Last week we had a poll asking readers who they wanted the next GM to be out of the three finalists for the job. The overwhelming majority, 81 percent, voted for Chaim Bloom. My expectation was that Bloom would be the fans’ choice. But the margin was surprising. Throughout the years, there have been no shortage of times where readers here expressed a desire or preference for veterans.
Doug Melvin was a veteran GM, a two-time winner as Executive of the Year, and his teams were generally successful. Under his watch, the Rangers made the playoffs three times, after never making the postseason previously in franchise history. Under his stewardship, the Brewers ended a 14-year streak of never finishing above .500 and in 2008 they made the playoffs for the first time since 1982.
My expectation was that he would have polled better.
There were no expectations from me how Brodie Van Wagenen would poll. If asked to guess, my expectation was that the people who voted for him were actually voting against the other two candidates. In effect, he was the Jill Stein of this particular poll. People who cast their lot with Stein were saying that they had no confidence in either of the other two candidates and rather than voting for a known “evil” – they would cast their lot with the unknown.
Van Wagenen garnered just seven percent in our poll. Yet this relative unknown looks like he’s going to be the next GM for the Mets. Is that good? Beats me and it seems impossible for anyone to have any real knowledge of how it will play out. Let’s hope it goes better than the last time that an agent became an MLB GM. Dave Stewart’s tenure running the Diamondbacks lasted a little over two years. The former All-Star pitcher showed a preference for pitchers, signing Zack Greinke to a six-year, $206.5 million deal. He also overpaid in a deal to get Shelby Miller.
And Stewart’s situation was different from Van Wagenen’s because he had served in MLB front offices after his playing career ended and before he became an agent. One of his stops was as an assistant to Sandy Alderson in Oakland. Stewart was a star player, he served in various front office roles and he had experience at the other end of the bargaining table as an agent. And he didn’t do well.
The situation looks better in other sports, particularly in the NBA, where agents have gone on to be successful GMs, including Bob Myers of the Golden State Warriors. One of the things that Myers has done successfully in Oakland is to install an organization-wide culture of togetherness. And if there’s any MLB team that needs a culture change, it’s our Mets.
Now, you may roll your eyes, thinking this is nothing but meaningless buzz words, strung together to make something big out of, essentially, nothing. It certainly has the possibility to be just that. It’s easy to say the right things. It’s a little more difficult to actually do it.
Is Van Wagenen the guy to walk the walk? None of us know. What we do know is that he sold the Wilpons – or at least one of them – on his candidacy. Is this a Fred Wilpon hire? He’s the one who thought that Art Howe lit up the room, so forgive me if my hope is that Jeff sold Fred on this.
No one likes Jeff Wilpon. He’s the ultimate case of a guy being born on third base who acts as if he hit a triple. Fred is a self-made man and Jeff, well, he’s simply not. And no doubt he’s done some dumb, tone-deaf things. But is it at least not among the possibilities that he’s grown? It’s not a position that I relish taking. But everyone was seemingly scared that Melvin was going to be the choice. It was the safe choice and the Mets – regardless if it was a mutual Wilpon decision or one talked the other into it – didn’t take the safe route.
In fact, this was the least safe route they could have taken.
It seems like there are multiple reasons to criticize the move to hire Van Wagenen. But it doesn’t seem to me to be a tone-deaf move. So, let’s start there. The Mets needed to do something different than what they’ve done for at least the last eight years and my opinion is that they need to do it differently than the way it’s been done since Bobby Valentine was shown the door rather than Steve Phillips.
The Mets did something slightly different by hiring a pitching coach to be their manager. And now they’ve done something majorly different by hiring an agent to be their general manager. There were certainly some growing pains with Mickey Callaway last year. We should expect there to be growing pains with Van Wagenen, too.
But that’s ok. Growing pains should be temporary, with an end result of something better. Certainly my preference would be to experience growing pains rather than have a smooth beginning and a fabulous flame out of disappointment. You know, like with manager Howe.
Perhaps one of the first challenges that Van Wagenen will face is how to deal with Jacob deGrom. As his agent, Van Wagenen was quite vocal about how deGrom deserved an extension. Will GM Van Wagenen feel and act the same way?
It will be fun to find out.