The Mets finalized a deal this weekend to make Brodie Van Wagenen their new general manager. Normally the hiring of new baseball GMs doesn’t garner much attention outside of MLB, but this time it’s different. The Mets crossed a line, and the move has ramifications that will complicate the future of contract dealings with the organization.
Van Wagenen was an agent, an extremely prominent one at that. As the co-head of CAA Baseball he oversaw dozens of contracts and has intimate knowledge of how front offices work. On paper this might make it seem like he would be a solid candidate for the job, and he very well may be — but promoting agents to positions inside organizations is highly problematic.
Superstar agent Scott Boras questioned the move when reached by ESPN Radio over the weekend.
“When you are fluid, and I’m not saying this is right or wrong, and going from agency to management, the fact of the matter is how does a player know that you won’t make that change at anytime?” Boras said. “Why would he tell you the most intimate things in the world knowing you’re going to be negotiating against him, and, more important, the owner that hires someone, how do they know while they’re expressing loyalty to you, they also have a group of people they worked with for a long time who they were loyal to -- how do you know he may not ship that loyalty from you to the other side?”
Essentially Boros is saying that the Mets are promoting someone to a position where they can potentially use inside knowledge against players they gained while representing them — and vice-versa, should he decide to leave MLB and return to his agency.
And this is allowed?
Yes, but there’s a catch. The 2017 collective bargaining agreement doesn’t have provisions written into it to prohibit agents from joining MLB front offices, but it does have an addendum (which was approved by the executive office) putting limitations on this kind of move.
Attachment 48 titled “Conflicts of Interest” states that certified player agents who join front offices must relinquish any financial stake in an agency, but that’s it.
“a certified Player Agent who has accepted a position in senior management of a Major League Club or the Office of the Commissioner shall be prohibited from maintaining a direct or indirect financial interest in an agency while he or she is employed by the Club or by the Commissioner’s Office.”
So while Van Wagenen can’t make money from CAA while being employed by the Mets, there’s nothing written into the CBA to prohibit him from using information gained while being an agent, or using his prior professional knowledge as a tool in negotiations.
What led to the Mets making the decision?
The Mets began their search after Sandy Alderson stepped away from the team after receiving a cancer diagnosis. The team operated under a triumvirate of interim GMs, all with history inside the Mets organization.
Alderson, like Omar Minaya before him, came from traditional baseball backgrounds. The hiring of Alderson was hailed by fans after his work with the Padres, and being a key-figure in helping spearhead initiatives inside Major League Baseball itself.
The team’s search included 10-12 candidates, with the other finalist being Chaim Bloom — an executive with the Tampa Bay Rays. Ultimately the Mets decided to hire from outside a front office. COO Jeff Wilpon told the Associated Press about the team’s decision to hire Van Wagenen:
“Brodie is an extremely knowledgeable, creative, progressive and collaborative leader, who I’m confident will lead us toward sustainable success,” Mets chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon said in a statement. “I’m very excited for our fans to hear and see the direction Brodie outlined for us.”
How far was Van Wagenen’s reach as an agent?
As the co-head of CAA baseball he was involved in many player contracts. CAA’s website boasts that the agency represents over 100 players, including 11 of the top 100 contracts in the sport.
The reach and knowledge the agency has is vast, not only of individual players and their specific situations, but of how teams around the league operate when it comes to contract negotiations. Now that information is in the Mets’ front office.
The decision to have such a prominent agent join a team is being monitored by MLB Player’s Association president Tony Clark, indicating that players are concerned by Van Wagenen’s move to the front office.
“I won’t tell you how many calls or how many texts I have gotten,” Clark said Friday before Game 3 of the World Series in Los Angeles. “I will simply suggest to you that our membership is paying attention.”
Have agents joined front offices in the past?
Yes, while it’s not something we see typically there have been several agents who have made the jump. Most recently, Dave Stewart left his job as an agent to join the Diamondbacks in 2014 before being fired two years later.
Stewart’s transition to the front office was fraught with issues as Stewart transitioned his role in the company to his then-wife, creating conflict where he was running a major league team while his wife was still representing players. While there are structures in place to avoid conflict of interest, it represented a test the league hadn’t experienced.
However, Stewart’s prominence as an agent was far less than that of Van Wagenen at the time.
Can this work?
There’s no reason it can’t, even though it’s unorthodox. The Mets definitely have a different perspective in the front office now, and with an agent of Van Wagenen’s caliber it’s going to be fascinating for baseball fans to see how he runs the team. Despite there being past examples of agents making the switch in baseball, this one is definitely different and could serve as a litmus test for how teams view free agency.
There’s a chance that Van Wagenen’s experience with players around the league will give him an inside track on free agency negotiations, and considering CAA’s mammoth All-Star clientele it could mean big things for the Mets down the road.
This experiment hasn’t had much success in baseball, and is ongoing in the NBA and NFL. Long-time agent Rob Pelinka made the switch to Lakers general manager in 2017 and helped usher in the deal that brought LeBron James to Los Angeles. Mike Tannenbaum, current executive for the Miami Dolphins joined an agency after he was fired by the New York Jets and also made the switch back to the front office.
Time will tell, but it’s going to be interesting.