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  • Writer's pictureVillanova Sports Law Blog

From Friend to Foe: Brodie Van Wagenen's Transition from Agent to General Manager

Updated: Feb 12

By Matt Grasso:

It is never easy replacing a Hall of Famer. In 2018, the New York Mets were reminded of that hard truth. On June 26, 2018, General Manager Sandy Alderson, 70, announced that he was taking a leave of absence, essentially resigning from his position, following a recurrence of an unspecified cancer [1]. The hole left by Alderson, who, undoubtedly, will be enshrined in Cooperstown in the near future, was filled by a triumvirate of Assistant General Managers Omar Minaya, J.P. Ricciardi, and John Ricco [2]. From the moment this plan was announced, it was clear that it was not a viable alternative for the future. Mets’ owner Fred Wilpon, and his son, Chief Operating Officer, Jeff, would need to make a hire in the off-season.

The first round of interviews resulted in three finalists. Two of the options- Doug Melvin, the former general manager of the Milwaukee Brewers, and Chaim Bloom, Senior Vice President of Baseball Operations for the Tampa Bay Rays- were intimately familiar with the workings of a Major League front office [3]. The third candidate, Brodie Van Wagenen, was quite the opposite. The co-head of Creative Artists Agency (CAA)’s baseball department, Van Wagenen was one of the most powerful men in baseball, representing some of the biggest names in the sport [4]. The Wilpons, somewhat surprisingly, decided to go with the outsider. Brodie Van Wagenen, 44, was named as the man who would replace Sandy Alderson as General Manager of the New York Mets. However, this new hire comes with countless questions, both ethical and practical.

Prior to his hire, Van Wagenen represented many Mets, including all-star outfielder Yoenis Cespedes and young ace starters Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom [5]. This past representation presents ethical conflicts that the Mets must now navigate. Players who were previously represented by Van Wagenen have a right to feel betrayed. In his role as player agent, Van Wagenen was privy, not just to players’ personal information, but also to knowledge regarding a player’s contractual desires. How much money does he want? Over how many years? More importantly, will he be willing to give his team a “hometown discount?” All of this information would seem to give Van Wagenen an advantage in negotiations. For example, prior to the 2018 All Star Game, Van Wagenen spoke to the media about his client, Jacob deGrom. In discussing the idea that deGrom, who is under contract with the Mets through 2020, could sign a long-term extension with the club, Van Wagenen said, “he and I have been transparent with [the Mets] about his willingness to consider a long-term commitment. But if there’s not a commitment, then obviously the player would be prepared for a trade” [6]. Now, the man who has essentially said “sign him or trade him,” is directly in charge of making such a decision.

It has been alleged that Van Wagenen’s past clients are supportive of this decision to leave CAA and join a team’s front office [7]. It was necessary, however, for further light to be shed on the situation. At his introductory press conference, the new general manager was asked about these potential conflicts of interest. COO Jeff Wilpon immediately seized the opportunity to dispel any worry over these issues. Following discussions with both the Commissioner’s Office, and Tony Clark, the head of the MLB Players Association, it was determined, and contractually noted, that Van Wagenen would recuse himself from negotiations with former clients [8]. While that concept is noble, if not a complete necessity, the extent to which it is actually achievable remains to be seen. Will Van Wagenen be advising the lead negotiator? Will he actually be capable of not sharing information that would give his team a competitive advantage? As one of the top agents in the league, Van Wagenen represented some of the premier players in baseball. Will his inability to negotiate directly with free agents prevent the Mets from acquiring top-level talent? Realistically, there is no way for Major League Baseball to monitor these behind-the-scenes actions. Thus, we must take Van Wagenen and the Mets at their word, and hope that if any improprieties were to surface, discipline would occur.

Furthermore, last winter, in the midst of one of the slowest-moving free agent markets in recent memory, Van Wagenen accused the owners of colluding to reduce salaries. “The behavior of owners in this year’s free agent market has changed dramatically,” Van Wagenen said at the time. “It feels coordinated, rightly or wrongly” [9]. The then-agent went on to suggest that a strike was a serious possibility in the near future, as disconnect grows between teams and players [10]. Now, Van Wagenen will be charged with determining a player’s worth from the other side. Knowing the oftentimes meddling nature of the Wilpons, it is fairly certain that Van Waggenen will not be given a “blank check” to sign free agents [11]. Van Wagenen may be hindered in what he says publicly, but a good first step would be to renounce his prior statements. If he does not, it may lead to other teams not wishing to negotiate with the Mets.

There are many practical issues that come with this hiring, as well. It is obvious that Van Wagenen is a skilled negotiator. However, there is much more to the job than contracts and free agency. Van Wagenen has quelled fears regarding his ability to scout, saying that he has used scouting tactics in order to determine the high school and college players to whom he should offer his services [12]. Furthermore, regarding analytics, Van Wagenen suggests that he has used these advanced statistics in an effort to present the best argument as to why his client should receive his desired salary [13]. This area may be one where Van Wagenen is actually more proficient than the previous regime. In 2018, the Mets employed three full-time employees in charge of analytics. The rest of that department? Interns [14].

Hiring Brodie Van Wagenen is risky. There are ethical issues associated with coming to the management side after years as a player agent. Additionally, there are practical baseball matters that raise concerns. For a sport that is steeped in history and tradition, baseball is changing rapidly. So-called “Old School” general managers, such as Doug Melvin, are being passed-over for jobs in favor of young, analytically-driven choices like Chaim Bloom. In hiring Brodie Van Wagenen, the New York Mets took innovation to a new level. Instead of hiring someone who has paid his proverbial dues, working his way up through the ranks of a Major League front office, they went with “the Enemy.” Hiring an agent to be general manager has its advantages. Negotiation skills are undisputed, and Van Wagenen has cited examples of his ability to scout and use analytics. There are, however, serious concerns about the ethical pitfalls facing Van Wagenen. If his former clients are truly supportive of his decision, and do not feel betrayed, if he is capable of fully, and effectively, recusing himself from negotiations with former clients, and if other teams do not view his past statements, which were highly critical of ownership, as a reason not to trade with him, Van Wagenen may have the makings for success.

Like all industries, sports operate in a copy-cat manner. When one team tries a new tactic and wins, other teams attempt to imitate their success. There are many obstacles in the way of success for the Mets and Brodie Van Wagenen. If they are capable of navigating these difficulties, other agents will be tempted to leave their practice for a job in a Major League front office. If this exodus of agents occurs, teams will be ready, and they will be hiring. Hiring Brodie Van Wagenen is risky, but if it is successful, it is entirely capable of revolutionizing the sport.

[1] “Mets GM Sandy Alderson takes leave of absence to be treated for cancer.”, Jun. 27, 2018.

[2] Id.

[3] Ehalt, Matt. “Mets' finalists for general manager job include prominent agent Brodie Van Wagenen.” USA Today, Oct. 23, 2018.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Lennon, David. “Jacob deGrom’s agent wants Mets to sign pitcher to extension or trade him.” Newsday, Jul. 16, 2018.

[7] Wagner, James. “Mets Introduce Brodie Van Wagenen, Their New G.M. (and a Recovering Agent).” New York Times, Oct. 30, 2018.

[8] Id.

[9] Gartland, Dan. “Prominent MLB Agent Alleges ‘Coordinated’ Effort by Owners to Suppress Free Agent Market.” Sports Illustrated, Feb. 2, 2018.

[10] Id.

[11] “A Complete History of Media Reports Chronicling the Wilpons’ Meddling in New York Mets Baseball Operations.” Good Fundies, Jun. 7, 2018.

[13] Wagner, James. “Mets Introduce Brodie Van Wagenen, Their New G.M. (and a Recovering Agent).” New York Times, Oct. 30, 2018.

[14] Britton, Tim. “Britton: The route to the ‘best offseason’ for the Mets should begin with self-evaluation from the Wilpons.” The Athletic, Oct. 1, 2018.

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