The Mets are approaching a paradigm shift, one that could touch all corners of the organization. General manager Brodie Van Wagenen says he isn’t worried about it.
Sterling Equities, the Wilpon-Katz family business that owns the Mets, is trying to sell the team. There are at least a couple of interested parties. The Wilpons have told people they want to close on a sale by the end of 2020. Although there have been false alarms in the past, this time it really, truly looks like the Mets will have new owners in the not-too-distant future.
That means everything else is at risk of changing, from the major-league roster to philosophies toward marketing and player development and ticket sales to, yes, the GM and other front-office jobs. Whatever happens in the next three or four months, as MLB tries to stage a 60-game season amid the coronavirus pandemic, the looming sale of the Mets is the subtext to everything they do.
“Not something that is even on my mind,” Van Wagenen said of the possibility that the person who hired him, chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon, might not be his boss for much longer. “I’ve never been concerned with my own job security. I love to compete. I love to collaborate. We’ve got great momentum in those areas.”
Those comments from Van Wagenen came in March, before anyone realized how COVID-19 would affect sports and the world. Since then, the names of potential suitors have changed — from the aftermath of the Steve Cohen deal falling apart in February to, now, different batches of investors trying to come up with the money — but the reality has not.
A change at the top turns the rest into a question mark. Just as former manager Mickey Callaway’s status became uncertain after his first season when Van Wagenen joined as GM, Van Wagenen’s future will be in doubt until and unless the eventual new boss says publicly that Van Wagenen is here to stay.
The proof is sprinkled throughout baseball history, including recently. When Derek Jeter and Bruce Sherman took over the Marlins in late 2017, they swapped out much of the front office hierarchy (but kept two top baseball-operations leaders) and turned over most of the roster. Jim Crane bought the Astros in 2011 and within months hired Jeff Luhnow to embark on a dramatic rebuild. The Ricketts family gave the existing regime a chance after they bought the Cubs in late 2009, but within two years installed Theo Epstein as the baseball operations boss.
Of course, Van Wagenen’s best chance at avoiding the fates of other inherited GMs is for the Mets to perform well. Can’t argue with winning, right?
“We’re focused on building upon the success that we had last year, continuing to implement the processes that we had to improve our infrastructure, all of which we’ve made huge strides on over the last 12 months — with Jeff’s support, with Fred's support, with the whole ownership group’s support,” Van Wagenen said. “We’ve been given a huge amount of resources relative to where we were previously. I would expect that to continue. I don’t see any change to my daily activity or the team’s focus or, frankly, Jeff’s focus.”
Van Wagenen has not been a GM nearly long enough to fairly evaluate his team-running ability.
The Edwin Diaz/Robinson Cano trade looks like a disaster, but the J.D. Davis pickup was solid. Signing Jed Lowire and Jeurys Familia hasn’t worked out, but Wilson Ramos was good last year. Van Wagenen has handled Pete Alonso well at every stage, but the team still doesn’t have a true centerfielder.
And, in the one season that has happened during Van Wagenen’s 20 months, the Mets missed the playoffs. This unorthodox season is important for a team that has high expectations.
“We won 86 games last year, a big improvement year-over-year but nowhere near what our expectations are for this club,” Van Wagenen said. “But we are excited that we can compete, we have a window of opportunity where we have this blend of veteran stars with young emerging stars. And that’s an opportunity you don’t want to get away from you.”