Brodie Van Wagenen won’t feel cheated no matter how Mets tenure goes

Consider this series of events, not at all out of the realm of possibility:

  • The 2020 Major League Baseball season doesn’t launch, due to circumstances either within or beyond the owners’ and players’ control.
  • The Wilpons finally sell the Mets.
  • The Mets’ new owner opts to hire a new general manager for 2021.

Don’t fret for Brodie Van Wagenen, the Mets’ current GM. His contract, guaranteed, takes him through 2022. Yet if his tenure as a baseball operations boss gets abbreviated to something that could be captured in a Quibi documentary, what would we make of it?

Let’s hope for society’s sake that baseball does happen this year, that Van Wagenen receives more games to test his work. No matter what happens, however, the agent-turned-executive already has established a legacy of sorts:

Whether he sinks, swims or just winds up shortened, Van Wagenen will do so betting on himself.

At his introductory news conference at Citi Field in November 2018, Van Wagenen, describing what life would be like under him, dropped three adjectives that stood out: fearless, relentless and proactive. Later that day, he traded Jarred Kelenic and four other players to the Mariners for Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz.

(Yes, yes, the blockbuster trade actually occurred about a month after his hiring. The quarantine has messed with our sense of time, am I right?)

That megadeal of course endured a disastrous first year — Cano and Diaz combining for minus-0.2 wins above replacement while Kelenic, the sixth-overall pick of the 2018 amateur draft, soared up Seattle’s system as well as the industry prospect rankings.

Jeurys Familia’ return wound up extremely not triumphant, and Jed Lowrie disappeared for such a long time that people began mistaking him for Carl Pavano. “Come get us,” the challenge Van Wagenen issued to the rest of the National League East in the offseason, turned into “They came and got us” by July.

However, that same aggressive mentality compelled Van Wagenen to begin 2019 with Pete Alonso as his first baseman, service-time manipulation be damned, and trade a pair of pitching prospects to the Blue Jays for Marcus Stroman on July 28, when the Mets owned a 50-55 record. Stroman helped the Mets turn their season around to the tune of an 86-76 showing, a nine-game improvement from ’18, and an accompanying increase in attendance of more than 200,000.

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J.D. Davis, acquired from the Astros by Van Wagenen, played an important role in that surge, supporting ace Jacob deGrom, who won his second straight NL Cy Young Award after signing a five-year, $137.5 million extension right before Opening Day.

Van Wagenen’s commitment to his own belief system cemented itself, in my view, when commissioner Rob Manfred released his scathing report on the 2017 Astros in January. As it became clear within days that the Mets had to part ways with their new manager Carlos Beltran, Van Wagenen could have emulated the Astros and hired a calming graybeard outsider like Dusty Baker. Instead, having put in a couple months’ worth of work with Beltran and his coaching staff, the GM elevated quality-control coach Luis Rojas, 38 years old and a rookie big-league skipper, to the manager’s office.

It all might work sufficiently or might not. The team looked great during spring training before the world shut down. Since then, Noah Syndergaard’s Tommy John surgery weakened the Mets’ starting rotation, designed to be their forte, and dropped their FanGraphs projection to 85-77, three games behind the Nationals and two behind the Braves in the NL East. An 82-game schedule, as is the current hope, would create more variability among the outcomes.

The Mets are exciting and relevant once more in the wake of their 2017-18 funk. They could finally nab their first championship since 1986. The whole operation could turn into fool’s gold if Cano continues aging rapidly, Diaz really owns a New York-phobia, Kelenic honors his hype and so on.

If we get even a half-season, the Mets will be one of the game’s most fascinating teams and Van Wagenen one of the most compelling executives. His baseball acumen remains “to be determined,” perhaps permanently so. What we have determined, in his relatively brief time doing this, is that he won’t cheat himself in this golden opportunity.

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