No one expected too much from the New York Mets this year. Yet they really have exceeded our expectations thus far. The only reason why we are not acknowledging their over achievement is because the organization’s overall disarray is stemming from the top. With Fred Wilpon playing the role of Nero, CitiField is Burning.
There was no doubt coming into this campaign that this would be a rebuilding year for the Mets. The new general manager Sandy Alderson and Manager Terry Collins were brought in to not only revamp the underachieving and overpaid roster, but to change the mindset of the clubhouse as well. So far, there has been a glimmer of success as far as the players living up to their potential.
Jose Reyes is having a banner year, batting .335. Carlos Beltran appears to have bounced back, not all the way back, but productive nevertheless. And David Wright was having a solid season before he got hurt. Even some of their farmhands, including Justin Turner, Ruben Tejada and Dillion Gee have come up big this year. Injuries have taken their toll once again, but thankfully Tejada’s, Turner’s and Gee’s production have soften the blow.
If you would have told any Met fan that the team would be hovering around the .500 mark this far into the campaign, they would have signed up for that in a New York minute. But the actions of Majority Owner Fred Wilpon, have dampened any positive surprises this season has produced.
We all know how Wilpon’s dealings with convicted shyster Bernie Madoff has casted a cloud over the franchise. The pending lawsuits stemming from his role in Madoff’s ponzi scheme has handcuffed the Mets from making any major moves as far as free agency or resigning their own home grown talent. It has gotten so bad that the Mets had to borrow money from Major League Baseball (MLB) to make their May payroll.
Lucky for them, the founder of the hedge fund Green Light Capitol, David Einhorn, agreed in principal to purchase approximately one third of the baseball operations. This will allow the Mets to repay MLB, pay off some of their debt, and meet future payroll and operation obligations. Some people thought that Einhorn was crazy to invest over $200 million in a team that was floundering, and he would not have any say as a minority owner regarding the direction that the team would be taking to reverse their fortunes. However, it has come to light that he may be positioning himself to purchase a majority share in two-to-three years if the team’s finances do not turn around.
As it turns out, Einhorn’s infusion of money could be looked upon as a loan according to some sources, including ESPNNewYork.com. If the Mets can not repay the “loan” in three years, the young hedge fund maverick, who placed 20th in a World Series of Poker tournament, could end up owning over sixty percent of the team. Even if they do pay him back in a timely manner, Einhorn will still own at least six percent of the team, according to the report.
Even with all of the financial problems that the team is experiencing, the money issues have taken a back seat to another problem. Now GM Alderson and Manager Collins have to deal with the fallout from Majority Owner Fred Wilpon’s goodwill public relation barnstorming tour. Wilpon decided to reach out to several media outlets to get his side of the story out to the public. Instead of explaining what happened with Madoff and how he plans to rebound, he ended up making matters worse.
In an article with The New Yorker, he told the writer that free agent to be, Jose Reyes, was not going to get Carl Crawford ($120 million over 7 years) type money. He also said that, “Wright is a good player, not a great player.” He went on to say that Carlos Beltran is sixty percent of what he was and indicated that he was foolish to sign him for the money that he did. His comments are prevailing sentiment around baseball. However one would think that the organization would be collectively trying to hype and build up all of their resources to make them more appealing to potential trading partners. Now, if you are trying to rebuild your franchise, why would you publicly bash the few marketable pieces that you have left?
Wilpon made himself an unwelcome visitor in his own clubhouse and just made GM Alderson’s job that much harder. From what I hear, the team does not want anything to do with him. Wright took the high road, saying that he recognizes that he is going through a lot but the All-Star third baseman did not mention the Owner by name during 15-minute pregame interview. The team did not want Wilpon to travel with them to Chicago after the story broke. Good job Mr. Wilpon.
Then in an another interview with Sports Illustrated, the embattled owner told the publication that his team is hemorrhaging money at a tune of $75 million per year and that he intends to keep the pay roll around $100 million next season. That should also make Alderson’s job easier, and give the fans a warm and fuzzy feeling.
There are a few silver linings in this dark cloud. Once again the team is playing well beyond what the most optimistic Met fan could have hoped for this season. Reyes and Beltran are having great seasons. The younger players are showing promise. If they can get Wright and Ike Davis back, they have the ability to battle the Braves and Marlins for second or third place in the National League East Division.
The Einhorn deal could also be a sign that a change is coming. Most hedge fund owners bank on capitalizing on companies failing and try to position themselves in a manner to take advantage of their misfortunes. That is what he did with the Mets. Most Mets fans have expressed their frustrations regarding the club and hope that the Wilpons would sell the team. If the Wilpons fail to repay the $200 million, there will be a new sheriff in town. Einhorn appears to be the type of owner that the fan base can embrace. We know that the home-grown gambler has a history of making some shrewd moves.
All of baseball will be scrutinizing this organization for the foreseeable future. MLB offices will be looking at what is going on in Flushing. I do not think that it was a coincidence that Commissioner Bud Selig strongly suggested that the Mets consider Alderson, who used to work as one of the League’s top watch dogs, as their new GM last winter. Other teams will be looking at the various pieces the team has to offer as far as trades are concerned. The fans will be looking at the major decisions the team will make over the next couple of seasons. Who will stay and who will go next season will have a huge impact on the direction the team will take. But all that will pale in comparison to whether the Wilpons retain their hold on their prized possession.
The way Fred Wilpon has been acting of late reminds me of Nero watching Rome going up in flames. Sometimes I wonder if it has dawned on him the damage he has inflicted upon his ball club over the past year. I can give him the benefit of the doubt on the Madoff mess, although that is waning by the day, but the interviews are another story. I just hope that I do not see Fred Wilpon outside of CitiField playing a violin while the Mets are playing inside.