ARLINGTON, Va. — On the eve of Opening Day, a showdown with Max Scherzer and the Nationals no less, Brodie Van Wagenen made a reference to the Mets hosting “championship parades in New York City for years to come.”
That was parades, with an 's.’ Like, more than one.
He delivered the line with a straight face. Brodie was being serious.
Four months ago, when Van Wagenen took the general manager's job, we could dismiss these statements as the expected fan-stirring hyperbole. It was a former agent doing the hype thing. And the response? The same old skepticism that hovers above Flushing like 737s at rush hour.
Back then, Van Wagenen was a salesman, a smooth talker in an expensive suit, filled with promises about bringing in new talent, signing Jacob deGrom long-term and disregarding service time for must-see slugger Pete Alonso.
Our reaction? Great. Now let’s see him do it.
Well, Van Wagenen again was sitting on a stage Wednesday, only this time at the Ritz-Carlton in Pentagon City, again flanked by COO Jeff Wilpon. The guest of honor being deGrom, the proud owner of a new five-year, $137.5-million contract extension.
“I believe it was good for the organization and something that was important to me in a business plan I communicated to the ownership group when I took the job,” Van Wagenen said. “It centered around this guy.”
As for the rest of that plan, we can now close the books on an impressive first winter for the rookie GM, one that netted him almost everything he was looking for. The veteran No. 3 hitter in Robinson Cano, the elite closer in Edwin Diaz, the experienced setup man in Jeurys Familia and the big-bat catcher in Wilson Ramos.
Brodie gets an incomplete grade on Jed Lowrie, who remains sidelined in Port St. Lucie with the knee issue. But all of these acquisitions, along with re-upping deGrom, speaks to something that we did recognize as potentially working in Van Wagenen’s favor as the outside-the-box hire. And that was his obviously tight relationship with Wilpon.
As the GM pointed out within minutes of getting the gig, he doesn’t sign the checks. Van Wagenen ultimately needs a Wilpon to hold the pen, and having the ownership group’s confidence is making all the difference. Not just for the big-money deals, either.
Alonso is proof of that. The Mets made the landmark decision to put him on the Opening Day roster — and potentially cost them a year of team control — because Van Wagenen said Alonso deserved it. The GM told a disbelieving public back in November that’s what would happen if Alonso proved himself to be one of the best 25 players during spring training, and he kept telling us that, over and over, until it finally happened.
The Cubs didn’t do it with Kris Bryant. The Braves didn’t do it with Ronald Acuna. The Blue Jays aren’t doing it with Vlad Guerrero Jr. Even after Alonso raked in the Grapefruit League, smacking four homers with a 1.006 OPS, the Mets still could have delayed him by two-plus weeks, maybe suggesting that his glovework needed a bit more seasoning.
We’ve seen plenty of roster shenanigans in the past from the Mets, mostly when it involved saving a few bucks. But Van Wagenen stayed true to his word, and that goes a long way in the clubhouse. It also doesn’t hurt that the Flushing faithful have been desperate to see Alonso for a while now.
“I do want to focus on winning games,” Van Wagenen said. “Let’s win as many as we can as early as we can in the season. I’m not of the mindset that we should be sacrificing the best product for the fans and the best product for the other 24 guys in that clubhouse to save service time or potential future money six years down the road.”
Crazy, right? With Van Wagenen on the mic, the Diplomat Room at the Ritz had all the makings of Mets’ pep rally Wednesday. To this point, however, he’s replaced the words with action, and created some real momentum heading into a huge season opener behind enemy lines at Nationals Park.
Has he done it by leaning on his CAA connections? To a degree, sure. But this a result-driven business, and Van Wagenen is getting results. And he’s still talking.
“The stakes have been high because I’ve hung myself out there a little bit,” Van Wagenen said. “But if you believe in something, why be afraid to say it — and then do everything in your power to help accomplish it.”
Everyone starts keeping score for real on Thursday. These games count, and the stakes will be at their highest for the Mets and Van Wagenen.
Just remember, it’s parades. Plural.