LOS ANGELES — The year after the Lakers hired Rob Pelinka, a former NBA agent, to be their general manager, LeBron James bolted his hometown team to follow in the L.A. footsteps of Magic, Kareem and Kobe.
The Mets should be so lucky with Brodie Van Wagenen, the CAA agent who has emerged as the front-runner to be Sandy Alderson’s replacement, a source confirmed Friday.
Manny Machado and Bryce Harper don’t quite have the same profile as King James, but for the sake of this comparison, they qualify as baseball royalty. Hiring Van Wagenen, however, doesn’t necessarily improve the Mets’ chances at acquiring any free agents, regardless of stature — unless the Wilpons give him the cash to do so.
So Van Wagenen still will be trying to pry money from owners. In that sense, his job won’t change that much.
The Mets don’t plan on making any official announcement until Monday, at the earliest, and a source cautioned that Rays executive Chaim Bloom was still under consideration. But with the momentum switching over to Van Wagenen after this week’s final round of interviews, it’s difficult to see that train abruptly reverse direction at this point.
That’s because the hard part is over. As soon as Van Wagenen chose to pursue the Mets’ GM job to its conclusion — a decision that potentially left both himself and CAA exposed in the process — you got the sense it was his to lose. Why else risk blowing up relationships with his clients unless Van Wagenen was assured of the inside track?
And who better to do so than Jeff Wilpon, who not only is tight with Van Wagenen, but already has spent nearly $200 million on his clients — and is about to invest much more. When Van Wagenen’s name first surfaced as a candidate, I immediately thought back to the Florida golf outing with Yoenis Cespedes, who was fresh off a new four-year, $110-million contract that made him the highest-paid outfielder in the game.
Cespedes’ passion for golf — since put back in the bag — was the focus of that story, but Van Wagenen and Wilpon also were part of that foursome, as chummy as Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas. As much as hiring Van Wagenen would be a bold departure from the norm for the Mets, having Wilpon enlist someone who he can work with isn’t such an unusual strategy for this ownership group.
That’s not a bad thing, either. Based on Van Wagenen’s business acumen, and proficiency with player deals, maybe the Wilpons will feel more comfortable trusting their money with him. As for settling his own affairs with CAA, that shouldn’t be much of an issue, as Van Wagenen apparently has been doing so over the past week, and said as much in Tuesday’s statement released by the Mets.
“In my role as an agent, my solution is to create opportunities for players to be successful both on and off the field,” Van Wagenen said in the statement. “By creating partnerships between players and teams, the interests of all parties can be aligned.”
The only troublesome element of all this, as it relates to the Mets, would be how Van Wagenen’s role as GM would affect a former client base that is woven into the team’s core, a list that includes Cespedes, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Todd Frazier and even Tim Tebow. CAA isn’t a one-man operation, so the agency would hope their bonds to these players are strong enough to keep them as clients after Van Wagenen’s defection.
As for locking up deGrom and Syndergaard long-term, those contracts won’t hinge on who’s sitting in the GM’s chair. That will come down to the Wilpons’ checkbook, same as this offseason’s efforts to improve the club. Also remember that Van Wagenen, despite his existing relationship with Jeff Wilpon, still inherits Omar Minaya as a high-ranking member of the organization, and one that has the ear of Fred Wilpon.
On the surface, going with Van Wagenen may seem radical, only because it’s not common practice in baseball. The Diamondbacks tried a similar tack in 2014 when they hired Dave Stewart, a former agent and All-Star pitcher, to be their GM, but that lasted just two years. Given Jeff Wilpon’s very active role in the Mets’ decision-making, Van Wagenen should be a productive voice who gets listened to. Hey, it’s worth a try.