Why Brodie Van Wagenen might succeed as Mets GM

MLB, Uncategorized

Mets

As the Mets move toward the finish line in their search to replace Sandy Alderson as GM, reports are stating that Brodie Van Wagenen, Doug Melvin, Kim Ng and Chaim Bloom are receiving second interviews. It has been a ponderous process for the Mets with rumors, innuendo and the familiar mocking the club must endure as a matter of course.

The inevitable questions about control, inherited staff, financial parameters and how much influence Jeff Wilpon will have will continue regardless of whom the Mets hire.

A total outsider like Van Wagenen might be viewed as a blatant attempt on the part of the Mets to reinvent the wheel, but it does make some sense and could succeed.

Let’s look at why.

Understanding both sides.

Any good lawyer will know how to make the other side’s argument. As a longtime player agent and co-head of CAA Sports’ baseball division, Wagenen has relationships with every major-league team and its executives. When trying to maximize the value of contracts and endorsements for his clients, he also needs to understand what the other side is thinking. It’s a short step over the velvet rope from being seller to the buyer.

This is not someone who will be parachuting in with theories, demands and expectations without having the faintest clue as to what really happens in the trenches.

He played baseball at a relatively high level.

Van Wagenen played baseball at Stanford University (as a teammate of Astros manager AJ Hinch). He wasn’t great, but he was serviceable. Playing at a Division I school in the Pac-10 – especially a school like Stanford that does not provide academic breaks to its athletes – is notable.

Many front office staffers are inhabiting a persona based on their environment. Chewing dip and carrying around an empty bottle in which to spit the juice does not make one a peer of professional athletes. If anything, it invites eye-rolling and ridicule from those same professional athletes. Similarly, uttering the lingo of athletes and trying to be one of them is transparent and deservedly ridiculed.

No, he did not make it to the major-leagues. He didn’t even play professionally. But as a former player, he will have a well-rounded idea of what it’s like to play and run a ballgame on the field, limiting the reactive know-it-all responses and insecurity that is inherent from those who cannot say the same and find themselves in an undeserved position as a front office boss, top-tier executive, or well-compensated analyst.

Delegation.

It is highly unlikely that Van Wagenen will be in the middle of every single deal big and small and interfere with the heads of the baseball departments.

The best executives are the ones who hire or retain smart people and allow them to do their jobs. If Omar Minaya, John Ricco, et, al. are part of the deal and will not be replaced, Van Wagenen can accept that and let them work without looking over their shoulder, sowing discord, and making passive aggressive maneuvers and statements to undermine them.

Managing the owner.

For an organization like the Mets, with Wilpon insisting that he will be involved, it takes people skills that a player agent must have to nudge him in the right direction without him knowing he’s being nudged. The idea of autonomy is secondary to this peacekeeping nuance.

Younger GMs are looking for autonomy and control in part because it grants them at least three years of on-field results being irrelevant. That’s three years of job security and blamelessness. They’re heavy on data and short on interpersonal skills. That is not an issue with Van Wagenen who understands the numbers, but also knows how to persuade.

The tactics.

There are repeated demands that the Mets tear the entire structure of the organization down to its exoskeleton and start over. Is that wise? With Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Michael Conforto, Brandon Nimmo and Amed Rosario among others, the team is not destitute at the big-league level. In the minors, the farm system is better than it was given credit for in preseason assessments.

Certainly, when there is a barren farm system, bloated contracts and declining players, it makes perfect sense to gut it and start over. The Mets are not in that position and hiring Van Wagenen is not only a signal that the Mets are serious about contending quickly, but that the Wilpons are ready to give him some money to spend to make that a reality instead of a bait-and-switch to sell season ticket plans with the same digging through the bargain bin, crafting an “if everything goes right” roster and hoping that it somehow works out.

Salesmanship.

What is an agent if not a salesman?

To take the job, he will need to divest himself of any agent-related interests in the players, but the relationships will remain in place because he got his players paid and because most players will be smart enough to realize that he might turn around and go back to being an agent after his tenure with the Mets concludes. Other organizations will know it too.

***

At first glance, the mentioning of player agents running an organization sounds quirky for its own sake. In the case of the Mets and Van Wagenen, it’s a radical departure from what the Mets and the Wilpons have done in the past and, in the grand scheme, it isn’t such a terrible idea.

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If the Mets want Omar Minaya, they should just hire Omar Minaya

MLB, Uncategorized

minaya

For weeks now, the New York Mets have been dropping hints that Omar Minaya is their preferred choice to return to his former role as general manager on a permanent basis. Minaya, who was rehired in spring training as an assistant to GM Sandy Alderson as a troubleshooter to blunt relentless and fair criticism of the club’s minor league system, is a current member of the triad of baseball decision makers along with John Ricco and J.P. Ricciardi. The three have been running things since Alderson’s leave of absence to address his recurrence of cancer. Alderson’s exit has been labeled a firing without a firing. Alderson himself all but said if he were making the hiring and firing decision on the job he’s done in the past two years, he’d have fired himself.

Recognizable names like Ben Cherington, Dan Duquette and Kim Ng among others have been mentioned to replace Alderson, but the looming presence of Minaya is a constant. Already, various incarnations of the same story have surfaced with Minaya either spearheading the entire search or as an inherited, non-negotiable part of any new front office structure.

Whether the Mets truly intend to conduct an exhaustive search or not is known only to them. With the strategic leaks emanating from the club saying Fred Wilpon wants someone more old-school and that Minaya is a candidate to pull a Dick Cheney, be put forth as the person overseeing the vetting process before jumping into the fray himself with a, “hey, how about me?” move, he could very well get the job.

Perhaps it’s calculated and the Wilpons have already made clear to Minaya that once the smoke clears and they can effectively sell it to a perpetually angry fan base and dubious, hypocritical media, he’s the guy.

There is reason to be hesitant to again entrust Minaya with the fate of the organization. However it’s a mistake to base that hesitancy on faux baseball “experts” who are granted a forum and have an inexplicable following as they respond to the mere suggestion of Minaya with such florid and baseless made-for-social-media responses such as “facepalm” or “eyeroll” without formulating a well-organized and cogent critique and what credentials the Mets should be looking for in their new GM instead of those Minaya brings to the table.

Reading Moneyball/Astroball/Whateverball does not make one an expert; nor does having a basic grasp of sabermetrics or the ability to regurgitate stats and scouting terminology while posing as a peer of experienced baseball people. Of course, a critique of Minaya’s time as Mets GM can be done. There were positives and negatives to the regime, but that can be said about any executive in any business.

During Minaya’s first tenure, the club relied on antiquated strategies even for the time-period as the sports information boom had yet to explode and permeate the game as it has today. Advanced statistics were scoffed at and ignored. While the aggressive spending on Pedro Martinez, Carlos Beltran and Billy Wagner worked in the immediate aftermath, the patchwork to fill holes and salvage the remnants of their near misses from 2006 to 2008 resulted in a series of sunk costs and declining, injured veterans. The farm system was decried at the time, but in later years, it was found to be far stronger than that the prospect rankings suggested. Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Jeurys Familia, Lucas Duda, Steven Matz among others were already present.

As innovative and advanced as statistical analysis has become, every team has a department dedicated to using the new metrics to assess players. They’re mostly working from the same playbook with subtle differences in how diligently they rely on the numbers. With much of the playing field leveled by these advancements, something of a necessary reversion is taking place with a greater reliance on the unquantifiable and eyeball assessment – something Minaya is good at.

When he’s doing crisis control, such as clumsily firing Willie Randolph, when Tony Bernazard was accused of abusive and arrogant behaviors, or dealing with incidents like Francisco Rodriguez beating his pseudo father-in-law in the clubhouse family room, he’s repetitive and clueless.

There’s no debating that Minaya has a checkered past as Mets GM and is certainly not the type of person who fits in the mold of this era’s preferred top baseball executive. If they’re going to do this, the key to its success is to examine and understand Minaya’s strengths and weaknesses and remove the weaknesses from the equation.

When flashing his glittering smile in a finely tailored and stylish suit while introducing his glossy new free agent signing or trade acquisition, Minaya is great – one of the most charismatic baseball executives around. His ability to persuade players to believe in what he’s doing and sign with the Mets when the club’s history and inherent issues – namely the Wilpons – would normally give pause to any player and agent with options is notable and impressive. Even when he doesn’t get what he wants at first, he revisits the idea and makes it happen where the player has no choice as he did with trading for Carlos Delgado one year after he spurned the Mets’ free agent pursuit to sign with the Florida Marlins.

Letting him head baseball operations and leaving Ricco to do the hatchet work and organizational spokesman stuff when the inevitable problems crop up can work.  Certainly, Minaya is not the guy to hire if an organization is looking for the creation of a new algorithm. That this is even up for consideration and knowing how Minaya operates as a Euro-fútbol manager who buys international stars implies that the Wilpons were not lying when they said their finances are stabilized and they’re ready to start pouring money into the team again. Why else would it be floated that they’re considering a move of Amed Rosario to center field unless they’re ready to unleash Minaya to do what he does best and go on a big game hunt for Manny Machado to take over at shortstop?

The easy answer for the Wilpons is to follow the current trends and hire a 30-something numbers guy with an impressive degree from a high-end school and let him or her move the Mets into the present and future with a technocratic tilt. Besides the reality that doing that doesn’t guarantee success on the field, more damage can be done when hiring a top executive due to outside pressure than by hiring someone who has known flaws but is trusted and familiar to ownership. Already any outsider is handcuffed by inheriting Minaya and Ricco while simultaneously needing to mitigate Jeff Wilpon. That hire might be told when getting the job that there will be reasonable autonomy, but that will last until the new baseball “boss” walks into Wilpon’s office with a trade proposal that will yield five prospects for deGrom and receives a bemused hiccuppy laugh followed by, “We’re not trading deGrom.”

Then what?

Minaya knows the deal and he loves the Mets. The Wilpons trust him. He’s well-liked throughout baseball. If he’s allowed to stay in his lane, he could legitimately achieve what the club has been pushing since mid-summer amid mocking and ridicule and return the Mets to contention by 2019.

Rather than adhering to what will get them better media coverage and nods of approval from those whose opinions are irrelevant, they should do what they’re comfortable with. If that means rehiring Minaya, so be it.

The Mets, their next GM, Random Name X and Random Reporter Y

MLB, Uncategorized

Mets

As random columns and blog postings speculate as to the next general manager of the New York Mets, writers are conjuring names from front offices of other clubs with no context, no inside information as to what the Mets are thinking, and no willingness to use the only genuine way to predict what they will do: history.

They’re pulling names out of their asses based on pure fantasy and selfish agendas. To make matters worse, they fail to look beyond the hot trends of the moment – baseball outsiders, high-end degrees, innovative statistical analysis and ingenuity – and take that first, crucial step by checking to see that the puzzle piece either fits seamlessly or can be altered slightly to kindasorta fit enough to make it work.

To elucidate exactly how clueless the media is in general, one need only look at the timeline of former Seattle Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik and disproven story of how he went from an inspired hire and scouting and stats “hybrid” who had made his way up through the ranks as an old-school, eyeball scout and slowly learned the value of sabermetrics not just to understand them, but to aggressively implement them.

None other than one of the worst columnists in baseball today if not in baseball history overall, Joel Sherman, wrote a Mets-bashing column lamenting that the club had “missed out” on Zduriencik, calling him a “truly Amazin’ exec” in part for that combined knowledge in scouting and stats and in part because he had worked for the Mets in the early-1990s and knew the terrain.

Sherman is one of the “experts” who has and will offer his ideas as to the next Mets GM. In fact, he personifies the widespread nonsense of the entire endeavor.

In a whistleblower-type move, former Mariners scout Tony Blengino revealed the truth after the Mariners fired him by saying that it was he who completed Zduriencik’s application package and that the idea of Zduriencik understanding stats was a ruse.

It was pure payback, it was ill-advised and Blengino was caught in the backdraft of his vengeful revelations, but it served a purpose in that it showed how little the media really knows beyond what they’re told and how their opinions form based on their own insipid and ill-informed interpretations as to what’s really happening inside organizations.

As much as outsiders present their case of how organizations should be run, the reality of how they are run is far different and is adherent to the whims of ownership. If it is an owner who is willing to recede into the background, absorb criticism based on having delegated so much authority to an underling, and accept that it might not work for the foreseeable future if it works at all, then the act of putting all the chips on one philosophy can succeed.

It’s not easy. To imply that other GMs have that all-encompassing power is ridiculous. Not even Bill Belichick is immune to interference and overrule from Bob Kraft.

Regarding the Mets, it’s not about who the Wilpons should hire based on that randomness. It’s about who they will hire.

If you really believe the Mets will pick any one of the names suggested – Chaim Bloom, Kevin Goldstein, David Stearns, Tim Naehring – and give them the same carte blanche that not even Sandy Alderson received, you’re parachuting in with zero understanding of the Mets or are insinuating your own ludicrous beliefs on a situation where they hold no sway.

If the new GM walks in to Jeff Wilpon’s office and says, “I have a trade offer where we’ll send Jacob deGrom to the Yankees and Noah Syndergaard to the Phillies for a combination of nine prospects…” it’s won’t fly no matter how significant the return is, where the prospects rank on various lists, or how smart it seems in the moment.

As alluring as the prospect of a new age GM is, the Mets are not going down that road. With that in mind, wouldn’t it be preferable to have someone the Wilpons trust so they don’t feel obligated to scrutinize every move that is made? Someone they know or at least has a history to give that person some wiggle room?

“Random Name X” from “Inept Reporter Y’s Ass” is not cutting it and it’s not going to happen.