If, back on March 28, someone had told you that three of the five National League playoff teams would come out of the East, you would not have had to have been Mr. Met to think the Mets would have been one of them.
After all, they had hired a brash new GM, one who was given “autonomy’’ to build the Mets back into the winner they were just four seasons ago.
A GM who was entrusted to add some $80 million to the 2019 payroll, commit to approximately a quarter-billion dollars on long-term deals for two players and trade away two of their top prospects.
One, despite the fact he had never worked for a professional baseball team in any capacity, was so confident in his own judgments that he threw down a verbal challenge to the rest of the league with three little words: “Come get us.’’
Surely the 2019 Mets and Brodie Van Wagenen would be forces to reckon with, not just this season, but for many to come.
Well, we are 90 games into his first season, and if the season ended today, three NL East teams would, in fact, would be going to the playoffs.
But not the Mets.
They are 40-50, 13-½ games out of first place and behind ten -- 10!! -- teams for the second NL wild-card berth. Only the Miami Marlins have less of a chance of playing in October.
This is in spite of the fact that the Mets roster includes the probable NL Rookie of the Year, a possible NL batting champion, and the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner.
That is almost unfathomable.
And if there is anything Brodie Van Wagenen has proven so far, it is that as a GM, he is a very good agent.
That might be unforgivable.
On his watch, Jacob deGrom became one of the highest-paid starting pitchers in baseball, and, along with Johan Santana, one of the two highest-paid pitchers in Mets history.
On his watch, Jed Lowrie is guaranteed $20 million and has yet to play a game.
On his watch, Jeurys Familia is guaranteed $30 million and has been so bad he can no longer be trusted in a high-leverage situation.
On his watch, the Mets got Robinson Cano out of Seattle and back to New York, where he spent his best years as a Yankee, and best of all, into a less-demanding environment where the only consequences for his loafing are half-hearted boos from an increasingly-dwindling number of fans at Citi Field. For this, Cano gets to collect the remainder of his 10-year, $240 million contract -- negotiated by Brodie the agent -- $100 million of it from the Mets.
Brodie has done great a job for those players and they should be eternally grateful to him.
But he has done a horrendous job for the Mets.
Getting Cano and Edwin Diaz, another bust, meant parting with Jarred Kelenic and Justin Dunn, two of the best prospects in their system as well as Jay Bruce, who came back to haunt them last week as a member of the Phillies.
And if he thought building a baseball team was difficult, just wait until he tries to rebuild one.
After the debacle of 2019, Brodie will have to shop for starting pitching, relief pitching, defensive upgrades, bench depth and oh yeah, probably a new manager.
Has he shown you anything in his first half-season to persuade you he is capable of making even one of those moves, let alone a bucketful?
And by the way, while the Mets have been spiraling down the drain, their NL East rivals, save for Miami, have only gotten better. Will the agent-turned-rookie GM be able to keep up?
Brodie will get another shot at it, of course, and probably three or four more, because he has a four-year deal and Mets ownership, like ownership everywhere, hates the taste of its own money. No matter how badly his first season has gone, there is simply no way the Mets are going to bite the bullet and pay Brodie Van Wagenen not to be their GM for the next 3-½ years.
So he will get a do-over, and a do-do-over, and probably a do-do-do-over.
But the fact is, this job, which already seems to be too big for him, is only going to get tougher from here.
Because whether Jeff Wilpon will say so publicly or not, he and Brodie have had their honeymoon. Now, it’s a marriage, with everything that entails.
Van Wagenen got the job largely by whispering sweet nothings in ownership’s ear, telling them that no major surgery was necessary to restore the Mets to the team that went to the 2015 World Series. Just a minor nip and tuck here and there, which was exactly what everyone wanted to hear.
Then he was given free rein to hire a staff of former GMs more qualified than he to run a baseball team, and revamp the analytics staff, and to repopulate the Mets roster with a lot of players who used to be his clients at CAA.
But as Brodie himself admitted at a news conference before Friday night’s game against the Marlins in Miami, “It has not worked out.’’
You better believe that the second time around, there will be a lot of eyes peering over Brodie Van Wagenen’s shoulder.
By his own admission, the Mets ownership, which has been accused of excessive meddling in the past, pretty much let he and his front office operate independently in its first off-season.
But with the team so far out of contention that they are forced to slash ticket prices at Citi Field 80 percent for the remaining games just to avoid the embarrassment of an empty ballpark, there is just no way Van Wagenen and his team are going to operate without some serious oversight from here on.
And that, Brodie Van Wagenen is about to learn, is going to make a difficult job a whole lot tougher.
The Mets history is that when things go south, the purse strings tighten, so even though Van Wagenen indicated that veterans with big but expiring contracts, such as Todd Frazier and Jason Vargas, are likely to be traded at the deadline, the club’s reluctance to eat salary will make them very difficult to move, and they are unlikely to bring much in the way of prospects in return.
Likewise, the Mets most attractive trade chip, Zack Wheeler, might not fetch as much of a haul as the Mets hope, because when the rest of the league knows how desperate a club is to deal, they can drive a very hard bargain.
The truth is, aside from deGrom, Pete Alonso, Jeff McNeil and perhaps Michael Conforto and Dom Smith, there is no one on the Mets roster who should be considered untouchable. Although Brodie carefully avoided saying so in his job interview, this team needs a massive overhaul.
But considering what you -- and Mets ownership -- have seen of Brodie’s ability to judge talent and make team-friendly deals, is he the guy you would trust with that daunting task?
It really doesn’t matter what your answer is, because you have no choice.
Over the first 90 games of his tenure as a GM, Brodie Van Wagenen has built the fourth-best team in the NL East.
And whether you like it or not, he’s going to get the chance to do it all over again.