The other day, the Mets had an official conference call with the press, formally announcing the signing of pitcher Rick Porcello. Porcello was snapped up at the tail end of the Winter Meetings, a surprisingly productive week for the club. The Mets also came away from the San Diego conclave with another starter, Michael Wacha, in tow. Previously they were able to swing a deal to pry glove-first centerfielder Jake Marisnick from the AL champion Houston Astros – essentially a carbon copy replacement for the non-renewed Juan Lagares. We are still in the early tenure of GM Brodie Van Wagenen, and even after a year-plus with him at the helm, we are still discovering his tendencies. One is a propensity for signing his former clients – Van Wagenen used to be a player agent, you may have heard. Another is a desire to provide major league depth at most positions, a sensible mind set shared by most general managers, but never simple to execute. But this year, the trait that really jumps out is Van Wagenen’s ability to keep a secret.
So far, we’ve seen some of the Mets’ biggest moves just sort of…happen. The Porcello deal was speculated on for a couple of weeks prior to the annual December trade show, but this was the rare transaction that anybody saw coming. In fact, the rule of thumb seems to be the louder, more persistent the speculation, the less likely a move is to happen. As we speak, there is loud, long bleating from the media that relief pitcher Dellin Betances, late of the crosstown New York Yankees, will be the next to join the fold in Queens. At one point very recently, it was reported that the Mets were one of the frontrunners to secure Betances’s services, then within hours, the word was that the Mets were dropping out. Last year, same thing. Catcher Wilson Ramos was a surprise – most assumed Yasmani Grandal would accept the Mets’ lucrative offer – as was reliever Justin Wilson, who turned into a most valuable part of the bullpen. At the trade deadline, Van Wagenen held onto Zack Wheeler and instead of selling, the Mets ended up buying, sending pitching prospect Anthony Kay over to Toronto for the darling of the deadline, pitcher Marcus Stroman. Van Wagenen seemed to make all this happen out of the blue.
The elephant in the room, of course, is the quintessential deal-out-of-nowhere, the franchise changer that Van Wagenen pulled off last year and after which, the ground around Citi Field is still shaking. I speak, of course of the trade that netted second baseman Robinson Cano and closer Edwin Diaz. That trade unburdened the Mets of the contracts of Jay Bruce and Anthony Swarzak, yes, but also cost them mega-prospects Jarred Kelenic and Justin Dunn, not to mention a sizeable chunk of Cano’s odious contract – a dicey proposition for this infamously cash-strapped franchise. Van Wagenen slow-played that one, too. This approach makes the Mets kind of shadowy, a kind of eminence gris in orange and blue. They are impossible to pin down in the offseason, impossible to get a read on. From all appearances, that’s fine with ownership. COO Jeff Wilpon likes nothing more than to have the Mets talked about: winning is nice and all, but it’s more valuable that we’re in the papers. It’s a fun paradox that the less Van Wagenen talks, the more the papers talk about the team. As a result, some speculation turns pretty wild. There was a rumor that a trade for All-Star shortstop Carlos Correa was in the works. Now, you, me, Van Wagenen, Wilpon and the odd peanut vendor all knew that Correa was never coming here, but the speculation ran rampant anyway. Some of that might be simply a product of a long offseason, a dearth of conversation and a slow news cycle, but some can be attributed to the fact that we rarely know what Van Wagenen is doing until he’s doing it. Meanwhile, we’re fifty-odd days away from pitchers and catchers and the bullpen still needs to be fixed. Again, we all know this and for all the bleating and moaning that Van Wagenen needs to do something, we can rest assured that something is being done; we just don’t know what yet.
And when Van Wagenen pulls off a surprise move, to some of us, it won’t be a surprise at all.