CARLSBAD, Calif. — He’s the guy who used to relentlessly call and text them, utilizing his best persuasive skills, selling them on his players, making them believe they were the perfect fit to their clubs.
Brodie Van Wagenen, who a week ago was a prominent player agent, roaming the lobby at these General Manager Meetings, now is one of them.
Yes, a full-fledged GM, employed by the New York Mets, with a disdain towards agents.
Ok, well, maybe not yet, but no GM at these meetings has garnered nearly the attention of his peers, with GMs cornering him, inquisitive about his unique transition.
This isn’t anything like Dave Stewart, who was an All-Star pitcher, pitching coach, and assistant GM of the Toronto Blue Jays, before he became an agent and left to become GM of the Arizona Diamondbacks. It’s not like Jeff Moorad, who was an agent before becoming CEO of the D-backs and later the San Diego Padres, or Dennis Gilbert leaving his agency to be the Chicago White Sox special assistant. It’s not like Jeremy Kapstein, who ran the Padres after being an agent, and later became a special assistant with the Boston Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles. And it’s not like White Sox GM Rick Hahn, who worked two years in Moorad’s agency, and spent 12 years in the White Sox organization before becoming the GM.
Really, there’s been nothing quite like it, and after his first full day at the GM meetings, he’s fitting in as if he was a founder of his new fraternity.
“He didn’t stand out too much of a sore thumb at the party (Monday) night,’’ Cincinnati Reds president Dick Williams said. “Really, when I saw him, I looked at him as a GM. The page has turned. I’ve got to start dealing with him as a peer. He’s a contemporary now. I don’t expect there to be a long curve for him to get up to speed.’’
There was plenty of good-natured ribbing, Van Wagenen says, with GMs asking why in the world he’d want a job like this, wondering how long it’ll take him to wish he was back to being an agent, but several simply inquired how he was going to handle this new gig.
“He was telling us he can really expedite negotiations with agents now,’’ said Minnesota Twins GM Thad Levine, “because when they start their spiel, he can cut them right off. He said, 'I know this as well as anybody. Cut the chase. What’s this guy worth?’‘’
The tricky part, Van Wagenen acknowledged to his new peer group, is that he has players throughout the game that have become close friends. He must be cautious with tampering rules. And with seven former clients on the Mets, well, how would you like to be the guy telling them they are being traded or can’t get that lucrative contract extension?
“We told him we’d be concerned,’’ Levine said, “if he offered any of them in a trade. And he said, 'Well, not as concerned as my owner would be if I asked to pay them significantly more than they’re worth.' So it will be interesting to see how he deals with that.
“He told us about the volume of players he had in their system that he used to represent, which makes him very knowledgeable about them, but it also puts him in a little bit of a tough spot relative to how he wants to treat those assets.’’
Yet, if there were any fear of resentfulness or even awkwardness, they have vanished into the night. Several agents who had private meetings with Van Wagenen say they went quite smooth. Rival teams echoed the sentiments.
“It’s been fun,’’ Van Wagenen said. “The conversations with club officials have been warm, and some humor and laughter with the role reversal, and the report has been maintained so far with the agent meetings. They’ve been professional, but also transparent with both sides understanding the needs of each other.
“It’s completely different in the fact I have a different goal in mind, but the communication about trying to assess player talent and identify player values is pretty consistent to what I was doing before.’’
If first impressions mean anything, Van Wagenen certainly has made a whole lot of doubters into believers.
“I was kind of curious to hear his approach to everything,’’ Texas Rangers president and GM Jon Daniels said, “and I was impressed. I think it will be business as usual pretty quickly. He’s going to do the best thing for the Mets, just as he did the best thing for his clients. We all have jobs to do, it doesn’t matter what he was doing beforehand.’’
But what about those agents who were bitter rivals with Van Wagenen, who feuded in the past, and aren’t about to let those feelings simply go.
“Come on, what are the other agents going to tell their client,’’ Daniels said. “Are they going to eliminate a bidder? No way.’’
Indeed, there wasn’t a single GM who publicly scoffed at the idea of Van Wagenen being able to handle the job. No one, even privately, said they were hoping this outside-the-box move would backfire.
“When you think of his baseball background, or baseball knowledge and IQ, whether you do it as an agent or running a team,’’ St. Louis Cardinals president John Mozeliak said, “isn’t all that different. Instead of talking about potential free agents, he might be talking about potential trades.
“Look, we all live in glass houses, so careful what you say, or what you predict.’’
Besides, several GMs said, it’s hardly as if any of them had an adversarial relationship with Van Wagenen. He needed them, and they needed him, with Van Wagenen representing some of the biggest names in the game.
Says Red Sox president and GM David Dombrowski: “It’s a unique challenge. It will be interesting to see how it works.’’
Then again, if this does work, who knows, does Van Wagenen becomes a trendsetter? This is a copy-cat industry. We could have more agents switching sides if the Mets suddenly find themselves back in the postseason.
“He’s incredibly smart, capable, and a passionate baseball person,’’ Houston Astros GM Jeff Luhnow said.
“A year from now, we’re not even going to remember he was an agent.’’
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