Brodie Van Wagenen Battles Conflict of Interests

ALSO: IT'S NOT HARD TO GUESS WHERE INJURIES WILL STRIKE

IBWAA members love to write about baseball. So much so, we've decided to create our own newsletter about it! Subscribe to Here's the Pitch to expand your love of baseball, discover new voices, and support independent writing. Original content six days a week, straight to your inbox and straight from the hearts of baseball fans.

Pregame Pepper

Did You Know?

Nolan Ryan was with the 1987 Houston Astros when he led the NL in ERA, strikeouts, hits allowed per nine innings, and strikeout-to-walk ratio but finished 8-16 because one run or less 11 times in his starts and his bullpen blew five leads after he left the game . . .

The career strikeout king, Ryan pitched a record seven no-hitters without ever winning a Cy Young Award, while Greg Maddux, Steve Carlton, and Roger Clemens combined for 15 Cy Youngs without ever throwing a no-hitter . . .

Joe Borowski of the 2007 Indians saved 45 games despite a 5.07 ERA . . .

Thanks to the weak-hitting 1910 Chicago White Sox, Ed Walsh was the only pitcher of the modern era to lead his league in both ERA (1.27) and defeats (20) . . .

When one Cy Young Award was given in 1958, four candidates finished within two votes of each other: Bob Turley won it but Warren Spahn, Lew Burdette, and Bob Friend challenged.

Leading Off

Agent-GM-Agent Brodie Van Wagenen Had Multiple Conflicts Of Interest

By Sheryl Ring, Esq.

I’ve written before – both at Fangraphs and Beyond the Box Score - about the conflicts of interest created by erstwhile MLB super-agent Brodie Van Wagenen becoming the New York Metropolitans’ General Manager. I won’t repeat those articles here, but suffice to say that were Van Wagenen a lawyer, he almost certainly would have faced discipline from a state bar authority for what amounts to representing both sides of a contract negotiation and (at least in appearances) using his private knowledge of players against those players, thereby breaching his fiduciary duties as their agents. 

Since then, Van Wagenen has been fired by the Mets, but it looks like he’s landed on his feet, rejoining the world of agents as Chief Operating Officer of Roc Nation Sports.

From Jeff Passan:

Roc Nation, owned by Shawn "Jay-Z" Carter and run by Juan Perez, offered a role that includes head of strategy and business development titles.

"We believed in the vision Jay and Juan had back in 2013," Van Wagenen said. "We've stayed in constant contact with them. It was a natural homecoming."

That’s actually distressing for several reasons. First, Roc Nation is the representation for several Mets, including Robinson Cano and budding star Dominic Smith; in fact, Van Wagenen negotiated Cano’s record deal with the Mariners and then dealt for the second baseman as GM of the Mets.

As for Smith, Van Wagenen has gone from being in charge of manipulating the young slugger’s service time to arguing the other side of the issue, which would essentially require Van Wagenen to admit his own front office committed wrongdoing in order to best represent Smith.

That’s remarkably unfair to the players, who deserve representation devoid of these conflicts of interest. Second, Van Wagenen’s odd use of “we” notwithstanding, the idea that he stayed in “constant contact” with his old bosses implies that he knows the business, and that’s yet another conflict of interest.

Frankly, it’s more than a little surprising that the MLB Players’ Association would permit Van Wagenen to move back to the agents’ side of the table. The Rules governing agent conduct are written and enforced by the MLBPA, and essentially exist to protect players. Rule 5(B)(12), which defines conflicts of interest, prohibits both actual and potential or apparent conflicts. With regard to what situations are regarded as conflicts of interest, the Rule says this:

§5(B)(12)(b) – Being employed by, or in any capacity representing, or soliciting or accepting money or any thing of value from, or providing or causing money or any thing of value to be provided to Major League Baseball or any of its affiliated entities, any Major or Minor League Club, any other employer of professional baseball players, or any employee or official of them, including scouts or individuals acting in the capacity of a scout, unless previously authorized in writing by the MLBPA to do so in accordance with any specified conditions (e.g., notice to clients, client waivers, etc.);…

As can be seen, Van Wagenen almost certainly violated this Rule by becoming Mets’ GM, and his continued apparent conflicts of interest whilst in that capacity – from trading for Cano, to negotiating an extension with former client Jacob deGrom, to now joining the agency which represents Cano and Dominic Smith – should disqualify him from agent certification under the plain language of the Rules. Smith will go through arbitration three more times as a “Super Two” player, and it is, frankly, to Smith’s detriment that his arbitration representation will be a firm run by the person who controlled his early service time.

It could be argued that Van Wagenen is not in a directly client-facing role, but is instead more of a supervisory capacity. But frankly, that’s worse.

Van Wagenen is now in a position to exercise leverage over the agents representing players against his own former employer. How will he handle the reinstatement of Cano, for instance? Will he fight for Cano’s interests or those of the Mets? And how will his knowledge of both sides of the contract impact his decision-making? As much as he insisted with the Mets that he would recuse himself from such conflicts, he never actually did

Van Wagenen’s inability to separate his work for players from his work with the Mets permeates even his LinkedIn profile, which as of the date of publication said this:

From 2001 - 2020, Van Wagenen served as the Vice President of IMG Baseball, co-Head of CAA Sports’ baseball division and Executive Vice President / General Manager of the New York Mets. In doing so, he oversaw the negotiation of more than $4B in guaranteed contracts; $520M in salary arbitration salaries; and 250 amateur draft signing bonuses including 75 first-round and 15 top-10 overall picks.

This language implies contemporaneous work, but more than that shows that in his own mind, these weren’t separate jobs. Working both sides of the player contract negotiation table is not a single event, and shouldn’t be considered as such. 

Of course, these kinds of somewhat questionable dealings aren’t new for Roc Nation, which has previously faced accusations of tortuous interference with attorney contracts. At the same time, that Roc Nation is essentially – and flagrantly – violating the rules governing player agents is concerning in the extreme.  

Sheryl Ring is a practicing civil rights and consumer law attorney in Chicagoland. You can read her work at Beyond the Box Score and follow her on Twitter @Ring_Sheryl. This piece is for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice.

Cleaning Up

Predicting Baseball Injuries Isn’t That Difficult

By Dan Schlossberg

On the theory that history repeats, teams should know in advance which players are durable and which ones are likely to spend time on the injured list.

Corey Kluber is a case in point. Though his trophy shelf features two Cy Young Awards, his recent history isn’t so sunny.

In fact, the 35-year-old righthander pitched a grand total of eight games, spanning 36 2/3 innings, over the 2019 and 2020 seasons combined.

But Brian Cashman, in his role as general manager of the Yankees, was thinking more of the pitcher’s five previous seasons, all of them 200-inning performances. Kluber has won 18 games twice and 20 once, leading the American League in innings pitched and earned run average one time each. He also took a career ERA of 3.16 into the 2021 season.

Slowly rounding into shape after all that time off, Kluber pitched the best game of his life on May 19. That was the day he no-hit the Texas Rangers, the team that employed him last year. But Corey Kluber quickly proved he was not the second coming of Gerrit Cole.

In his very next start, the 6-4, 215-pound veteran left after three innings with shoulder soreness — an ailment expected to keep him sidelined until well after the All-Star break. So much for justifying New York’s $11 million investment. At least the Yankees only signed him for one year.

Keeping Stephen Strasburg healthy has been difficult for the Nationals. He just went on the injured list for the 14th time since 2010. Credit: Dan Schlossberg

Just days later, Stephen Strasburg lasted less than two innings in his return from the injured list. Like Kluber, the Washington righthander wasn’t even on the big-league radar last year, working only five innings (two starts) after signing a seven-year, $245 million contract.

Even before his latest injury, which was obvious before he was hit by a comebacker in Atlanta, Strasburg had spent 13 stints on the injured list since 2010. He may be 6-5 and 235 pounds of muscle but his shoulder isn’t exactly the picture of health.

Position players can be injury-prone too. Travis d’Arnaud, whose contract expires at the end of this season, tore the thumb ligament in his catching hand during a home-plate collision May 1 and won’t return anytime soon. The initial prognosis was two months but it could be much more.

Like Kluber and Strasburg, d’Arnaud is a human construction zone. Like Yankees outfielders Aaron Judge, Aaron Hicks, and Giancarlo Stanton, something always needs repair.

He’s even one of those rare position players who had Tommy John elbow surgery, along with Corey Seager, Didi Gregorius, Miguel Sano, Gleyber Torres, and Sin-Soo Choo. In the first half of a two-year contract worth $16 million, d’Arnaud hit .321 with nine homers and 34 RBI in 44 games during the virus-shortened 2020 campaign. But he got off to a sluggish start this season.

The bottom line is simple: in baseball, as in life, consider the merchandise carefully before completing the purchase. If the Chinese teapot looks fragile, it’s probably been glued together more than once.

Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ is the author of 38 baseball books, including The New Baseball Bible, a hefty illustrated paperback that is fit for both a coffee table and a bathroom shelf. Dan covers baseball for forbes.com, USA TODAY Sports Weekly, Sports Collectors Digest, Latino Sports, and others. Contact him via email at ballauthor@gmail.com.

Timeless Trivia

The now-retired Adrian Beltre, a Dominican, had more hits than any foreign-born player . . .

During the 2018 Players Weekend, relief pitcher Brad Boxberger of the Arizona Diamondbacks became the first to wear emojis on his uniform: a box and a burger . . .

Walker Buehler and three Dodgers relievers delivered the only no-hitter on Mexican soil, beating San Diego on May 4, 2018 . . .

By the time he played in his 1000th game, Mike Trout had passed 69 Hall of Famers in career WAR (Wins Above Replacement) . . .

Wild-card teams that became world champions included the 1997 Marlins, 2002 Angels, 2003 Marlins, 2004 Red Sox, and 2011 Cardinals.


Know Your Editors

HERE’S THE PITCH is published daily except Sundays and holidays. Brian Harl [bchrom831@gmail.com] handles Monday and Tuesday editions, Elizabeth Muratore [nymfan97@gmail.com] does Wednesday and Thursday, and Dan Schlossberg [ballauthor@gmail.com] edits the weekend editions on Friday and Saturday. Readers are encouraged to contribute comments, articles, and letters to the editor. HTP reserves the right to edit for brevity, clarity, and good taste.

Leave a comment