PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla.
When he became the Mets’ general manager in November, Brodie Van Wagenen promised to be active.
We just didn’t know he meant it this literally.
Van Wagenen dashed between the connected fields Monday during the Mets’ first full-squad workout. After making a flurry of offseason moves that upgraded the roster at a number of key positions, he tried to absorb as much as he could, never standing still for long, as if this all wouldn’t be around tomorrow, or the next day, or the day after that.
And in the moments when he wasn’t watching? Van Wagenen paused on the well-worn paths to take photos with fans, sign a baseball or answer a question.
These are his Mets, and after selling teams on his players in a former life, Van Wagenen wants everyone buying in on this franchise now, and he’s going to be relentless in pushing that message.
“That’s a big part of it,” he said.
The sales pitch started during his introduction at Citi Field, but early on, the words evaporated quickly without any substance to anchor them. The slogans came off as campaign promises, filler for ticket brochures.
But in the months since then, the relentless Van Wagenen has made the Mets a better team, shedding an agent’s mercenary style for the macro-view of the greater good.
The process didn’t happen overnight. He can admit that now, wearing blue-and-orange, with the Mets’ logo now replacing his Armani or Hugo Boss.
“It took me about 30 days,” Van Wagenen said, smiling.
What he’s tried to do, however, is keep the beneficial traits of his agent’s persona in running the day-to-day operations of the Mets, and his high motor is helpful with that.
On Field 7, he watched Tim Tebow face Steven Matz and chatted with assistant GMs Adam Guttridge and Jared Banner. On Field 6, he stood behind the backstop with Jeff and Fred Wilpon as Peter Alonso launched drives into the centerfield shrubbery.
Before all of that, he joined Mickey Callaway in addressing the clubhouse for the annual pre-spring training pep talk, which focused on establishing a winning culture in Flushing with a blend of playoff-savvy veterans and still-developing youngsters. For Van Wagenen, those conversations are like breathing at this point, as he’s spread them from Citi Field to the Dominican Republic to First Data Field.
With plenty of former clients in that room — such as Robinson Cano, Jacob deGrom and Todd Frazier — Van Wagenen already has an important slice of that audience on his side. But his work toward constantly improving the team, such as adding defensive whiz Adeiny Hechavarria on the eve of the first full-squad workout, probably speaks the loudest.
Even so, Van Wagenen has spent a great deal of time building relationships with the current roster, a practice he started with that initial visit to Alonso in the Arizona Fall League. Whether that will make a difference on the field is debatable. But it's the way he previously did business, and he’ll continue to do it as GM as he tries to prod the Mets back to the postseason, a goal that he’s not shying away from.
“It’s going to be the defining point of what I’m doing here,” he said. “This organization is going to be built on players, and I don’t want to lose that connection.”
The Mets are two years removed from their last playoff appearance and haven’t won a postseason game since their World Series run in 2015. That includes a pair of sub-.500 finishes and a change in managers, along with a nearly total front-office renovation in the past 3 1/2 months. Not to mention giving the GM job to an untested rookie, but one who apparently is a fast learner.
Van Wagenen invested more than $142 million to improve the Mets in the offseason, and every penny of that was spread out Monday on the back fields, with the GM examining almost every swing and pitch. This was as real as it can possibly get on Feb. 18, and it served to further convince him that his vision for this team won’t fall short. Not if he can help it, anyway.
“We do believe we can win,” Van Wagenen said. “I’ve stated that consistently from the very beginning and I’ll keep saying it.”
But it’s what he is doing that ultimately will make the message a reality. And Van Wagenen, from Day 1, obviously understands the strength of momentum.