Mets owner expresses optimism about team's outlook
PORT ST LUCIE, Fla. (AP)
Pending litigation related to the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme, a huge payroll drop and uncertainly about his team's ability to secure free agents, New York Mets owner Fred Wilpon is still excited about the upcoming season.
The Mets are just weeks shy of Opening Day, but Wilpon still finds optimism about the state of his franchise and the ability to be relevant in the near future.
Wilpon said Monday in spite of the obvious handicaps management has in fielding a relevant team, he has full trust in the people around him to do it.
Whatever happens, he said, he's sticking in for the foreseeable future. Ownership has been forced to tighten its belt, clearly, but Wilpon doesn't think the situation is exactly as dire as it appears.
''Well, you shouldn't be concerned about us owning the franchise, because we intend to own the franchise for a very long time. Whether they're happy about that or not, I don't know,'' Wilpon said. ''Don't forget we cut a lot of payroll that wasn't producing. If you look at the payroll right now, it's fluid. I don't know what's gonna happen or what (general manager) Sandy (Alderson) is gonna do.''
The Mets are entangled in what was originally a $1 billion lawsuit brought by a former trustee of Madoff who is claiming that the team should have known millions they collected from Madoff represented phony profits.
A ruling has since limited the ownership's exposure to $386 million and made it possible the team's payoff won't be more than around $83 million. They are facing a March 19 trial date.
''That's been a motion picture,'' Wilpon said. ''When it started, there was a really big number out there and now - I'm not minimizing - but it's a different number. So, the next couple of weeks will tell whether there's a trial or not a trial.''
There's also the issue of a $25 million loan from Major League Baseball the club owes. The repayment was extended until March, and another $40 million is owed to Bank of America. The team chose to sell limited partnerships after a deal with a hedge fund manager fell apart.
They are still looking to secure commitments, but Wilpon isn't worried about losing control in the new makeup.
''You can find a lot of ownership where someone might own 20 percent and yet they are the control person,'' he said. ''...I doubt whether we'd sell significantly more. That's not the plan right now.''
Wilpon also said the team's financial situation has no correlation in whether Citi Field will be officially announced as the site of the 2013 All-Star Game. That, he said, is being held up by New York City's finances.
Wilpon attended a meeting Monday in which Mets manager Terry Collins addressed the full team about the season. Collins said he didn't hold his tongue in giving players an honest assessment of what he thinks they can be.
''I spoke from the heart, I always do,'' Collins said. ''I told them today, basically there are 29 teams that think they're better than you are. How does that make you? And what are you gonna do about it? You gonna talk about it, or are you gonna do something about it? That was pretty much the gist of the entire conversation.''
The Mets have a $16 million option next season on Wright, who is coming off a 2011 campaign that was stifled because of injuries. It was his worst offensive year since he was a rookie. The ultimate decision of whether to lock him up long term will rest with Alderson, Wilpon said. Though, he acknowledged there would be input from above.
''My intention is always to follow the baseball people, in spite of what (the media) says that we're running the baseball department or whatever,'' Wilpon said. ''Sandy Alderson has a great feel for this. So does Terry. And if it works out, I'll be thrilled.''
For an example of the kind of parameters Alderson will operate in, Wilpon cited the negotiations with Reyes.
''We certainly act in certain broad parameters. But the parameters are always changed,'' Wilpon said. ''I think Sandy made an offer of around $100 million that Jose could have earned if he were healthy. But Jose did what was best for Jose. Jose is a very nice young man and a very good player and we wish him well.''
While a lot could certainly change in the coming weeks, perhaps the best news for Mets fans is that if the financial situation improves, so too could the payroll.
It's also why Wilpon is cautioning everyone not to count on the roster that currently exists and Alderson's ability to make moves later.
''When I said, three years ago, that Mets weren't affected by the Madoff thing, I was telling the truth because we weren't sued then. It was prior to the suit,'' Wilpon said. ''Then did it affect it? Sure.
''I would tell you let's see how this team plays. Let's see what we need. ... They've had some experience now. We could be talking six months from now or three months from now at the All-Star break and saying this core looks like its matured. (Alderson) may not even want to do something then.''
Time will tell.