Brodie Van Wagenen is the Mets’ Biggest—And Most Controversial—“Free Agent” Signing This Offseason, as the Industry Collectively Weighs Potential Conflicts of Interest - Fordham Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal
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Brodie Van Wagenen is the Mets’ Biggest—And Most Controversial—“Free Agent” Signing This Offseason, as the Industry Collectively Weighs Potential Conflicts of Interest

Brodie Van Wagenen is the Mets’ Biggest—And Most Controversial—“Free Agent” Signing This Offseason, as the Industry Collectively Weighs Potential Conflicts of Interest

On October 29, the New York Mets of Major League Baseball announced its hiring of Brodie Van Wagenen as the team’s new general manager.1 Van Wagenen, 44, co-founded the Creative Artists Agency’s baseball division and has transformed it into a juggernaut of a baseball agency group, amassing a list of clients that has garnered the sport’s top honors, including ninety-six All-Star appearances, six Cy Young Awards and two Most Valuable Player Awards.2 The hiring promptly animated key issues such as confidentiality, conflicts of interest, and the trust between players and agents at large.3

Adding to the controversy is the fact that several Mets players — and some of the most popular and highest-paid, no less — are CAA clients.4 Among them, Van Wagenen personally represented Jacob deGrom and had previously advocated that the Mets should sign DeGrom to a long-term deal. The effort is expected to continue as Van Wagenen transitions into the Mets’ front office.5

The unconventional hiring of an agent into the top executive position of a professional sports franchise is not unprecedented, but certainly not common. Perhaps the most notable agent to become a GM is Rob Pelinka of the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers, who previously represented Lakers’ own Kobe Bryant, one of the most iconic players in the organization.6 In baseball, prior to the Van Wagenen hiring, one has to go back to 2014 for the last agent-turned-MLB-GM.7

Scott Boras, a super-agent known for helping his clients obtain some of the most lucrative contracts in baseball history, is not pleased with the Van Wagenen hiring: “When you are . . . going from agency to management, the fact of the matter is how does a player know that you won’t make that change at any time?”8 “Why would he tell you the most intimate things in the world knowing you’re going to be negotiating against him, and, more important, the owner that hires someone, how do they know while they’re expressing loyalty to you (the owners), they (the agents) also have a group of people they worked with for a long time who they were loyal to — how do you know he may not ship that loyalty from you to the other side?”9 Boras’ comments are especially noteworthy because not only is he among the most authoritative figures in sports agency, he is a licensed attorney whose work requires being divulged highly protected and confidential information.10

The MLB Players Association (“MLBPA”) echoed Boras’ concern, as union chief Tony Clark suggested that the move could jeopardize players’ trust in their agents.11

Admittedly, no precedent or statute proscribes a career move from representing one side of the management-labor relationship to the other. However, from a corporate law standpoint, there are “soft laws”12 in place that shed light on the issue. Under MLBPA Rules, Van Wagenen lost his agent’s certification upon joining the Mets’ front office, and his former clients will now seek new representation, either within CAA or elsewhere.13

It is highly unlikely that agents are imposed the same type of loyalty and confidentiality duties owed by attorneys to former clients.14 An independent committee, established either by MLBPA or the Mets organization, to monitor Van Wagenen’s conduct as Mets GM is equally unlikely, if not redundant.15 Indeed, the MLB Commissioner’s Office might well have assumed such oversight responsibility. At this point, it remains to be seen if the combination of MLB oversight and the MLBPA Rules suffice as a check against potential misconduct by agents-turned-GMs.

  1. Anthony DiComo, Mets to Unveil New GM Van Wagenen Today, (Oct. 30, 2018), []

  2. See generally Creative Artists Agency, (last visited Nov. 1, 2018). []

  3. See Mike Fitzpatrick, Mets Throw a Changeup, Hire Agent Brodie Van Wagenen as GM, The Wash. Post (Oct. 29, 2018) []

  4. CAA, supra note 2.

  5. Field Level Media, New Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen Wants to Keep Starter Jacob deGrom Long-Term, YES Network (Oct. 31, 2018) []

  6. See Greg Beacham, Lakers Hire Former Agent Rob Pelinka as New General Manager, AP NEWS (Mar. 7, 2017) []

  7. DiComo, supra note 1 (“While moving from an agency to a front office is rare, it is not unprecedented. Recent examples include Dave Stewart, who switched from agent to D-backs GM in the fall of 2014 but was dismissed two years later.”).

  8. Matt Ehalt, Mets to Name Brodie Van Wagenen as New GM, and Agents Have Qustions, USA Today (Oct. 28, 2018) []

  9. Id.

  10. Michael Bauman, The Problem with the Mets’ Brodie Van Wagenen GM Hire, The Ringer (Oct. 31, 2018) (hereinafter “The Ringer”). []

  11. See Bill Shaikin, Union, Scott Boras Concerned over Possibility that an Agent Might Soon Run Mets, L.A. Times (Oct. 26, 2018) []

  12. For instance, the rules of the major stock exchanges regulate positional conflicts directly, by requiring an independent board or committee to monitor the corporation’s executives. Melvin Aron Eisenberg & James D. Cox, Business Organizations Cases and Materials 193 (unbar. 11th ed. 2014) (hereinafter “Eisenberg & Cox”). Here, the relevant rules that govern the conflicts come from MLBPA (hereinafter “MLBPA Rules”).

  13. The Ringer, supra note 10.

  14. See, e.g., Model Rules of Professional Conduct 1.9 (Am. Bar Ass’n 1983) (“(c) A lawyer who has formerly represented a client in a matter or whose present or former firm has formerly represented a client in a matter shall not thereafter: (1) use information relating to the representation to the disadvantage of the former client except as these Rules would permit or require with respect to a client, or when the information has become generally known; or (2) reveal information relating to the representation except as these Rules would permit or require with respect to a client.”).

  15. Compare Eisenberg & Cox, supra note 12 with MLBPA Rules, supra note 12.

Chi-Hsien Nieh

Chi-Hsien (James) Nieh is a second-year law student at Fordham University School of Law, and a staff member of the IP, Media and Entertainment Law Journal. He holds a B.M. in Music Theory and Composition from New York University. James played baseball from elementary school through high school and is an avid Mets fan. However, a piece of his fandom died when the Mets pulled the organ music from the seventh inning stretch at Citi Field in 2014.