As Brodie Van Wagenen worked on a trade for Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz here in the States, at one point the Mets’ GM kept in touch via satellite phone with Jeff Wilpon, who was on a family vacation tracking gorillas in Rwanda.
Wilpon admitted during Tuesday’s news conference that the jungle wasn’t the most convenient place to be during these negotiations, but with the high-motor Van Wagenen, there’s no telling where his next conversation with a team or agent may lead.
“I haven’t been around someone with this much drive and determination in a long time,” Wilpon said.
Read into that any way you want, but coming off the Cano/Diaz blockbuster, a trade that we’ve endorsed despite the cost in prospects, the Mets get the benefit of the doubt here. And they’ve also done something we haven’t witnessed from them in what feels like a long time — backed up old promises with bold action — so we’re ready to believe they’re capable of more.
In fact, Van Wagenen made a reference Tuesday to his own introductory news conference, back when he proclaimed the Mets would be “relentless and fearless in their pursuit of greatness,” a statement that initially was dismissed as typical hyperbole for such an occasion.
But not anymore.
“This trade should be a signal that words alone will not transform this franchise,” Van Wagenen said.
Well then. In the past, the Mets, ever conscious of public perception, worried way more about telling people what they wanted to hear and less about actually delivering the goods. So far, Van Wagenen — with the Wilpons’ approval — is changing that, and both kept talking big Tuesday, long after the new Mets slipped on their caps and jerseys.
Noticeably missing from the conversation were any concrete numbers regarding what the Mets’ payroll will be for 2019, or how much money Van Wagenen has to spend in the coming weeks. But they were far more open speaking about what still needs to be improved for the next year, and that’s not a smart course to take if you don’t fully intend on acquiring more upgrades.
Wilpon described the Cano-Diaz trade as “pretty neutral” in terms of ’19 dollars, thanks to dumping Jay Bruce and Anthony Swarzak, with the Mets now having roughly $136 million already invested in the coming season (including the expected arbitration raises). Wilpon also suggested he would reinvest some of the insurance money coming back from the contracts of David Wright and Yoenis Cespedes — a departure from ownership’s previous stance.
Exactly how much remains to be seen. But by signing off on this Cano/Diaz trade, the Wilpons have shown an implicit trust in Van Wagenen, along with a front-office staff that’s been expanded in recent weeks. During Tuesday’s news conference, the GM made a point to thank a long list of his Mets colleagues, from the talent evaluators who first scouted Jarred Kelenic right up through pitching coach Dave Eiland to new additions Allard Baird and analyst Adam Guttridge.
“We have a winning mindset,” Van Wagenen said. “And collectively believing anything is possible.”
Sounds good, and after the past two dysfunctional seasons, some would say a requisite leap of faith. But Van Wagenen talked over and over about deals improving the Mets’ “win probability” and went as far as to say his plan is to build a 90-win club for 2019.
That’s called leading with your chin, unless Van Wagenen has faith that this front-office group — along with the Wilpons, of course — is capable of assembling such a roster. When I asked Jeff Wilpon if Van Wagenen was equipped to make all of these necessary upgrades, the COO nodded, then rattled off a number of positions they were looking at: bullpen, catcher, utility infielder and “maybe” a centerfielder.
Both Wilpon and Van Wagenen made it sound as if trading Noah Syndergaard was no longer an option toward accomplishing those goals, but don’t be so sure about anyone else now that the Mets are discussing catcher J.T. Realmuto with the Marlins. Since they’ve already sacrificed two of their better prospects, this is going to cost young, controllable major-league talent such as Brandon Nimmo or Amed Rosario, which would then force the Mets to fill those potential holes through free agency.
Ultimately, the Mets must pony up some cash, and to that end, Wilpon said he will accompany Van Wagenen to Las Vegas for next week’s winter meetings. The last time they were in Sin City, at the Bellagio in 2008, Wilpon was there personally to approve the K-Rod contract.
He’ll in the Mets’ suite at Mandalay Bay next week, where Wilpon won’t need a satellite phone to do business. Only his checkbook.