There’s smoke billowing out of the Winter Meetings regarding trade discussions involving the Yankees and the Mets. It remains to be seen if there’s fire, but as of now, the idea of the crosstown rivals sending players to and from Queens and the Bronx is wholly on the table.
At a glance, this is exciting for a number of reasons. These two teams rarely deal, and when they do, it’s hardly ever with premier players. In this case, Noah Syndergaard’s name is in the discussion. A trade involving the Yankees and Mets, and reportedly a third team, the Marlins, is an enticing, ever-interesting scenario.
The idea behind the Yankees’ involvement would appear to be sound. They still have a hole in their rotation, and could use elite talent that would move the needle for a championship contender. Syndergaard fits that bill. Dealing prospects, like Estevan Florial, or young major-league players, like Miguel Andujar, seems like a fair strategy to pursue.
If it were that simple, then the talks of Thor to the Bronx would be downright salivating, a juicy blockbuster with endless on-field implications. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. The Mets and their owners Fred and Jeff Wilpon ensured things would never be straightforward when they named Brodie Van Wagenen their general manager.
For those unfamiliar, Van Wagenen previously worked for Creative Artists Agency, or CAA. There, he represented a number of baseball players, most notably Jacob deGrom and Syndergaard. In hiring Van Wagenen to run their club, the Wilpons guaranteed that any transaction involving Van Wagenen’s former clients would potentially smack of conflict of interest.
Here we are, weeks after Van Wagenen’s hiring, and the former agent is reportedly trying to trade a player he was only just representing. As Syndergaard’s agent, Van Wagenen was almost certainly privy to insights into Syndergaard’s life, health, and psyche that virtually no one else would be. That puts him in a position to influence the Mets’ baseball operations in ways that are possibly unethical.
From the outside, we cannot say anything definitive about what Van Wagenen does and does not know about Syndergaard. It’s plausible that Van Wagenen and the Mets are acting in good faith, and that either Van Wagenen knows nothing extra about Syndergaard that the rest of baseball doesn’t, or if he does, he will recuse himself from trade negotiations.
What about the Wilpon’s conduct as Mets owners, however, leads us to give them the benefit of the doubt? If anything, the Wilpons' inability to run a competent, transparent organization could lead us to believe that they saw Van Wagenen’s conflicts of interests as features, not bugs.
If we at least entertain the idea that, as Syndergaard’s former agent, Van Wagenen knows things about Syndergaard that other front office executives never would, then the idea of trading with the Mets for Syndergaard is warped. The thought of acquiring a potential ace is no longer purely exciting. Instead, it’s impossible to feel safe dealing with a former agent who is actively trying to unload a player he used to represent.
Again, we cannot say anything definitive. The fact that Syndergaard’s name is in trade discussions doesn’t mean that he is hurt, or a lock to become injured. It’s just unfeasible to be entirely trustworthy of the Mets’ and Van Wagenen’s motives. The mere possibility of a conflict of interest shrouds the entire enterprise in doubt.
Perhaps it seems unfair to cast aspersions at the Mets’ intentions. Yet this is the bed the team made when they took someone who was once a voice for labor and had him switch sides to management. Now, they must lie in it. The Mets could have looked elsewhere for an executive, and opted against hiring someone who represented their own employees. They could have done more than entirely gloss over the potential conflicts when they introduced Van Wagenen. They declined to do so, and thus, we have the scenario that now sits before us.
As a fan, I want to be excited about someone as good as Syndergaard possibly donning pinstripes. He is a thrilling player to watch, and someone who would make the Yankees both better and more fun. But Van Wagenen’s history as Syndergaard’s agent, coupled with Syndergaard’s own checkered injury record, casts a shadow on the situation. Brian Cashman and the Yankees are professionals, and perhaps they will navigate this safely. The same professionalism cannot always be attributed to the Mets, though, and the agent-turned-GM they have hired simply must be viewed here as a problem.