Van Wagenen not focusing on role post-sale

September 19th, 2020

NEW YORK -- Last offseason, when billionaire hedge fund manager Steve Cohen entered exclusive negotiations to buy the Mets for the first time, he met with general manager Brodie Van Wagenen for what the latter called “top line” conversations about the future of the club. It was Van Wagenen’s first -- and only -- real talk with Cohen.

Now that Cohen has signed an agreement to purchase the Mets, pending MLB ownership approval, Van Wagenen knows he will speak to him again, though his mind is not currently on that conversation.

“There are still a few i’s to dot and t’s to cross before it will become official,” Van Wagenen said. “At this point my collaboration is still among the senior leaders in my department and then communication with Jeff and Fred [Wilpon], and then from there we’ll continue to go forward. But at this point, right now, our transactions are focused on today, tonight and tomorrow to try to get us through this regular season.”

Speaking for the first time since Cohen signed his agreement, Van Wagenen deflected all questions about his winter operations plan. He is under contract through the 2022 season and has not had any communication with Cohen regarding his role past this year.

“In terms of my own job security, I’ve said it many times: I don’t think about that,” Van Wagenen said. “I don’t give it any thought, because my task is to win today.”

Roster move

In dire need of pitching depth, the Mets optioned .347-hitting infielder Luis Guillorme to their alternate training site in Brooklyn and recalled long reliever Franklyn Kilome to replace him.

Kilome was pressed into service almost immediately, taking over the Steven Matz after Matz struggled through 2 2/3 innings in Friday's 15-2 loss. Kilome didn't fare much better, giving up six runs on three hits (two of them homers) in 1 1/3 innings.

Guillorme performed well enough early this season to become a regular contributor at second base, third base and shortstop, but he was marginalized after the Mets acquired Todd Frazier via trade on Aug. 31. Guillorme has not started a game since Frazier arrived, going 1-for-10 as the Mets’ primary left-handed pinch-hitter.

"It was tough, because Luis has done everything we've asked him to do here," manager Luis Rojas said of sending Guillorme to Brooklyn. "He had such a good offensive stretch, and then at the same time, playing really good defense at second base, short, third where he's played, coming off the bench, doing everything we've asked. He's been great, so it was a really tough conversation. It was a situation, the circumstances right now that we've fallen into led us to ask for more pitching."

Long-term commitment?

Speaking on Friday on the state of the team, Van Wagenen did not dismiss the idea of a long-term contract for Michael Conforto, who has one year of team control remaining. Conforto is a strong candidate to finish in the top 10 of National League MVP voting this season, and he has expressed interest in the past in discussing an extension. But the Mets have never approached him with more than what Van Wagenen called “preliminary conversations.”

“As a guy that was homegrown, he’s somebody that we’ve looked at as a long-term piece of our core going forward,” Van Wagenen said. “We have had conversations, preliminary conversations in the past about a mutual expression of interest potentially in the long-term. We’ll see how those conversations go.”

That’s all for Jed

Next week, Jed Lowrie’s tenure with the Mets will officially end. He will have had eight plate appearances over two years in New York, going 0-for-7 with a walk, and receiving $20 million for his services.

Van Wagenen, Lowrie’s former agent who has defended his signing of the infielder, called the two-year saga of Lowrie’s left knee “impossible to predict.”

“Whenever a player comes to a new team … you don’t know what the future’s going to hold in terms of performance,” he said. “I know Jed is a very hard worker. He’s obviously talented. We’ve seen that throughout the course of his career. We even saw that in Summer Camp when he had a bat in his hand. So it’s frustrating that he wasn’t able to perform for his own goals. It’s frustrating that he wasn’t able to perform for us and our investment for him. I know that he could have helped us as a player.”

Alonso sits against a lefty

Despite posting a .941 OPS against left-handed pitchers last season, Pete Alonso was out of Friday’s lineup in large part because of his struggles versus lefties in 2020. He entered the night sporting both a .663 OPS against lefties and a 1-for-15 lifetime mark (with a homer) off Braves starter Max Fried.

Rojas said that Alonso is chasing too many changeups and breaking pitches out of the strike zone against lefties, which Statcast data backs up: He’s chased 37.8 percent of those pitches out of the zone this year, compared with 17.8 percent in 2019. And so for now, Rojas indicated, the left-handed Dominic Smith presents a better matchup vs. tough lefties.

“It’s the chase,” Rojas said. “Alonso, his history since I’ve seen him, he’s crushed lefties. But these are some of the things, some of the adjustments he needs to make right now, and then I know he can produce for us.”

From the trainer’s room

Jacob deGrom tested his right hamstring with a successful bullpen session on Friday, which encouraged Mets officials. The team should have more information on Saturday regarding deGrom, who was optimistic that he can take his next rotation turn as scheduled.

Reliever Dellin Betances (right lat) pitched in a simulated game on Thursday in Brooklyn and could be nearing activation from the injured list.