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Should Mets keep Van Wagenen? Examining his hits, misses and one ‘ridiculous’ move

The Mets have missed the playoffs in each of the two seasons since general manager Brodie Van Wagenen’s arrival, finishing a combined 112-110 over that stretch.

From the “Come get us” dare that preceded his first season — after trading the organization’s top prospect in a deal for Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz — to this year’s underachieving short sprint, the charismatic 46-year-old agent-turned-GM has been a polarizing personality among fans desperate for a winner.

Now, with an ownership change looming, Van Wagenen’s job status ranks among the significant questions facing the organization as the offseason commences. Steve Cohen will need 23 votes from MLB owners for his takeover of the franchise from the Wilpon and Katz families to become official. Cohen, a hedge fund billionaire, has already announced that should he gain the approval to become the club’s new owner, former Mets general manager Sandy Alderson would return as the team’s new president.

The scope of Alderson’s duties has yet to be defined, but Van Wagenen is clearly in limbo. Whether he stays or returns, at least to start the first season of a Cohen regime, may hinge largely on how actively involved the 72-year-old Alderson wants to become in baseball operations. If Alderson is resolved to become the point man and have the final word on baseball matters, Van Wagenen is unlikely to return. His best chance at survival would be if Alderson were content advising baseball operations, with a broader focus on the organization.

Does Van Wagenen deserve another shot? Let’s examine his hits and misses.

Hits

A rival baseball executive pointed to the trades Van Wagenen didn’t make, retaining in-house talent (even if it was at the proverbial 11th hour in one case).

“What I would hang my hat on if I was Brodie is that I didn’t trade [Jeff] McNeil and Dominic Smith,” the executive said. “Sometimes the best trade is the one you don’t make.”

McNeil was a close call, as Van Wagenen nearly included him in the deal for Cano and Diaz before the 2019 season that sent top-prospect Jarred Kelenic to the Mariners. The versatile McNeil has emerged as a key everyday player for the Mets.

Smith was a potential trade chip last offseason as a young, high-upside player without a position, but Van Wagenen kept him. Smith helped carry the lineup in 2020 and has emerged as part of the Mets’ nucleus.

Among acquisitions, J.D. Davis’ arrival from the Astros for three lower-level prospects might be Van Wagenen’s biggest hit. Though Davis regressed this season after a breakout 2019, he figures into the team’s future.

On the free-agent front, Van Wagenen got his money’s worth on the two-year deal for $10 million he gave reliever Justin Wilson, a solid bullpen piece.

Misses

Cano and Diaz rebounded this year after underwhelming first seasons with the Mets, but the cost remains steep in Kelenic, and the $20 million a year in payroll commitment the team assumed for Cano, who is signed through 2023.

“If you look at this year with Diaz and Cano, they actually performed, and Kelenic hasn’t done anything yet, so you can’t kill [Van Wagenen] on that,” the rival executive said. “And it takes three to five years to evaluate a trade properly, just like a draft class. You can’t look at it the first year. But I think that’s a bad move from an economic standpoint because in retrospect even though those guys performed pretty well, the payroll and flexibility of the team were affected.”

Van Wagenen’s track record in free agency has also been subpar, with Jed Lowrie, Jeurys Familia, Wilson Ramos, Dellin Betances, Rick Porcello and Michael Wacha all falling into the “miss” category.

Lowrie signed a two-year contract worth $20 million, for which the Mets received all of eight plate appearances from the injured infielder.

“I hate to kill someone when there’s an injury because that’s sort of unfair,” the rival executive said. “But I never saw [Lowrie] as that type of player anyway to be a third baseman or anything like that.”

Voices within the organization warned Van Wagenen not to bring back Familia, but the right-hander returned on a three-year contract worth $30 million. Familia was better this season after a disastrous 2019, but likely won’t come close to fulfilling the expectations of his contract.

Ramos, who received a two-year deal worth $19 million with a club option for 2021, was the Mets’ third choice at catcher behind J.T. Realmuto and Yasmani Grandal. He disappointed defensively, and those deficiencies were more pronounced with his lack of offense this season.

The veteran reliever Betances, who received a $5.3 million signing bonus as part of his deal, tried to pitch through lat discomfort and was ineffective for most of the season before hitting the injured list.

Porcello and Wacha were free-agent rotation adds last winter that underperformed after Van Wagenen had added Marcus Stroman at the trade deadline in July in anticipation of Zack Wheeler leaving through free agency. Stroman opted out from this season after pitching respectably for the Mets over the final months in 2019. Wheeler signed with the Phillies after the season for five years and $118 million.

“The thing was basically Stroman for Wheeler and I think that’s ridiculous,” the rival executive said. “I think they overrated Stroman a little bit.

“[Van Wagenen] should have tried to re-sign Wheeler, because if you had Wheeler, you’re in the playoffs this year. That was the one thing maybe he didn’t realize.”

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