Last week, we discussed Yoenis Cespedes’ amended contract with the Metropolitans of Queens after an unfortunate encounter between the outfielder and a wild boar (for real) resulted in a broken ankle for Cespedes (no word on injuries suffered by the boar).
In any event, there’s one additional point with that now-settled grievance we should touch on, and it’s one that the MLBPA should probably take a hard look at moving forward.
Back in November 2016 when the Mets signed Cespedes to his then-$110 million contract, the star outfielder was represented by one Brodie Van Wagenen.
Major League agents go to great lengths to promote their players. Scott Boras, for example, is known for his binders. For his prominent clients, he publishes reams of statistical data espousing their attributes, then distributes those booklets around the league. Yoenis Céspedes’ lead agent, Brodie Van Wagenen, took a different tack for his superstar outfielder. To the Mets, he delivered a binder filled not with Cespedes’ numbers -- those were readily available elsewhere -- but back pages from the three primary New York tabloids since the start of this year. By the time Cespedes climbed atop a stage at Citi Field on Wednesday for a news conference to announce his four-year, $110 million contract, the binder included 57 newspaper headlines featuring Cespedes -- including three on Wednesday alone.”He obviously helps put butts in seats,” Mets chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon said. “People want to see him.”
Of course, Van Wagenen is now the General Manager of Cespedes’ team, the Mets, and that creates a problem.
Back when Van Wagenen was first hired by the team, I noted the potential for significant conflicts of interest, even though the agent is not a licensed attorney. And though Van Wagenen was supposed to recuse himself from dealings with his former clients — like Cespedes and team ace Jacob deGrom — it was clear pretty early-on that wasn’t happening. Since then, the question marks around the erstwhile super-agent have only grown — there were questions about whether he was targeting his former clients to bring to New York. The team then compounded its conflicts of interest problem by hiring ESPN analyst Jessica Mendoza to work in Van Wagenen’s front office.
That said, recent coverage of Van Wagenen’s still-extant conflicts of interest has basically evaporated, even though we still don’t know how he is purportedly acting to shield himself from those conflicts in the team’s front office. Rarely were those conflicts on greater display than with Cespedes’ revised contract negotiations.
Let’s start with what we know. We know that Cespedes was injured, and the Mets responded by withholding the outfielder’s salary pursuant to language in that contract — a contract Van Wagenen negotiated for him.
In other words, Van Wagenen’s front office was using Van Wagenen’s contract language against a former client of Van Wagenen’s. We also know that Van Wagenen commented on the injury and the ongoing grievance process, despite his earlier promises to recuse himself. In fact, there were no reports that Van Wagenen recused himself either from the decision to withhold Cespedes’ pay, or from the grievance hearing itself, and Van Wagenen never stated on the record that he did so. Instead, he’s continued to talk openly about what he calls “the resolution” of Cespedes’ contract.
That a General Manager would be in any way a part of representing a team against a player in a case regarding a contract the General Manager negotiated whilst representing that player creates serious ethical problems.
Moreover, even if Van Wagenen recused himself from the entire process, the fact that it wasn’t made explicitly clear, or even hinted at, for that matter, is problematic in and of itself.
For example, did Van Wagenen talk with anyone in the front office about the contract? About Cespedes? About what the language said? About how to use the language?
Remember, Cespedes’ contract had non-standard language negotiated by Van Wagenen. Any involvement Van Wagenen may have had in the process would have tainted the entire proceeding.
Now, it’s possible that the union didn’t make a public issue of this for a very good reason. Perhaps they thought it would make no difference to their case. Perhaps they raised the issue privately. But the fact that these questions remain unanswered is not a good look for any of the parties involved, because it creates a very real sense that a team may have used a former agent against a past client, whether directly or indirectly. Simply put, that’s not acceptable.
We still don’t know how Van Wagenen is addressing his very real conflicts of interest, and these are questions which deserve answers. In the meantime, the MLBPA should probably add a rule to agent certification regulations and the next collective bargaining agreement that player agents cannot accept jobs with team front offices, at least until after a rather significant waiting period has elapsed.