast of his potential job change throughout October.
Van Wagenen and Wilpon were light on details regarding how they will make the Mets better.
Regarding payroll, and thus offseason flexibility, Wilpon said Van Wagenen is “totally comfortable with where we’re going to be,” but added that they hadn’t set a target payroll yet. Van Wagenen said the Mets “have to try to get better up the middle in terms of offense and defense.
“I expect to be in on every free agent, and if they fit our roster, we’re going to go after him,” Van Wagenen said.
Separately, Van Wagenen plans for the Mets to invest in scouting, player development, health and wellness, and analytics, adding that “none of these investments will be mutually exclusive from one another.”
And the new boss expects the Wilpons to be involved in baseball operations.
“Every good organization that I’ve worked for has had a culture of collaboration. That’s one thing that I value,” Van Wagenen said. “I mentioned that to both Fred and Jeff when we were going through this process that I want them to be involved. The truth of the matter is, if they’re not, that’s bad ownership.”
Van Wagenen later clarified that Fred and Jeff Wilpon promised him “full autonomy” on hiring and putting together the major-league roster.
“I will be working together with [the Wilpons] to determine what the right price points are for all of those investments, but I don’t have the ability to write the checks,” Van Wagenen said.
That’s just day one. Van Wagenen received a four-year contract, a source said, and there is plenty of work to do. That will start this week in meeting his new employees and next week at the GM meetings in Carlsbad, California.