PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Three things came to mind when the Mets announced Tuesday that ESPN analyst Jessica Mendoza had been hired as an adviser for the baseball operations department.
Good for Mendoza.
Good for the Mets.
Good for Major League Baseball.
Seriously, what’s the downside for anyone involved here? Mendoza is an Olympic gold medalist and Stanford alum whose intelligence stretches well beyond the sport, and the hope here is that she uses this Mets opportunity as a springboard to an even bigger front-office role someday, whether it’s Flushing or somewhere else. As for the Mets, it turns out that taking a gamble on former agent Brodie Van Wagenen to be the GM wasn’t the end of the envelope-pushing, and bringing Mendoza on board is an example of a long-overdue deviation from the same tired playbook.
“I was an outside-the-box hire,” Van Wagenen said Tuesday. “I’ve been a believer that you need to get new voices and fresh perspectives in any room, especially when you’re making decisions. Jessica has a very high baseball IQ, she has aptitude to learn anything, and she knows the game.”
Mendoza, 38, plowed through one barrier when ESPN put her in the TV booth for its Sunday night broadcast, and it was about time for another woman to get a serious shot at impacting the chain of command for an MLB franchise. At our request, the league office provided a list of women holding positions in baseball ops departments, and the count came to 135 -- frankly more than we anticipated, but still a little light.
The highest-ranking is the Yankees’ Jean Afterman, whose official title is senior vice president/assistant GM, and she has been an influential voice in the Bronx for nearly two decades. After that, the list included positions such as quantitative analyst, scouting coordinator, nutritionist, performance coach and physical therapist.
None of those titles included the top jobs, such as general manager or president, despite MLB exec Kim Ng -- a former Yankees assistant GM -- frequently coming up as a candidate but falling short in recent years. Mendoza’s appointment is interesting because she already has a full-time gig in the ESPN booth, and yet the Mets are giving her a wide-ranging job description. Van Wagenen -- who called Mendoza a “pioneer” -- also said she will join the team’s front-office staff at the November GM meetings and December winter meetings, crucial gatherings where clubs map out their offseason plans.
“She sees baseball all day, every day, so she’ll help us evaluate players,” Van Wagenen said. “She’ll help make recommendations for roster construction. And then I think the two areas where she will be very instrumental -- which is different from some of the other people we have -- is that she’s going to be helping us with health and performance and new technology advancements.”
The tricky part for Mendoza -- in our view -- is walking the same tightrope that her broadcast colleagues have tiptoed along in doing these similar jobs. Alex Rodriguez is a Yankees’ special adviser and an analyst for both Fox and ESPN. David Ross also balances his ESPN duties while working as a Cubs adviser. David Ortiz and Pedro Martinez, who have multifaceted roles with the Red Sox, are analysts for Fox and TBS, respectively.
You’d think those allegiances might create some awkward scenarios, or worse. When we see A-Rod freely roam through the Red Sox clubhouse before a game against the Yankees, wouldn’t Boston be justified in barring an opponent’s employee -- especially a Bronx operative -- from having such unlimited access? I could understand if the Yankees barred Papi or Pedro. What about the Cardinals with Ross? Or the Nationals with Mendoza?
This is not to say any of them would collect a rival’s intel while on TV duty and report back to their own front office. But the perception exists that such a thing is possible, and for that reason, the people in these roles need to tread carefully.
“Clearly there’s a confidentiality agreement and understanding that anything she gleans from our operation she’s not going to be sharing on her broadcast,” Van Wagenen said. “Anything that she gleans through the normal course of her work inside other clubhouses she can’t bring to us. She’s a professional. She knows the lines that she needs to keep, and so do we.”
The bottom line, however, is that we share Van Wagenen’s conviction that Mendoza will be an asset for the Mets, as well as Major League Baseball. An unconventional hire? Sure. But a step forward is never the wrong direction.