Brodie Van Wagenen’s brief tenure as New York Mets general manager has been highlighted (or lowlighted, depending on your perspective) by his brazen comments essentially daring the media and fans to mock him when they prove to be hyperbolic.
As understandable as it is to expect puffery from a former agent, Van Wagenen places himself directly in the line of fire. Prior to the 2019 season, it was “come get us.” It took until the summer as the Mets were floundering below .500 and well out of playoff contention for him to acknowledge reality with a wan, “They came and got us.”
That the Mets played like the team Van Wagenen dared competitors to come and “get” in the second half did little to erase the memory of the bold and probably wrongheaded swagger. Still, there are two ways for Van Wagenen to go as he sets about formulating the 2020 roster and selling it: proceed cautiously or double down. A gambler by nature, Van Wagenen has chosen the latter with the latest comment that with the additions of Michael Wacha and Rick Porcello, the Mets boast “probably the deepest starting pitching rotation in baseball.”
Obviously, that’s a difficult statement to quantify and comparing the rotation to the rest of Major League Baseball would take a significant amount of time and be a relatively futile effort. That said, it can be useful to assess the comment in the context of the Mets’ competitors in the National League East.
- Jacob deGrom
- Noah Syndergaard
- Marcus Stroman
- Steven Matz
- Rick Porcello
- Michael Wacha
DeGrom is incomparable as the team’s ace. Since Gerrit Cole’s massive $324 million deal with the New York Yankees, speculation has centered around whether deGrom regrets having signed his $137.5 million extension precluding his free agency after the 2020 season. The two-time reigning NL Cy Young Award winner is one of the best if not the best pitcher in baseball.
Syndergaard was negatively impacted by multiple factors in 2019. He has largely failed to reach his massive potential despite being very good much of the time. Complaints about failing to get on the same page with catcher Wilson Ramos drew headlines; the Mets listened to trade offers before pulling him off the market. Van Wagenen said he’s not getting traded. With the allure of the Cole contract, the Mets can hope that Syndergaard will be supremely motivated in his final two years under team control. Changes to the ball will undoubtedly benefit him.
Matz has had back-to-back seasons of 30 starts. While he seems to have failed to live up to his potential, but for four atrocious starts in 2019, he was highly reliable as a mid-rotation starter.
Stroman was acquired in a stunning trade deadline move by Van Wagenen and the Mets surrendered what was roundly assessed as a “that’s it?” return to the Toronto Blue Jays. He struggled early, but showed his athleticism and fearlessness, eventually settling in with the Mets. He is a free agent after 2020, adding to his incentive to have a big year.
The 2016 American League Cy Young Award winner Porcello has long been a pitcher who gets hit very hard if he doesn’t pinpoint his spots, but provided he has a solid defense and run support, he will win his share of games and log close to 200 innings.
Wacha has struggled with injuries and ineffectiveness since his All-Star season of 2015. That is the only reason he was available to the Mets on a short-term, low-cost deal.
- Stephen Strasburg
- Max Scherzer
- Patrick Corbin
- Anibal Sanchez
- Erick Fedde
- Joe Ross
After the Nationals World Series win, Strasburg opted out of his contract. As expected he re-signed with the Nationals on a 7-year, $245 million deal. The argument could be made that Anthony Rendon, now departed for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, was a better long-term investment. But Strasburg is the face of the franchise. He’s outlasted Bryce Harper and now Rendon. Perhaps not the history-making starter that fit his hype and draft status, he’s still a great pitcher.
Scherzer has lived up to the then-questionable $210 million contract and is a sure-fire Hall of Famer. Still, he’s 35 and has a lot of wear on his tires. His hard work will keep him competitive, but it’s not out of bounds to wonder if he can maintain the standard he set for himself.
Corbin would be a minimum number two starter on most teams. With the Nationals, he’s their number three. He provided everything the club expected when it signed him to a $145 million free agent contract.
Sanchez has made a career of being injured and fading, looking to be in the last throes of a notable career only to rejuvenate himself. His has no-hit stuff when he’s on. But he will be 36 in February. Just like Scherzer, age could be an issue with him.
The rotation is rounded out by the injury-plagued Joe Ross and the unproven and fading prospect Erick Fedde.
- Mike Soroka
- Mike Foltynewicz
- Max Fried
- Cole Hamels
- Sean Newcomb
Soroka blossomed as a star at age 21 and had a brilliant start in the National League Division Series. Provided he remains healthy, he will front the Braves rotation for a long time.
After Foltynewicz’s 2018 breakout, he had such a terrible beginning to 2019 that he was sent to Triple-A. When he was recalled in August, he regained his form. He’s a solid number three who is slotted as a number two, which could be a problem.
Fried, a former first-round draft pick of the San Diego Padres, was a pleasant surprise and became one of the Braves’ most reliable arms. He’s best-suited to be a backend starter despite above-average stuff.
The veteran Hamels signed a one-year deal after a solid, but unspectacular, year with the imploding Chicago Cubs. He missed time with an oblique injury and a shoulder injury. At age 36, it’s unfair to expect top-of-the-rotation quality, but he’s still a solid arm and a reliable postseason performer.
Newcomb had established himself as a solid starter in 2018, but was shifted to the bullpen in 2019 where he was effective. He can lose the strike zone and is a mid-to-backend starter.
The Braves have lost Dallas Keuchel and Julio Teheran from their 2019 staff.
- Aaron Nola
- Zack Wheeler
- Jack Arrieta
- Vince Velasquez
- Zack Eflin
Nola is an ace who, after his Cy Young-caliber season in 2018, struggled early in 2019. He and the other starting pitchers never seemed entirely comfortable with former manager Gabe Kapler’s micromanaging and frequent use of defensive shifts. With Joe Girardi now in command, it will be a calmer atmosphere of “this guy knows what he’s doing.” Nola is a top-15 pitcher in baseball.
The enigmatic Wheeler got $118 million to defect from the Mets to the Phillies. As gifted as Wheeler is, there is always the fear that he will lose command of the strike zone and never fully harness his superstar stuff. The Mets did not believe he was worth the money the Phillies paid him – Van Wagenen basically said it. In a home run-friendly park and under the intense scrutiny of the boo-happy Phillies fans, he’s no guarantee.
Arrieta had elbow surgery and clashed with Kapler. Despite the hiring of Girardi and Arrieta presumably fully healthy, it might be unreasonable to expect him to have a renaissance to his heyday from the Chicago Cubs days, but he’s a solid number three or four.
Velasquez has immense ability, but has been sabotaged by injuries, inconsistency and a lack of durability. Eflin has shown flashes, but is prone to the home run ball and is a number five starter.
- Sandy Alcantara
- Caleb Smith
- Pablo Lopez
- Jordan Yamamoto
- Robert Dugger
- Elieser Hernandez
Team president Derek Jeter has taken justified criticism for his sometimes-clumsy handling of the transition from iconic player to steering the ship for a billion-dollar entity. That said, the Marlins have taken incrementally positive steps including the decision to retain the diligent Don Mattingly as manager – admittedly at a pay cut – rather than hire an automaton who would work cheaply for the opportunity, and the overhauling of the farm system. This is indicative of progress and that Jeter is learning as he goes.
Regarding their starting rotation, it does not have the high-priced, notable names its NL East competitors do, but there is some impressive talent there.
Alcantara, acquired from the St. Louis Cardinals in the Marcell Ozuna trade, has impressed with a mid-90s fastball and solid changeup. Once he harnesses his stuff and his command to reduce the walks, he has All-Star potential.
Smith was acquired from the Yankees, ostensibly for international bonus money and has become a tough assignment for NL hitters with a grunting intensity and an average of 10 strikeouts per 9 innings.
Lopez, Yammamoto, Dugger and Hernandez are younger prospects with potentially bright futures. Lopez has no-hit stuff.
They’re not in the conversation with the Mets or the other NL East clubs in terms of depth, but they’re on the right track.
So, is Van Wagenen right?
Without getting into existentialism, interpretation, subtext and agendas, was Van Wagenen inaccurate with his exact words and what was his intention?
The key here is taking literally what Van Wagenen said and not putting words in his mouth. He did not say the “best.” He said the “deepest.” There’s a difference. Turning back time to 2016, there would be no question that the Mets have perhaps the deepest rotation in baseball and even arguably the best. But it’s about to be 2020. Van Wagenen is partially trolling, partially strutting, partially playing liar’s poker, and doing things that agents do to boost the perception of their clients.
In looking at the literal nature of the statement he made and comparing it to his NL East competition, he might be right.