Brodie Van Wagenen’s second winter as Mets general manager hasn’t exactly been a smooth one.
First he and COO Jeff Wilpon managed to somehow hire Carlos Beltran as their new manager without knowing he was a key member of the 2017 Astros, whose penchant for, ahem, playing through the whistle was an open secret to everyone else long before The Athletic pulled the curtains back on the whole operation.
The Mets and Beltran “mutually parted ways” on Jan. 16, three days after Beltran was the only Astros player identified by Major League Baseball as part of the in-game plan to relay signs during the 2017 season. Longtime Mets minor league manager Luis Rojas, who spent last season as the big league team’s quality control coach, was named the new NEW manager on Jan. 23.
The Mets didn’t even make no. 2 starter Zack Wheeler a contract offer and watched as he went to the division rival Phillies. The defending NL East champion Braves, perhaps the most active team of the early hot stove season, added ex-Mets catcher Travis d’Arnaud as well as potential closer Will Smith and reliable starter Cole Hamels. And last year’s NL East runners-up, the Nationals? They’re still the defending World Series champions.
Van Wagenen, still hamstrung for now by the Mets’ usual payroll constraints, traded for a fourth outfielder, Jake Marisnick, and signed a pair of fifth starters, Michael Wacha and Rick Porcello, while coming to terms with oft-mysteriously injured Yoenis Cespedes on a restructured contract that surely freed up money for Wacha and Porcello.
The good news is those payroll constraints could be freed up soon if Steve Cohen, who reached an agreement with the Wilpons on Dec. 4 to buy an 80 percent stake in the franchise, gains influence long before the Wilpons’ five-year period as the franchise’s point men expires. The bad news is that’ll probably cost Van Wagenen his job.
So yeah, the agent-turned-executive has had better winters. But as the Mets prepare for spring training, Van Wagenen can at least say he spent this off-season adding more insurance than he did in his first off-season.
The Mets announced this week they’d signed a quartet of big league veterans to minor league deals. Infielders Matt Adams and Eduardo Nunez, catcher Rene Rivera and pitcher Erasmo Ramirez aren’t splashy additions by any means, and if any of them spend more than a week as a regular — or, in Ramirez’s case, a couple weeks in the rotation — it’ll be a pretty good sign things haven’t gone according to plan.
But at least the Mets have acquired insurance — something Van Wagenen promised to do in December 2018, when he said he wanted to get rid of the ifs that dragged the Mets down the previous two seasons. The Mets ended up winning 10 more games in 2019 than the year before, but that was due more to good fortune than any depth acquired by Van Wagenen.
The Mets’ six starters (Jason Vargas was traded in July and replaced days later by Marcus Stroman) combined to make 154 starts while seven position players collected at least 450 at-bats for the Mets. That meant less reliance on emergency starting pitchers Chris Flexen, Wilmer Font and Walter Lockett as well as on fringe big league position players such as Carlos Gomez, Joe Panik or Keon Broxton.
Odds are the Mets won’t enjoy such good health and fortune for a second straight season, which makes a rotation that now goes seven big leaguers deep — for now — especially valuable. Wacha and Ramirez are decided underdogs to Porcello in the race for the fifth starter gig, but both pitchers could fortify the bullpen as multi-inning middle relief options.
And a power bat such as Adams, a versatile and speedy former All-Star such as Nunez and a defense-first catcher such as Rivera could all be valuable bench players as rosters expand to 26 for the first time this season.
Of course, all this depth could begin evaporating if some of it was acquired in order for Van Wagenen to free up payroll by trading from the big league roster. But as February approaches, Van Wagenen can at least point to finding insurance for the ifs as one thing that went right this winter.