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Brodie Van Wagenen, Yoenis Cespedes, and the Problem with Conflicts of Interest

Brodie Van Wagenen’s actions towards Yoenis Cespedes might have actually been unlawful

2020 BBWAA Awards Dinner Photo by Mary DeCicco/MLB Photos via Getty Images

By now, you probably are quite familiar with the uniquely Metsian saga that was Yoenis Cespedes opting out of the 2020 season because of a family member with a preexisting medical condition. That said, it’s worth taking a look at a different angle of the problem: how did Brodie Van Wagenen, the agent who negotiated Cespedes’ contract with the Mets, end up arguing as Mets’ General Manager that Cespedes breached that contract?

Concerns about Van Wagenen and conflicts of interest are nothing new; I wrote about them here and here and here. They’ve been an issue ever since the erstwhile superagent assumed the reins in Queens. Remember: Van Wagenen was one of the agents leading the charges of collusion by teams a few years ago. Now, though, Van Wagenen is renegotiating the contracts he himself obtained for his former clients years before.

That Van Wagenen held a press conference to throw Cespedes, a former client, under the bus is certainly alarming. After all, it wasn’t so long ago that Van Wagenen had promised to recuse himself from such things, a promise which, as I’ve written before, he has simply failed to follow. In and of itself, were Van Wagenen a lawyer, holding such a press conference would almost certainly be enough to attract the attention of the state bar authorities for potential ethics violations.

Even though Van Wagenen isn’t a lawyer, he remains a fiduciary for his former clients. A fiduciary duty is a legal obligation of trust and loyalty towards another person. An agent’s fiduciary duty requires the best interests of the client be placed first, even - as the U.S. Supreme Court held in Commodity Futures Trading Comm’n v. Weintraub - after the relationship has ended. And the New York Court of Appeals ruled similarly in Greene v. Greene, holding that a fiduciary “owes a continuing duty to a former client” even after the professional relationship has ended.

As such, Van Wagenen’s press conference was and of itself problematic. Unfortunately, that’s just the start. There’s also this:

The Mets - through, of course, Van Wagenen - acted as though Cespedes informing the team of his opt-out decision through his agent was somehow unprofessional. So let’s go with the Mets’ timeline to give Van Wagenen the benefit of the doubt here, as related by Vanity Fair’s Dan Adler:

On Sunday morning Céspedes didn’t show up for the Mets game in Atlanta and reportedly didn’t respond to a text and call from manager Luis Rojas, so the team sent a security detail to the hotel housing the team. Céspedes had already left with his belongings, and his agent informed the team later that he was fine but opting out of the rest of the season.

Of course, as Cespedes’ former agent, Van Wagenen would know that even if Cespedes’ agent didn’t inform the team of the opt-out until after the game started, there is nothing whatever unusual about that. In fact, that’s one reason players have agents - section 2(E) of the Rules Governing Player Agents states that legal representation with respect to teams is a part of player representation by an agent, and Section 2(F) states that an agent’s duty is to represent the player with the respect to the team.

In other words, Van Wagenen knew very well that Cespedes’ absence would be explained by his agent. Instead, as Deesha Thosar wrote, Van Wagenen decided to smear his former client.

Sunday’s Cespedes fiasco was a situation the Mets, and their PR department, could have easily handled to their benefit. There is only one Mets reporter on the road trip to Atlanta who is not in some way paid by team ownership. Unless that one reporter noticed Cespedes was not in the dugout, even without clubhouse access, by the first inning — which he didn’t — there was no reason to publicly announce Cespedes’ absence until the Mets knew more information.

So understand what happened here: Brodie Van Wagenen unambiguously breached his fiduciary duty as to a former client in order to do the bidding of his current employer. He did so despite having previously promised to recuse himself from such matters involving former clients. Whether there are legal ramifications to Van Wagenen’s conduct remains to be seen - but this situation, therefore, is far more troubling than simply a team treating a player badly.

What can Cespedes do? He can, and should, file a grievance against the team. The MLBPA also can, and should, prevent Van Wagenen from ever working as a player agent again - though, to be frank, the union probably should have done that long before now. The reality is, however, that Van Wagenen’s former clients on the Mets - and there are many, from Robinson Cano to Jacob deGrom to Noah Syndergaard - should be taking note. If they expected Van Wagenen to uphold his fiduciary duties as the law requires after becoming Mets’ GM, those expectations have been finally shattered once and for all.

Sheryl Ring is a litigation attorney in the Chicago suburbs. You can reach her on twitter at @Ring_Sheryl. The opinions expressed here are solely the author’s. This post is intended for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice.