Friday was an amazing day in Mets history, as Steve Cohen assumed ownership of the Mets and Sandy Alderson did his best Michael Corleone impression by cleaning house, announcing that Brodie Van Wagenen, his three top lieutenants and Omar Minaya would be leaving the organization. If there was the slightest bit of uncertainty, these moves left no doubt that Alderson has freedom under Cohen that he didn’t have previously under the Wilpons. Minaya was a favorite of Fred Wilpon and it’s hard to imagine that Alderson was overjoyed when the elder Wilpon brought Minaya back to the Mets while he was still there. This is Alderson’s ship and we’ll finally get to see him in complete control of who stays and who goes.

The fact that Alderson was able to bring the Mets to the World Series despite having (at least) one hand tied behind his back due to the Wilpon circus and fallout from the Bernie Madoff fiasco is one of the most underappreciated stories of the 21st Century in MLB. It will be great to see Alderson work without unnecessary restrictions. But that story will unfold in the days, months and years ahead. Right now it’s time to take a look back and try to give an honest assessment of what’s happened in the past and where the Mets stand right this moment.

Tim Britton of The Athletic reported on Friday’s events in Metsland and had what struck me as a really odd take. Britton said, “[T]he Mets are in a better place competitively now than they were on the day they hired Van Wagenen.”

In support of his position, Britton mentioned the extension to Jacob deGrom and Van Wagenen’s willingness to ignore service time considerations by playing youngsters right away. And that’s it – nothing more, nothing less.

Let’s take a look at what Van Wagenen inherited versus what he leaves behind. Let’s start with payroll. There’s not a great way to look at this but let’s use the season-ending 40-man Competitive Balance Tax (CBT) payrolls available at Cot’s. It’s not perfect because these CBT payrolls give the average of a contract over its length, rather than what was actually spent in a given year. But it gives a good ballpark estimate and will work for our purposes. Here’s what Van Wagenen inherited, the Mets’ 2018 CBT Payroll which sat at $160.3 million. And here’s what he left behind, a 2020 CBT Payroll of $202 million.

Van Wagenen was working with a budget $40 million higher than what Alderson had at his disposal. That seems pretty significant. Let’s see what Van Wagenen did with that money, again looking at what he inherited and what he left behind. Let’s do a position breakdown for the MLB club and a list of 10 prospects. Here’s what he inherited:

MLB

C – Travis d’Arnaud, Kevin Plawecki
1B – Wilmer Flores, Dominic Smith
2B – Jeff McNeil
3B – Todd Frazier
SS – Amed Rosario, Luis Guillorme
OF – Michael Conforto, Brandon Nimmo, Jay Bruce, Juan Lagares
SP – deGrom, Zack Wheeler, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz, Jason Vargas
RP – Seth Lugo, Robert Gsellman, Anthony Swarzak and a whole lot of flotsam

Minors

Andres Gimenez, Pete Alonso, Jarred Kelenic, Ronny Mauricio, Mark Vientos, Justin Dunn, David Peterson, Anthony Kay, Francisco Alvarez, Simeon Woods Richardson

It was a roster loaded with pre-arb and early arbitration players. There were some big pay days coming to starting pitchers, but the roster was set up to afford three of them, even with 2018 Wilpon payroll constraints. And there were starting pitching prospects bubbling up from the minors, with the four listed here, along with Thomas Szapucki, Franklyn Kilome, Jordan Humphreys and Kevin Smith.
They needed to hit on one of these eight and two would be a bonus.

Now let’s look at what Van Wagenen leaves behind:

MLB

C – Tomas Nido
1B – Alonso
2B – Robinson Cano
3B – McNeil, J.D. Davis
SS – Gimenez, Rosario
OF – Smith, Conforto, Nimmo, Guillermo Heredia
SP – deGrom, Peterson, Syndergaard, Matz, Lugo
RP – Edwin Diaz, Jeurys Familia, Dellin Betances, Brad Brach, Chasen Shreve, Miguel Castro

Minors

Mauricio, Alvarez, Mattthew Allan, Vientos, Brett Baty, Josh Wolf, Freddy Valdez, Pete Crow-Armstrong, T.J. Ginn, Isaiah Greene

Let’s break this down by position:

C – Inherited better
1B – Left better due to the rise of a player Alderson drafted
2B – Inherited much cheaper and better
3B – Left better
SS – Push
OF – Left better but completely due to the maturation of Alderson draft picks
SP – Inherited better
RP – Left better but questionable by how much and also considerably more spent to achieve upgrade

Minors – No way to know. We know he inherited a 50-HR hitter, a SS spark plug and a guy who ended the year as the team’s SP2. There were three guys who were on both lists and Valdez was signed under Alderson. Let’s hope that this is a situation that we’ll one day say was left better because what was inherited was pretty good.

Should Van Wagenen get credit for steps forward by players Alderson drafted? It seems you can make a case for him extending deGrom but the others? And let’s look at deGrom – he was inherited by Van Wagenen as an arbitration-eligible guy. And he’s left to Alderson now on a 3/$97.5 million deal, with a $32.5 million club option for 2024. It’s wonderful knowing he’s going to be on the club the next three years. But let’s not pretend that this is on some unbelievable home town discount. Gerrit Cole will make $108 million the next three years while Stephen Strasburg will make $105 million. By choosing to sign deGrom when he did, Van Wagenen saved the club somewhere around $10 million combined over the 2021-2023 seasons. And he left himself without the money to give Wheeler a market-level deal, whether that was market level following the 2018 season when he should have been extended or following 2019, when it would have cost a lot more but Van Wagenen decided he wasn’t worth it and spent that money instead on Rick Porcello and Michael Wacha, among others.

It’s really hard to count that as a win.

Van Wagenen leaves behind a locked up deGrom, three more years of Cano, an arbitration-eligible Diaz, relatively expensive bullpen pieces in Betances, Brach and Familia, along with Davis. Is that worth d’Arnaud, Wheeler, Kelenic, Woods Richardson, Dunn, Kay and $40 million? Not in my estimation, not even close.

We’ll have to see how the two drafts Van Wagenen oversaw unfold before we can write his final epitaph. Both drafts look very good right now. It’s important to note that the success or failure will ride most heavily on Wolf, Allan and Ginn. Baty, the top pick in 2019, signed an underslot deal while Crow-Armstrong, the top pick in 2020, signed for a slot-level deal. If they succeed, it will mean Van Wagenen matched Alderson when he took Smith (underslot) and Conforto (slot level.)

Alderson never really hit a home run on draftees to which he gave an overslot bonus so Van Wagenen has the potential to make up some ground here. But he’s far behind on the overall score right now and he likely doesn’t have much chance with his college senior signings to afford the overslot guys to match Alderson’s low-round draft picks like Lugo or McNeil.

The only way that Britton is right, that the Mets in a better place competitively now than when Van Wagenen took over, is that the Wilpons aren’t around to make things difficult. And it’s impossible to credit Van Wagenen for that.

12 comments on “On the claim that the Mets improved under Brodie Van Wagenen

  • TJ

    Brian,
    Nice recap. on the surface, I agree with Britton’s statement. That said, it’s no thanks to Brodie. While he did a couple of good things, it is clear to me that he did more damage than good. Was this driven by the Wilpon’s need to boost the brand in the short term for a sale – maybe. Now it just doesn’t matter. What is done is done, he is gone, Jeff is gone.

    We now have a wealthy new owner and an executive on a mission. I have always been fond of Omar, and have been told be some folks who have interacted with him what a good guy he is. I don’t feel good when anyone loses a job, but these guys will be fine. In this instance, the right thing to do is wipe the slate clean, retool in the executive positions, dig in, and let’s go.

    • Brian Joura

      I just can’t see it. Following the 2018 season, when BVW took over, the Mets had some uncertainty at 1B – but with two intriguing minor league candidates, a placeholder at 3B and a need for several relief pitchers.

      Now the team needs a starting catcher, three starting pitchers and a reliever. How is that – besides Cohen instead of the Wilpons – better?

      • TJ

        So, my calculus for better or worse
        – the catching is a virtual push. Mets had TDA and KPlaw but neither was a sure thing and they needed an import
        – the bulpen was a mess and is still iffy, maybe a tad better if we can trust the 2020 Diaz. If Lugo winds up back in the pen it is clearly better
        – the starting pitching is definitely worse now, but maybe not as much. deGrom is HOF caliber still, Syndergaard got hurt so we can’t really say until we see him in 2021, Matz was brutal but Peterson’s emergence could well be an offset (not sure thing but his minor league career made is questionable that he could be effective in the bigs). Wheeler is gone, a minus, but if Stroman takes that QO they aren’t that much worse than when Brodie got here.
        – the emergence of many every day players as quality big leaguers offsets and deficits from above. Alsonso, Smith, McNeil, Nimmo, Giminez, even Guillorme as a role player. These guys have shown they can play, some at all-star levels, over a larger sample. Giminez could be really good defensively and servicable on offense. Also, there was a lot of doubt regarding Conforto’s freak injury, which appears to be behind him. His apex is questionable, but certainly that injury did not ruin his career, which is a good thing.

  • Jim OMalley

    BVW’s approach to signing the draft picks was terrific and his willingness to let Alonso break with team in 2019 paid strong dividends. Keeping McNeil and acquiring Davis were good moves. Nothing else seems to me to have been beneficial.

    • Brian Joura

      Brodie deserves credit for beginning the year with Alonso. But do you think there was any GM on any of the other 29 clubs who wouldn’t have called him up once the Mets had an extra year of control? This is what the Cubs did with Kris Bryant back in 2015 and Bryant played 151 games that year.

      Yes, BVW deserves credit. And that credit is for 10-12 games.

  • Remember1969

    A few what-if’s that might be considered to balance up the scale.
    (1) What if Syndergaard had not needed TJ surgery?
    (2) What if Grandal had not turned down the seemingly decent Mets offer on ‘principle’?
    (3) What if BVW had been unable to sign Ramos for a very solid 2019 ?
    (4) What if we had not been struck by the pandemic and we had a full 2020?
    (4a) What if the Mets had gotten a full season of Stroman?
    (5) What if they had had a hitting coach on the bench all season? Would they have hit better with runners in scoring position? Scored more runs?
    (6) What if they had traded Nimmo and others for Realmuto for a season and a half and he did not sign long term? Interesting that scenario would be the same comparison of a before and after for BVW .. left with d’Arnaud, leaving with Nido.
    (7) What if they had done what many other teams do (think Kris Bryant) and kept Alonso down to save a year of control coming out of spring training 2019?
    (7) On the other side of the coin, what if they had not had the DH all year in 2020?

    Some other points that BVW probably cannot be blamed for:
    (1) d’Arnaud / Plawecki was not a good catching combination for the Mets.
    (2) Matz going completely south. Perhaps that is a Hefner issue?
    (3) Decent bullpen arms incapable of throwing strikes. Building a bullpen is a crapshoot. Again, a Hefner problem? A few less walks, things would have been much different.
    (4) The month of June 2019. I don’t profess to know what happened that month, but without that June swoon, they were in the post season and with the end of year 2019 squad, they could have made some big noise. They were arguably the best team in the league after the All Star break.
    (5) Jeff McNeil had 240 at-bats going into 2019, roughly 40% of a full year. He was not a top prospect (12th round draft pick 6 years prior). While he looked good in his late 2018 work, that is not the kind of player you count on as a starting position player until he proves it over more time. Fortunately he did, but one might also see a Mike Vail, Shawn Abner, or Gregg Jeffries in his early body of work as well.
    (6) Even though Robinson Cano was brought in, McNeil still managed to get 514 at bats in 2019, mostly in the outfield,

    I hope we can agree to disagree, but in the whole scheme of things, I do not see the two BVW years as a disaster. I have posted more detail thoughts on other articles. He is now gone, so we need to move on. In many ways he was a victim of bad luck. There are certain things they could have done better, but overall, as a fan, while they didn’t win, I do not see a complete inferno here.

  • NYM6986

    No issue with BVW’s departure. In fairness, if Cano and Diaz had given average seasons in 2019, a playoff spot would likely have been reachable. Then with our rotation the potential was unlimited. So while we gave up the star of our minor league system, with the infrequency that you get to the Series, it was not an insane play for shot at the ring.

    • Brian Joura

      It’s a huge leap from “playoff spot would likely have been reachable” to “get to the series.” And that doesn’t even take into account my extreme distaste for an “ends justify the means” approach to trades.

      • NYM6986

        My intent still was to point out that with a Seattle Diaz and average Cano in 2019, the Mets would have made the playoffs and had good potential to move forward. deGrom, Thor, Wheeler and Stroman would make them tough to beat. Alonso was going wild. Looking forward to see how they will shape this team with new management, ownership and some breathing room to spare.
        #LGM

  • MattyMets

    Nice, Brian. One of your best. Some solid comments on here too. I’m so excited for the new era of Mets baseball. Are we really going to spend like the Yankees now?! This should be a fun hot stove season. Hope everyone on here is doing okay. We’ve all been through it this year, but here’s something to smile about. Our team has a new owner who is loaded, a New Yorker and a huge Mets fan. This is a dream come true. I’m salivating over the FA and trade options like a stoner looking at the Denny’s menu.

  • Metsense

    BVW didn’t improve the Mets and his decision making was faulty. He decided to take on a $24 M commitment instead of extending Wheeler in the spring of 2019. That decision moved McNeil off second base. Then he signed Lowrie for $20/2 when had Frazier on 3B. $10M that wasn’t earmarked for Wheeler. BVM then traded for Stroham and his 1 1/2 years of team control. That decision was the writing on the wall for Wheeler. The crickets were chirping. BVW didn’t want Wheeler and I fault him for that.
    Wheeler, Kay,Woods Richardson,Dunn and Kelenic would be a better team than the one they have now.

  • texmet

    The jury is still out on BVW .I don’t have a problem with him being let go because he is obviously inexperienced compared to Alderson and his goofy bravado is WWF. Taking on the Cano and giving Lowery a contract cost us Wheeler and he let go too much upper level pitching prospects.

    You don’t give BVW enough credit for the draft strategy which looks gutsy and innovative. Also you undervalue the difference in term of contract concerning De Grom and Cole etc. God forbide an injury to Jake, but if it happens we aren’t screwed like David Wright.

    Also ,you didn’t mention Alderson left McNeil exposed in the Rule 6 draft.

    In the end, its better to be lucky than good.

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