- Remember the last time a rookie GM shined quickly on the winter stage? The Padres' extensive rebuild offers a warning for those celebrating Brodie Van Wagenen's accomplishments already.
LAS VEGAS — As a new GM hire in San Diego, A.J. Preller, then 36, was the “rock star” of the 2014-15 offseason. He signed or traded for Matt Kemp, Wil Myers, Justin Upton, James Shields and Craig Kimbrel. Now the “rock star” title has been passed to another bold new GM hire, Brodie Van Wagenen, 44, of the Mets.
Having already traded for Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz, Van Wagenen has sent signals at these winter meetings that he will continue to be aggressive, especially when it comes to adding to his bullpen and finding another bat for his offense. The Mets are going all in, which is just the way chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon wanted it when he went about searching for a replacement for GM Sandy Alderson.
Wilpon had Van Wagenen in mind as his next GM as far back as July, according to a team source. When Alderson learned about a recurrence of cancer that would prompt him to leave the job, Wilpon asked some front office staffers back then, “What do you think about going outside the box?” It was Van Wagenen he had in mind. Wilpon had developed a trusting relationship with the agent and saw him as a leader with the intellect to run a modern front office. He also saw an opportunity to reload, not to rebuild, and wanted a GM with the same mindset.
Alderson was hired during a time in which the Wilpons were under stress from the fallout of the Madoff investment scandal. As Wilpon’s hand-picked choice, Van Wagenen has a honeymoon period when it comes to personnel moves. The Mets have talked with free agent A.J. Pollock and could wind up with one of the many top free agent relievers, a group that includes Andrew Miller, Joe Kelly, Zach Britton and David Robertson.
With less fanfare, the Mets also gave manager Mickey Callaway much-needed help in the dugout with the hiring of Jim Riggleman as the team’s bench coach. Riggleman has extensive experience running National League games as a manager. He replaced Gary DiSarcina, who was more familiar with American League baseball and was recommended by John Farrell.
So far Van Wagenen has made impressive, bold moves to push the Mets closer to contention. Cano is still an impact bat and Diaz is one of the game’s best closers with an upbeat temperament that plays well in the clubhouse.
Just keep this reminder in mind when it comes to winter “rock star” status. Since Preller earned that title, his Padres have lost more games than any team in baseball except Cincinnati.
Notes Around the Game
• With the Yankees and Nationals–the richest team and the incumbent team–both essentially declaring no interest in Bryce Harper, the market for the young star is not developing the way agent Scott Boras scripted it. It’s very early, but the bidding may wind up coming down to two teams with six straight years of losing records: the Phillies and White Sox.
• The Royals were smart to take a chance on Billy Hamilton, who needs a change of scenery after regressing as an offensive player in Cincinnati. Last season Hamilton had more popouts than infield hits, an indication that he still hasn’t learned how to keep the ball out of the air. Hamilton is a career .062 hitter on fly balls in play and a .289 hitter when he puts it on the ground. He averaged 543 plate appearances the past five years with the Reds–way too many for a guy with a career OPS+ of 70. Unless Hamilton fixes his offensive game, the Royals should use him as a fourth outfielder, a defensive replacement and a strategic pinch runner. Let somebody else get on base late in the game and then deploy him.
• New Giants GM Farhan Zaidi is boxed in with what is the least flexible roster in the NL West. He has a thin farm system, no outfielders to speak of and $370 million in commitments to seven players, none of them worth the full value of their deals. He may have to think about eating parts of contracts to move players such as Evan Longoria, Jeff Samardzija and Brandon Belt.
• The signature moment of the career of new Hall of Famer Harold Baines just might be the walkoff home run he hit in the 25th inning against Milwaukee in 1984. He becomes the sixth Hall of Famer to have played in that game, joining Don Sutton, Robin Yount and Rollie Fingers of the Brewers and Carlton Fisk and Tom Seaver of the White Sox. Seaver was the winning pitcher, and came back and started the next day–throwing 8 2/3 innings for a second win in two days.