By JAIME C. HARRIS
Special to the AmNews
Last July 20, the Mets were 40-55, well out of contention for the National League East title and far from being a viable wildcard entry.
Roughly one year later, after defeating the Minnesota Twins 3-2 on the road Tuesday, they were 43-51, 14 games behind the first place Atlanta Braves (58-38 as of Wednesday) in the NL East, and 11th in the wildcard standings, 5.5 games back.
From a statistical perspective, the Mets are slightly better than they were a year ago. From an empirical view, they have not made any positive advances. From a passionate fan take, everyday is Groundhog Day.
The Mets’ first-year GM Brody Van Wagenen assumed his new position after serving as a co-head of the baseball division for the mega sports and entertainment agency Creative Arts Agency. Among the notable athletes Van Wagenen represented are Mets outfielder Yoenis Céspedes, for whom he negotiated two contracts with the team, the second worth $110 million for four years, guaranteeing the Mets would pay Céspedes a little under $138 million over a five-year period.
Unfortunately—yet predictably given the Mets history—due to several injuries, the most recent being multiple fractures of his right ankle sustained on his ranch in Port St. Lucie, Florida this past May, resulting in season-ending surgery, Céspedes has only played in 119 games for the team since the middle of the 2016 season. At the time of his ankle injury, the 33-year-old Céspedes was recovering from surgery on both feet that he underwent in 2018.
When the 45-year-old Van Wagenen was hired by Mets owner Fred Wilpon and his son, Jeff Wilpon, the COO of the franchise, in October 2018, he exhibited a brash and bold persona that moderately allayed the concerns and doubts of some skeptical Mets fans and close followers of baseball that he didn’t possess the requisite experience to simultaneously establish a winning culture and handle the intense media scrutiny that comes with the job.
“I look forward to the progress of getting the Mets to contend for a championship year after year,” Van Wagenen said in a statement at that time.
Nine months later, he’s no closer to accomplishing the aforementioned goal than he was last fall. Since then, he executed a trade with the Seattle Mariners for closer Edwin Diaz and second basemen Robinson Cano, the former Yankee star who was on a direct path to the Hall of Fame when he regularly played in the Bronx. Van Wagenen also signed 35-year-old infielder Jed Lowrie, another of his former clients.
Diaz led baseball with 57 saves last season, the second highest single-season total in history. This season he’s been awful, carrying a record of 1-6 with a 5.20 ERA in 36.1 innings pitched going into yesterday’s (Wednesday) game against the Twins.
Cano has been equally bad, batting just .248 with only 6 home runs and 22 RBI. Lowrie has yet to play at all this season due to a sprained knee, hamstring strain and other injuries.
Van Wagenen isn’t primarily culpable for the Mets’ failures this season. It begins at the top of the organization. He may still fulfill his promise and construct a sustainable winner in Queens. But the start of his tenure as Mets GM has been inauspicious to state the least.