Van Wagenen ready to 'charge forward' as GM

November 9th, 2018

CARLSBAD, Calif. -- About a week after formally accepting the Mets' general manager job, Brodie Van Wagenen boarded a plane to Arizona to watch the organization's top two prospects, Peter Alonso and Andres Gimenez, play in person. He traveled from there to Southern California, where he spent most of his time whisking off from one meeting to the next. Over the course of four days, Van Wagenen met with representatives from nearly every team. He talked to executives in food lines. He held an impromptu meeting with agents on a hotel lobby couch.
This was not unusual for Van Wagenen, who says his hobbies include watching baseball games, perusing statistics and analyzing player value. He jokes, or half-jokes, that family vacations are trips to the Major League Baseball All-Star Game.
"My wife would love me to take two weeks off and go to Spain," Van Wagenen said. "I've had a hard time being somewhere where I don't have cell phone coverage."
Spending more than a decade on the other side of this grind, Van Wagenen rose to the top of the agent heap through a combination of networking skills, sales ability and relentlessness. When Mets chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon approached him late last month regarding the vacant GM job, Van Wagenen considered the risk and reward. No one, really, had done this before in baseball, at least not in this way. Some criticized it on an ideological level. Van Wagenen weighed the offer and signed the contract.
"I just charge forward," he said. "I feel like I'm fairly goal-oriented of, 'This is what I'd like to accomplish,' and then, 'How do I achieve it?'"

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          By the time Van Wagenen finished elementary school, he was playing baseball against boys two years older. Van Wagenen's father, Jeff -- a professional golfer who left the grind to pursue a successful business career, before returning to a senior tour more than two decades later -- instilled in his son a love of sports. From Van Wagenen's mother, Cher, came the ability to write well and speak eloquently.
          "His work ethic started at 6 [years old]," Jeff Van Wagenen said.
          Late in his teenage years, Van Wagenen became enamored with the idea of attending Stanford, up the coast from his Southern California hometown. He arrived as part of a storied baseball recruiting class that also included AJ Hinch, a future big league player and manager.
          "Brodie was like the epitome of Southern California to me," Hinch said. "Just the look, the feel, the cool factor. A lot of people looked up to him from the very beginning."

Although Van Wagenen was not the same caliber of prospect as Hinch, battling throwing issues that prompted a move from second base to right field, he became a popular figure on campus. Hinch recalled often leaning on Van Wagenen for advice, but rarely the other way around. When Hinch, untrained in driving a stick shift, borrowed Van Wagenen's Jeep and blew out the clutch, his friend was mostly unfazed.
So perhaps it came as little surprise that after Van Wagenen dislocated his shoulder in his junior season -- effectively ending his chance to turn pro -- the reaction was one of resolve, not woe. Rather than bemoan a dying playing career, Van Wagenen redoubled his academic efforts at Stanford, where he was a communications major. As several of his teammates pursued professional baseball careers with varying levels of success, Van Wagenen polished his resume and tried "to reprogram" his life, moving to Chicago to work for the Michael Jordan-led Bulls.
"A lot of times it's like, 'Oh, you feel sorry for him, he got hurt and couldn't play,'" longtime Stanford coach Mark Marquess said. "Well, you don't feel too sorry for a Brodie Van Wagenen, with the talent he had and what he's going to do."
From the Bulls, Van Wagenen shifted to Athlete Direct, a new media company that negotiated online rights deals and created web sites for professional athletes. He networked well enough for IMG, a prominent agency, to hire him, then for lead IMG agent Casey Close to take him to CAA, a Hollywood talent agency branching out into sports.
Eventually, Close departed CAA as well, leaving its fate in the hands of Van Wagenen and several others. Van Wagenen grew the business. He partnered temporarily with Jay-Z's fledgling agency, Roc Nation Sports. He inked long-term deals for stars like and and, at some point along the way, became one of the game's pre-eminent agents. Nationals GM Mike Rizzo, who negotiated the Zimmerman deal, described Van Wagenen as "intelligent, professional, honest." The Yankees' Brian Cashman called him "always very transparent, always available."
"And that's all you can hope for as an agent," Rizzo said. "I've done a lot of deals with him and he's never lied to me, and always been upfront and straight."
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Shortly after Van Wagenen accepted the Mets job, a friend sent his father a clip of popular WFAN radio host Mike Francesa sighing, rolling his eyes and challenging the new GM's responses throughout an 18-minute interview. At one point, Francesa called Van Wagenen "wide-eyed" in his evaluation of the team.
"This guy did everything he could to shake Brodie," Jeff Van Wagenen said. "It looked like it was his job -- shock radio -- to make him blow up. You can't. Brodie's been around. You're not going to get to do that."
That same day, longtime Stanford assistant coach Dean Stotz watched Van Wagenen's introductory news conference, in which the new GM promised to "win now" and to "deliver this city and this team a fan base they can be proud of." A quarter century after recruiting Van Wagenen to Stanford, Stotz came away impressed by the public speaking acumen of someone who didn't do much of it in his old job.

"He's going to have success," Stotz said. "Everything he's touched and challenged and done, he's done at the elite level."
That is not to deny Van Wagenen his detractors. The most vocal of them, agent Scott Boras, scolded that by becoming a GM, Van Wagenen breached his "fiduciary commitment and obligation" to his former clients. Because agents are privy to private information regarding their players' past medical information and future goals, Boras said that Van Wagenen's move creates a conflict of interest.
On some level, that's undeniable, which is why the Mets worked language into Van Wagenen's contract to avoid anything messy. One of Van Wagenen's most prominent Mets clients, , called the transition "a little confusing," adding that he's still trying to "wrap my head around it." deGrom, who has yet to name a new agent, has perhaps more to lose than anyone; two years shy of free agency, he's looking to cash in on a National League Cy Young Award finalist season. But his trust in Van Wagenen, who attended almost every one of his home starts the past two seasons, still appears strong.
"I honestly think he's going to do a good job at this," deGrom said. "You hear all of this conflict-of-interest stuff. I don't really know how to feel on that part of it. But I truly do believe he is going to be rooting for every player on our team, and try to help them out the best he can."
Upon departing the GM Meetings, Van Wagenen said he was pleasantly surprised by the number of GMs willing to speak out on his behalf, from Rizzo to Cashman, Phillies GM Matt Klentak and others. Most had positive things to say about their dealings with Van Wagenen the negotiator. His hiring did not result in some seismic industry shift.
In reality, Van Wagenen's success will hinge not on the nuances of his job transition, nor on his relationship with deGrom, but on the product he puts on the field. It will depend upon the budget that the Mets give him and the decisions he makes, in the prime of what has already been a career spent making them.
"When he says, 'Yeah, I think we can win,' he actually believes that," Jeff Van Wagenen said. "He doesn't spend a lot of time on platitudes. He doesn't mess around with that stuff. He just goes."