Mar 02

Impact of Wilpon’s financial problems already being felt.

F. WILPON: There's a Ponzi connection to the field.

Some have suggested the product on the field has not yet been impacted by the Ponzi scheme, but that is hardly close to the truth. In fact, much of what the Mets are doing with their team is directly resulted in the fallout from the Madoff situation.

There were rumblings of the Wilpons being in financial straits for over a year now, with a clear sign last July at the trade deadline when the Mets, within striking distance of the wild card, stood pat and did nothing to improve their club. It takes money to win and the Mets added no significant payroll at a time when they could have improved their team and made a change in the attitude at Citi Field.

A second clear sign – although we didn’t learn of this until recently – was receiving a $25 million loan from Major League Baseball at the end of last season. This is a team, despite a new stadium, that was beginning to swim in debt. If we had known it then, we could have been spared the off-season angst of them not doing anything in the winter.

Sign three, and very significant, was the hiring of general manager Sandy Alderson at MLB’s urging. Commissioner Bud Selig took a proactive approach in getting Alderson hired by the Wilpon’s, perhaps in large part, to be a caretaker for the franchise as it explores minority ownership investors and later a possible sale.

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Feb 16

Don’t get excited about ownership news

Bernie Madoff’s confession that the Wilpons “knew nothing,” about his Ponzi scheme coupled with the news Fred Wilpon talking with Donald Trump about purchasing a portion of the Mets makes for interesting copy, but don’t put too much stock into it turning the franchise around.

Translation: Still no big spending.

Madoff is in jail for fraud, lying and stealing so what is his word worth anyway? Madoff’s confession certainly won’t get the lawyers off the Wilpon’s back so the lawsuit will go on as planned.

As for Trump, well, his money would indeed help and he’s indicated a willingness to help the Wilpons. However, his reputation is not for playing second string so I don’t see him, or any other investor for that matter, spending millions and not getting a say in the way things are handled. That’s just not his style.

It is also not the Wilpons’ style to give up control. Today in Port St. Lucie, Jeff Wilpon insisted to reporters that controlling interest in the team is not for sale.

“We’re not selling controlling interest in the team. It’s not on the table,” said.

Perhaps more importantly, Major League Baseball won’t allow Trump to invest in any percentage of the team as long as he owns casinos. MLB has hard rules on gambling and there will be no allowing him to own part of a team if he’s connected with gambling. At one time, MLB banned both Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays from baseball while they were employed after their careers at casinos.

Feb 08

Could Wilpon mess make Wright expendable?

It wasn’t surprising to hear David Wright is already is Port St. Lucie working out long before his report date. He’s consistently been an early show. A lot of Mets arrived early which is a good and refreshing sign. What better way to begin a new culture?

WRIGHT: Could Mets' financial woes make him expendable?

Wright is correct when he said the Mets haven’t won anything, but he’s been saying that since the spring of 2007. He broke no new ground there.

“It’s to the point now where you’ve got to put up or shut up,” Wright told reporters. “When it’s all said and done, I want to win, and we haven’t done that. … We have to be a team on a mission, no question about it.”

Saying they are on a mission is one thing. Following through on that mission is something else, especially with what the Mets are saying are limited resources. Perhaps the most telling thing Wright said was his admission the Wilpon’s legal and financial struggles have distraction potential.

“Anytime you’re talking about, in the clubhouse, anytime you’re talking about something that has nothing to do with the pitcher that you’re facing that night or the hitters that you’re facing if you’re a pitcher then, you know, it’s somewhat of a distraction,” Wright told XM Radio.

And, you know there will be plenty of trade and contract talk around the trade deadline involving Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes, and what moves the Mets should make.

There is one certainty in the uncertainty that is the Wilpon mess, and that is there will be limited if any spending this year, especially with the Mets likely to eat the Oliver Perez contract. The Mets, as they’ve done the past few seasons, will likely not make any additions at the trade deadline, regardless of how well they are doing. To the contrary, they will attempt to sell off some of their parts, maybe even Reyes.

We don’t know the severity of what’s to come of the Wilpons and how this could play out. Should the Mets be forced to deal Reyes in July, and the Ponzi fallout lingers into next season, who is to say Wright won’t become expendable? He’s signed through 2012 (with a club option for 2013), productive and making a salary relatively easy to unload (he’ll make $14 million this year and $15 million in 2012, with a $16 million option for 2013).

If the Mets are forced to go into full rebuild mode, Wright would bring the most back in return.

I hope it doesn’t come to this, and I believe the Mets will do everything they can to keep Wright, but we don’t know what conditions will be beyond their control in the future. And, that would be very distracting.

Jan 31

What will having new investors mean?

What we speculated since the news broke of the Madoff Ponzi scandal has come to fruition; the Wilpons are in financial straits.

To what degree, we don’t know and might not until after commissioner Bud Selig meets with the Wilpons. But, that they are entertaining the idea of bringing in new investors tells us the family has issues. One would think the Wilpon’s close relationship with Selig would preclude a complete sale of the Mets.

According to reports, selling a portion of the Mets is to raise money for Sterling Equities. What we don’t know is how much input any new investor will get for his 20 to 25 percent. And, with limited input, what is the incentive to buy in?

The Wilpons have repeatedly said the Ponzi incident has not, and will not, impact decisions made about the Mets and how they do business.

However, the hiring of Sandy Alderson as general manager at the suggestion of Selig, and how little the Mets spent this winter is indicative in their streamlining approach.

We know the Mets will not give an extension to Carlos Beltran and are hoping he’ll get off to a good start and be easier to trade. We can also bet the Mets will attempt to limit Francisco Rodriguez’s appearances to less than 55 to avoid his option kicking in. He’s also somebody the Mets will attempt to deal in July.

There’s also reasoned speculation the Mets will seriously entertain offers for Jose Reyes, the player that would attract to most in return.

What we’ve been told so far is the blueprint is to evaluate the team this year, build a competitive base and add pieces with money saved when several bulky contracts are off the books.

Alderson said several times having more flexibility next year doesn’t guarantee breaking the bank. Frankly, dealing Reyes, if it comes to that, says the Mets are starting over.

Oct 25

Mets’ GM search in second phase

Mets fans might have celebrated hollow victories over the weekend when the Yankees and Phillies were eliminated from the postseason on consecutive nights, the final out in each game coming on a called third strike. Alex Rodriguez one night; Ryan Howard the other.

Of course, rooting against the Yankees and Phillies is futile work, as it does nothing toward the improvement of the Mets.

However, the most important development lately has been the narrowing of the GM candidates to Josh Byrnes and Sandy Alderson.

Byrnes will interview with ownership, including Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz, today, and Alderson will be on stage tomorrow. Both are highly regarded and will inherit a team with a high payroll and a myriad of issues.

Neither will be able to turn the program around in a year, and such a promise hasn’t been made by either in the first round of interviews.

Both GM candidates indicate Wally Backman is on their list of prospective managerial candidates, which parallels the Wilpon’s thinking. That is not to say Backman is a given, but he will get an honest shot. There are several things about Backman that concern me, most is the perception he is the Wilpon pick and he’s being forced on to the new general manager. My preference for Backman is to be promoted to bench coach and work under an experienced manager.

The new GM will inherit a team slightly below .500, meaning there is reason to be optimistic about improvement should all the pieces fall into place, notably the healthy returns of Jason Bay and Carlos Beltran, continued development from Mike Pelfrey and Jon Niese, and an encore from RA Dickey. The Mets aren’t void of talent, and improvement should occur, but they are still behind the Phillies and Braves, but those teams have their own issues.

A GM decision could be made as soon the off day following Game 2, which is a travel day in the World Series. As written here before, the GM candidates have their thinking on the manager, so that process should turn around rather quickly.

The first order of offseason business might night be conducted by assistant GM John Ricco and Jeff Wilpon, and that would be the re-signing of reliever Hisanori Takahashi. The Mets have until Oct. 31 to re-sign Takahashi, otherwise he can become a free agent.

Takahashi did everything the Mets asked of him last season as a starter or in a variety of bullpen roles, but the left-hander prefers to start. The Mets could promise him a chance to compete for a starting job in spring training or they could overpay to keep him in the pen.

Reportedly, Takahashi is seeking a two-year deal and he’s worth it based on what he did in 2010.