New York Mets: understanding who’s running my team

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 24: New York Mets General Manager Brodie Van Wagenen gets set to introduce new manager Luis Rojas to the media at Citi Field on January 24, 2020 in New York City. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 24: New York Mets General Manager Brodie Van Wagenen gets set to introduce new manager Luis Rojas to the media at Citi Field on January 24, 2020 in New York City. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images) /

Brodie Van Wagenen is entering his second year running the New York Mets. In year one, he created a lot of buzz but has largely had a neutral impact.

New York Mets

  • Chief Executive Officer: Fred Wilpon
  • Executive Vice President and General Manager: Brodie Van Wagenen

There is a strong sense among those who watch the New York Mets closely that the whole rarely adds up to the sum of the parts.

A major portion of this assessment flows from the fact that despite one of the game’s strongest financial profiles, the Mets generally produce at best moderate results. Since losing the 2000 World Series to the Yankees – a period that roughly overlaps the Wilpon family’s purchase of controlling interest in the team in 2002 — they’ve made just three postseason appearances and lost 48 more games than they’ve won.

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In Van Wagenen, a long-time player agent, the Wilpons are also working on their fifth chief operating officer. That’s an average duration of four seasons per GM.

Wilpon was a commercial real estate developer when he co-purchased the franchise with publisher Nelson Doubleday in 1986. Wilpon and his development firm bought Doubleday out in 2002. The Mets organization is closely held: His son, Jeff, is Chief Operating Officer, Richard Wilpon is a partner, as is Fred Wilpon’s brother-in-law, Saul Katz.

The New York Mets may not approach the financial resources of their crosstown rivals, but then who does? Forbes puts their franchise value at 2.3 billion, the sixth-highest in MLB. Relatively speaking, though, that value is eroding. In 2010, the Mets’ $838 million value ranked third behind only the Yankees and Red Sox.

In the intervening decade, the Dodgers, Cubs, and Giants have all surpassed the Mets in market valuation and the Cardinals are closing fast.

The problem is the Mets’ revenue situation. In 2010, the Mets grossed $268 million in revenues. The team grossed $340 million last season, a $72 million hike that translates to only a 2.7  percent annual growth rate over the decade. Just to pick one contrasting example, revenues in St. Louis grew at an annual rate of 8.2 percent over the same period.

Perhaps because they are based in the nation’s largest market, the Mets remain one of MLB’s favored children. The franchise received $620 million in revenue sharing in 2019, more than any other franchise except the Marlins – the game’s welfare family – plus the Yankees and Cubs.

In the largest and most meaningful revenue source — market presence — the Mets are significantly less fortunate. The $907 million in market-related revenue generated in 2019  ranks only sixth in MLB, and that’s despite playing in a market that is 50 percent larger than any other.

Obviously one must account for the dominant presence of the Yankees in the New York metro market. But even conceding the Mets just a one-third share of fan interest in the area – almost certainly a conservative allocation – that still amounts to 6.7 million fans.

That’s about a 50 percent larger fan base than in Boston, where the Red Sox generated $1.4 billion in market revenue in 2019, more than a half-million dollars ahead of the Mets. So you can’t just blame the Mets’ inability to capitalize their market on the big bad Yankees. There’s more to it than that.

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Part of the ‘more to it’ is the $24 per fan revenue that the Mets extract from each paying customer. Presumably, in an effort to compete with the Yankees, the Mets keep fan expenses somewhere between low and rock bottom. That $24 is the second-lowest figure in the game, ahead of only the Marlins.

The Mets’ fan base is consistent and reliable, if less fanatical than in the glory days of Seaver and Gooden. Since 2010, attendance at Citi Field has never fallen below 2.13 million or risen above 2.79 million. The good news is it’s bankably consistent. The bad news is it’s consistently well off the franchise record of 4 million set back in Shea Stadium in 2008.

The 2019 season was Van Wagenen’s first making personnel, moves, so trying to draw up a profile of him from those moves is chancy. For what it’s worth, the overall impact of those moves, as measured by Wins Above Average, was a virtually neutral +1.0*.

The one thing you can say about Van Wagenen was that he created churn. After watching manager Mickey Callaway for a season, Van Wagenen opted for his own guy, and selected Carlos Beltran, a move that went south when Beltran found himself embroiled in the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal. He has since announced the hiring of Luis Rojas.

Van Wagenen’s approach to on-field personnel was similarly aggressive. That net +1.0 game impact accrued across 43 separate player personnel moves, of which the most significant was the simplest: signing pitcher Jacob DeGrom to a five-year extension. DeGrom delivered a2.43 ERA in 204 innings of work, got his usual feeble run support, and won a second consecutive Cy Young Award.

He also discovered first base prospect Pete Alonzo and promoted him to a major league position. Alonso hit 53 home runs and became rookie of the year.

The trade with Seattle that brought in infielder Robinson Cano and closer Edwin Diaz was equally attention-getting but far less salubrious. In 107 games, Cano batted .256 with a 96 OPS+ — that’s on a scale where 100 equals an average player. Diaz saved 26 games but blew six others, and his 5.59 ERA in just 58 innings encapsulated the unreliability of the Mets’ bullpen.

Going forward, the task for Van Wagenen’s operation is to effectively harness and channel the franchises’ resources. The New York Mets will not be as popular in New York as the Yankees, but they don’t have to be. They have all they need to win, including a solid fan base. At a projected $188 million, their on-field salary commitment for 2020 – about 55 percent of gross revenues – is reasonable, both to the players and to the team’s bottom line.

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*This calculation is obtained by determining the net impact of all player transactions on team performance for the season(s) in question. Wins Above Average is a zero-based offshoot of Wins Above Replacement; thus, the final figure suggests the degree of positive or negative movement in the standings attributable to front office moves.