Wilpon’s problems bigger than his mouth

Fred Wilpon let his guard down.

He made ill-advised, unnecessary remarks to The New Yorker about three of his most prominent players — Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran and David Wright. As punishment, the Mets’ owner will move into familiar territory, both for him and his tortured little baseball team. That special New York place known as tabloid hell.

Much will be made of Wilpon’s remarks in the coming days; they were too sensational to be ignored. No one, though, should lose sight of the bigger story, the one that Jeffrey Toobin’s article in The New Yorker was actually about.

Bernie Madoff. The Mets and Madoff. How much money the Madoff trustee will recoup from Wilpon and his partners, and whether the payout will force Wilpon to sell a majority interest in the team.

Real, actual punishment, as opposed to a lot of hot air.

I’m not dismissing Wilpon’s swipes at his players. He said Reyes wouldn’t get Carl Crawford money as a free agent, claimed Wright wasn’t “a superstar,” called himself a derogatory name for signing Beltran. Juicy stuff, no doubt — and quite unbecoming for an owner who supposedly is such a gentleman.

Lots of owners talk critically about their players in private moments. Lots of lower-ranking club officials do, too. Wilpon’s mistake, obviously, was expressing such sentiments publicly, through a reporter. His apology should be coming any minute now.

The shelf life of all this? Maybe a few days. The debate over the respective values of Reyes and Wright was going to take place anyway, and Wilpon’s flippant remarks will not make a tangible difference in how either player is perceived.

Wilpon’s involvement with Madoff, on the other hand, is an ongoing story, a story that likely will determine the future ownership of the franchise, a story that will not go away.

From all accounts, the Mets are within reach of selling a minority share of the club, presumably to an investor who would gain right-of-first-refusal if Wilpon decided to sell his majority stake, as well.

Meanwhile, the back-and-forth continues between Wilpon and his partners and Irving Picard, the trustee seeking money for Madoff’s victims. Wilpon and Co. almost certainly will pay, either through a settlement or judgment. The question is whether the amount will be large enough to force Wilpon to sell.

That’s the only story that matters for the New York Metropolitan baseball club right now.

The rest is just noise.