Why Brodie Van Wagenen might succeed as Mets GM

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As the Mets move toward the finish line in their search to replace Sandy Alderson as GM, reports are stating that Brodie Van Wagenen, Doug Melvin, Kim Ng and Chaim Bloom are receiving second interviews. It has been a ponderous process for the Mets with rumors, innuendo and the familiar mocking the club must endure as a matter of course.

The inevitable questions about control, inherited staff, financial parameters and how much influence Jeff Wilpon will have will continue regardless of whom the Mets hire.

A total outsider like Van Wagenen might be viewed as a blatant attempt on the part of the Mets to reinvent the wheel, but it does make some sense and could succeed.

Let’s look at why.

Understanding both sides.

Any good lawyer will know how to make the other side’s argument. As a longtime player agent and co-head of CAA Sports’ baseball division, Wagenen has relationships with every major-league team and its executives. When trying to maximize the value of contracts and endorsements for his clients, he also needs to understand what the other side is thinking. It’s a short step over the velvet rope from being seller to the buyer.

This is not someone who will be parachuting in with theories, demands and expectations without having the faintest clue as to what really happens in the trenches.

He played baseball at a relatively high level.

Van Wagenen played baseball at Stanford University (as a teammate of Astros manager AJ Hinch). He wasn’t great, but he was serviceable. Playing at a Division I school in the Pac-10 – especially a school like Stanford that does not provide academic breaks to its athletes – is notable.

Many front office staffers are inhabiting a persona based on their environment. Chewing dip and carrying around an empty bottle in which to spit the juice does not make one a peer of professional athletes. If anything, it invites eye-rolling and ridicule from those same professional athletes. Similarly, uttering the lingo of athletes and trying to be one of them is transparent and deservedly ridiculed.

No, he did not make it to the major-leagues. He didn’t even play professionally. But as a former player, he will have a well-rounded idea of what it’s like to play and run a ballgame on the field, limiting the reactive know-it-all responses and insecurity that is inherent from those who cannot say the same and find themselves in an undeserved position as a front office boss, top-tier executive, or well-compensated analyst.

Delegation.

It is highly unlikely that Van Wagenen will be in the middle of every single deal big and small and interfere with the heads of the baseball departments.

The best executives are the ones who hire or retain smart people and allow them to do their jobs. If Omar Minaya, John Ricco, et, al. are part of the deal and will not be replaced, Van Wagenen can accept that and let them work without looking over their shoulder, sowing discord, and making passive aggressive maneuvers and statements to undermine them.

Managing the owner.

For an organization like the Mets, with Wilpon insisting that he will be involved, it takes people skills that a player agent must have to nudge him in the right direction without him knowing he’s being nudged. The idea of autonomy is secondary to this peacekeeping nuance.

Younger GMs are looking for autonomy and control in part because it grants them at least three years of on-field results being irrelevant. That’s three years of job security and blamelessness. They’re heavy on data and short on interpersonal skills. That is not an issue with Van Wagenen who understands the numbers, but also knows how to persuade.

The tactics.

There are repeated demands that the Mets tear the entire structure of the organization down to its exoskeleton and start over. Is that wise? With Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Michael Conforto, Brandon Nimmo and Amed Rosario among others, the team is not destitute at the big-league level. In the minors, the farm system is better than it was given credit for in preseason assessments.

Certainly, when there is a barren farm system, bloated contracts and declining players, it makes perfect sense to gut it and start over. The Mets are not in that position and hiring Van Wagenen is not only a signal that the Mets are serious about contending quickly, but that the Wilpons are ready to give him some money to spend to make that a reality instead of a bait-and-switch to sell season ticket plans with the same digging through the bargain bin, crafting an “if everything goes right” roster and hoping that it somehow works out.

Salesmanship.

What is an agent if not a salesman?

To take the job, he will need to divest himself of any agent-related interests in the players, but the relationships will remain in place because he got his players paid and because most players will be smart enough to realize that he might turn around and go back to being an agent after his tenure with the Mets concludes. Other organizations will know it too.

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At first glance, the mentioning of player agents running an organization sounds quirky for its own sake. In the case of the Mets and Van Wagenen, it’s a radical departure from what the Mets and the Wilpons have done in the past and, in the grand scheme, it isn’t such a terrible idea.

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No Joking Allowed With the Mets

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Someone has to put a set of rules together to list what the Mets ownership can and can’t do. At this point, however, it appears that the only thing that Jeff and Fred Wilpon can do to stop the avalanche of criticism they receive is to walk into one of the auto body shops that dot the landscape around Citi Field and, in a Stephen King sort of way, walk through a door in the back that’s actually a portal to another dimension from which they can never return.

You would think that Jeff Wilpon was a combination of Idi Amin and Saddam Hussein and openly laughing at the latest massacre he engineered (the Mets) when he made a harmless—and accurate—joke while the Mets were graciously honoring Mariano Rivera by saying, “Wish we could see you in the World Series, but I’m not sure that’s going to happen.”

Is this wrong? Is it mean-spirited? Is it something that should never ever be said?

Instead of the major point of discussion being the Mets dramatic win in which they beat the usually unbeatable Rivera, a percentage of time, energy and newsprint is being wasted on chastising Wilpon for making a lighthearted and dead-on self-deprecating joke at his and his team’s expense when no one on this planet or any other thinks the Mets have a shot at the playoffs this season. It was satire and it was true.

What would’ve been said if Wilpon had joked the opposite and said, “Maybe with a little luck we’ll see you guys again in October. You just have to do your part. Haha.” Or, “It’s still only May, we might see you guys in October. You never know.”

With the first comment, he’d be considered obnoxious, disrespectful, arrogant and stupid. With the second, he’d be considered delusional, ignorant and deranged.

Ask yourself this: Would the reviled, convicted, suspended, loathed, hated, suspended, less-loathed, less-hated, suddenly canonized as a “great” man when he was in actuality just an older version of the bloviating and blustery lunatic who was only placated by his team winning championships four times in five years to prevent him from blowing up the universe—none other than George Steinbrenner—have bothered to give a Mets player a gift and farewell if the situation called for it? He would only do it if he was convinced to do so after changing his mind multiple times and then okaying it at the last minute. It would have to be a Mariano Rivera-level player and person. That’s something the Mets and most other teams don’t have. The Mets do something nice and it turns into this.

Wilpon didn’t say, “Man, we suck,” as a vast number of fans in the fanbase say on a regular basis. He made a bit of dark humor while doing something gentlemanly for the crosstown rivals and one of their retiring stars, but like most things with the Mets, it’s used and twisted to put forth an agenda. The sad part about it is that there are still people who use it to fan flames that were more arson than incidental.

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Get Your Thetans Tested At Citi Field

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The thetans are important to judging one’s overall mental health.

At least that’s what I’ve heard.

Or is that Scientology? Was it L. Ron Hubbard who “discovered” this phenomenon or was it Amway? Am I  getting confused?

Considering the reaction to the Mets’ decision to go into a business partnership with Amway and allowing the company to place a storefront at Citi Field, you’d think they had entered into agreement with a cult to recruit weak-minded Mets fans (insert joke here) to leave the religion of their birth or choice and enter into the wondrous world that has engulfed the lives of so many of your favorite Hollywood stars like Tom Cruise, John Travolta and many others. Or, judging from the indignant eye-rolling, endless ridicule, public recriminations and accusations of more financial and ethical sleight of hand, you’d think the Mets had opened a combination sex shop/peep show/whorehouse/Euro-style hash bar in a New Amsterdam tradition of libertarian personal freedoms and challenges to the current conservative orthodoxy.

Just when the Amway aftershocks had subsided, up steps Howard Megdal—the self-styled “dogged” reporter of all supposed misdeeds of the Wilpon family—paying a visit to the Amway store located at Citi Field. The tour took on a strange note that made it feel as if it was a cult that was trying to recruit new members or, as other implications have suggested, a pyramid scheme trying to accrue more money from the bottom up by continually finding new people to take part in the “scam.”

As I said after the deal was announced and the public shaming of the Mets for entering into a bargain with such a “disreputable” company began in earnest, Amway is a reputable company that’s been in business a long time. They work with other sports teams such as the Detroit Red Wings in the NHL and have well-liked endorsers in former NFL star Kurt Warner among others.

None of that is relevant. The Mets and Amway came to an agreement to have a storefront at the park. It’s a “pilot” program. In other words, they put the storefront there to see how it works. Presumably, if it doesn’t work out well and they don’t expand their business or make money with the endeavor, they’ll shutter it and chalk it up to an idea that failed. If it works, this will continue in other venues. Does it suggest a malicious intent on the part of the Mets or Amway? Will there be a Jim Jones massacre amid the tailgaters at Citi Field over the summer? If you read the constant haranguing and triangulation of the Mets as constantly evil, then that’s the logical conclusion.

Reading Megdal’s piece in a singular fashion as something you found on the web or was linked and you happened to click onto it and you won’t see the transparency in his endless stream of attacks against the Mets’ ownership. But if you know the history and the long-term desire to take the franchise and portray it as the epitome of evil and/or ineptitude in all of sports and you see a trend that is clearly advancing his personal biases. I can tell you from experience that the gist of the article was already planned out before Megdal set foot in the Amway store. Every writer does their thing in a different manner (I jot stuff down on Post-It notes), but like Sun Tzu says, every battle is won or lost before it’s ever fought, the desired conclusions of a particular writer—portraying him or herself as an “investigator” or not—are known before the first word is written.

What Megdal writes about the debts ownership has accumulated; the payments upcoming; the reasons for the settlement from the Bernie Madoff case trustee Irving Picard all appear to be based in fact. I’m not questioning the facts. I’m questioning the agenda and the analysis.

How many times has Megdal shifted the goalposts to make himself be maybe, possibly, eventually “right” down the road? It’s a neverending wave of expectations, predictions, and movements to not be wrong. The problem with that type of predictive speculation is that while he may not technically be wrong, he’s not right either. Or should I say “Wright” because he was also wrong about David Wright and the third baseman’s prospects to stay with the club.

Repeatedly there were shadowy suggestions that the Mets wouldn’t have the means to keep their star third baseman in a similar “cut-their-losses because they can’t pay him in the future” manner as they did with Jose Reyes. When the Mets stepped up and paid Wright to keep him for the rest of his career, even that wasn’t good enough. Because the contract was backloaded and deferred, that morphed into a point of contention. So now, instead of “the Mets will trade Wright after putting together an offer designed to fail,” the construction of the contract is an issue. Not only do they have to sign their players, but they have to sign them to a contract structure that is Megdal-approved.

It’s not a matter of disagreeing with the methods in which the club does business, but in seeking out and finding any small thread of perceived wrongdoing to craft a new piece to savage the organization and make unfounded and new accusations whose veracity won’t be proven for years and leaves enough wiggleroom to “explain” with “explaining” being a more palatable word than backtracking or, even worse, admitting one is wrong.

The reality with Reyes is that if the Mets truly wanted him back, they’d have found a way to sign him. It was a baseball decision. While keeping Reyes at mid-summer of 2011 was obviously designed to sell a few extra tickets, is that so out of the ordinary with a sports franchise? Keeping a player to make some extra money? It may have been a mistake, but it’s not unusual.

The Mets signed Wright, but they traded their Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey, so it turned into a financial decision in spite of (as even Megdal admits) getting a substantial return of young players for a 38-year-old who just came off the year of his life and whose future as a knuckleballer isn’t as simple as Phil Niekro and Tim Wakefield comparisons because he throws the thing harder than they did. Mets GM Sandy Alderson makes a deal of an older player questionable to help the Mets when they’re ready to contend and who wanted a lot of money in a contract extension for a large package of high-end talent and the decision was based on cutting costs; Andrew Friedman does it with the Rays and gets Wil Myers and other prospects for James Shields and Wade Davis and he’s a “genius.”

Much like Maury Povich discovered a marketable niche in paternity tests, Megdal has the Madoff Ponzi scheme and the Wilpons. He is the father!!!

It was in 2008 that Madoff was arrested. We’re coming up on five years since it happened. Since then, the Wilpons’ finances have been expected to collapse with a liquidation and sell-off of everything including their beloved baseball franchise. And they’re still here. I’m not saying it’s good or bad, it just is. Fred Wilpon did not make the money he’s made in life and become the level of successful businessman by pure graft due to Madoff’s diabolical schemes. No one gets to that pinnacle without having a relationship with bankers and banks and the ability to manipulate their businesses, secure loans and keep things running in the bleakest of times. Doesn’t it behoove the bankers who would like to get a return on their investments to refinance these debts and help the debtor keep their businesses running? No one benefits from the Wilpon financial situation disintegrating, but that’s what’s expected if you continually read the doom and gloom of Megdal in E-book and web platform.

Digging through any and all sponsors and business partners of a sports franchise and the questionable tactics and profiteering are self-evident. Do you think the beer companies are truly concerned about fans leaving a ballpark and driving home after six overpriced cups of beer? In a legal and human sense, perhaps; in a business sense, no, and no amount of signs that say, “Enjoy responsibly” are going to change that.

You don’t want to know how sausages are made; you don’t want to think about the slave labor in Indonesia that’s sewing MLB licensed clothes and memorabilia; and you don’t want to scrutinize the people who are bringing money into the clubs. These morally despicable tactics have assisted MLB as a whole and helped to make the game of baseball into the cash cow that it is.

Seeking out the negative finds the negative. Formulating scenarios based on the worst possible outcome yields the worst possible outcome. If that’s what someone wants to look for, that’s what they’ll find. But maybe that’s the point.

Join Amway!! Or Scientology!! Or become a Mets fan!! Of course they’re different entities with zero connection to one another unless you’re reading the litany of columns like a wrestling main event, Megdal vs. the Mets. Then, like professional wrestling, the denouement is known before the fact and we as viewers, suspend disbelief and watch, putting our mind at rest because it’s an unnecessary inconvenience to the crafted and inevitable end.

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Fred Wilpon, The Mets, “The” Truth And “A” Truth

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I’m waiting for the inevitable conspiracy theories to morph into absurd leaps of logic. How about something fictional to the tune of, “Jenrry Mejia’s actual identity is Jose Luis Madoff Alvarado and is the product of a love affair between Bernie Madoff and the daughter of a shady business associate in the Dominican Republic 28 years ago,”?

A great fake story can be crafted from Mejia’s current situation to link the ancillary and unconnected drama surrounding the Mets. Reality doesn’t enter into the equation. It’s the story that’s important. Here’s a good plotline: There’s a holdup with Mejia getting his visa to report to spring training. Other players have used fake names to get signed. The Mets were involved heavily with Bernie Madoff. Fred Wilpon is a pathological liar and/or a delusional elderly man—the pieces fit!!!

Except they don’t.

With Wilpon’s press session yesterday inviting agenda-laden questioning of his personal finances in relation to the Mets, the story has legs for a few days. Bolstered by the club’s continued lack of spending, Wilpon’s statement that the financial problems are subsiding and GM Sandy Alderson is free to spend money if he deems it appropriate is inviting eyebrow-raised glances and “yeah, buts”—NY Times Story.

Is the decision to again stay out of the free agent market linked to financial limitations or are they adhering to a plan to clear the decks of dead contracts, rebuild through the draft to put in place a strong foundation, and buy pieces to fill needs rather than create splashy headlines? Does it matter? Do we need answers?

Regardless of the “why,” this is what they’re doing. The strategy is highlighted in the aftermath of the Mets deciding not to give Michael Bourn a fifth year option while simultaneously surrendering the 11th pick in the draft to get a pretty good player and placate an angry fanbase, possibly severely hindering the future—sort of what the Mets did for years under Steve Phillips, Jim Duquette and Omar Minaya—and wallowing in the mess they were in for most of the previous decade-plus.

Signing Bourn would have been a mirror image of mortgaging the future for the present and doing so in a manner that would reverberate for years to come. Bourn was not worth the 11th pick in the draft. If Bourn were in the draft now, he wouldn’t be picked that high. When he was drafted by the Phillies in 2003, it wasn’t until the fourth round, so the Mets were supposed to willingly give up that high a pick in a spot where Andrew McCutchen and Max Scherzer were selected?

The Mets could use Bourn, but not at that price especially with Jacoby Ellsbury set to be a free agent after the 2013 season and Shin-Soo Choo also to be available.

I’m not a defender of the Wilpons. I don’t see how it’s possible that they didn’t realize there was something fishy with the Madoff returns. If the money kept rolling in, why ask questions you don’t want the answer to? Did they suspect? They must have. Did they want to know the answer if they asked? Definitely not. But these half-baked predictions of the Wilpon demise—presented by self-styled soothsayers using partial truths hidden under the pretense of research, extrapolations and an end in mind to foresee a cloudy future—have been consistently wrong.

There wasn’t supposed to be a settlement in the Picard lawsuit. There was.

They weren’t supposed to maintain control of the team. They did.

They would be forced into bankruptcy. They weren’t.

They couldn’t afford to keep David Wright. He’s a Met for the next decade.

How many times are we going to have ironclad statements of what “will” happen be wrong before stepping back and accepting that regardless of intentional ambiguity in what’s said, the Wilpons are going nowhere and the Mets’ finances do indicate that they’ll be able to spend on players in the coming year.

This constant digging for evidence against the Wilpons is similar to rehashing the O.J. Simpson murder trial or the Kennedy assassination. It’s over. No one’s going to be prosecuted; no crime will be proved; and the investigation has ended. Independent to irrelevant facts or fiction, the Mets will have money to spend on better free agents than Bourn after this season; they’ve accumulated young pitching talent they haven’t had since the 1980s; and they’ve done precisely what Alderson set out to do in the first three years of the rebuild.

Wilpon’s meeting with the media presents an opportunity to revive a meaningless past and allows the aforementioned investigative reporters and analysts to twist what he says into a new attempt to be retrospectively “right.” But “right” is in the eye of the beholder.

Are the Mets not spending or are they not spending stupidly? There’s a fine but important line between the two. No matter how they got to this point, it was for the best. Had they stuck to the road they were on, there would be more bloated contracts for aging players, fewer prospects, and a longer and increasingly difficult path to getting younger and better—if they ever decided to do that at all. The “why” deserves a shrug as a response. Much like the media experts can subtly alter their facts to suit a designed narrative, so can Wilpon. It’s all a matter of point-of-view.

“The” truth will never be fully known. “A” truth is what we have and it varies based on who’s listening.

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The Wilpons Are Going Nowhere, Part II—Evil Fred

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It’s time to stop with the “yeah buts” and come to the realization that the Wilpons are more resourceful than they’ve been given credit for. Fred Wilpon didn’t get rich by being stupid and the money they’re borrowing, while viewed as a desperate lifeline with the opportunity to pay down a debt that’s set to rise exponentially in 2014, is a daily business endeavor for people who have the money to purchase a sports franchise in the first place. If a person owes the banks hundreds of millions of dollars, it benefits neither the banks nor the borrower if there’s a default. In fact, it’s a disaster. Therefore it behooves the Wilpon creditors to help them, and if that means providing a loan at favorable terms and the Wilpons borrowing against SNY, then that’s what they’re going to do. It’s easier to assist the current owner than it would be to stage a liquidation or for MLB to force them to sell the Mets.

Since the Bernie Madoff swindle was exposed, there’s been an overt attempt to display the Wilpons in an unfavorable light by tossing everything that’s happened to them personally and with their ballclub into one giant Dutch oven and somehow concoct a palatable meal with ingredients that don’t mesh.

When they backed out of the agreed upon deal with David Einhorn they were “being the Wilpons.” Actually, the deal was unfavorable to them as Einhorn wanted significant say-so in the operations of the club and preapproval as majority owner. With Einhorn being so aggressive, the relationship was doomed to end with a power struggle for control of the club and it was a battle that the Wilpons, still trying to find their financial equilibrium, would probably not be in shape to win. They were wise to pull out from it when they had the opportunity to do so.

Steve Cohen and Jim McCann were buying their way in? Both have questionable histories in their business lives with Cohen employees investigated and arrested for insider trading and McCann’s 1-800-Flowers operation accused of overcharging customers.

Is it the people or is it the businesses they’re involved in that leaves them ripe for financial mistakes that, to the layman, would view as “illegal” or “wrong”? I have no idea what Cohen and McCann were up to. Perhaps they knew what was happening with their companies and perhaps they didn’t. Either way, it’s ridiculous to link that with Wilpon involvement. Because these people were investing in the Mets, it was equated into the Wilpons being at fault as if they’re supposed to comb over every little instance in a friend/potential business partner’s past before accepting his or her money to be a partial owner of the club.

Bill Maher bought his way in as well and he’s a controversial, potty-mouthed, unabashedly left wing political commentator and comedian who likes to smoke pot. Does that mean that Fred Wilpon is sitting in Maher’s Jacuzzi with a group of strippers and getting high? Given the nature of the attacks against the Mets owners, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the implication.

All that’s missing is the ominous music in the background, Fred and Jeff Wilpon walking in slow motion, and a ludicrous connection from so far in outer space that people believe it because it’s so asinine.

Every huge business with tentacles flowing all over and poking multiple pies on numerous platforms will have circumstances that don’t look quite right. Sometimes that’s intentional and sometimes it’s not.

In opposition to the obvious accusations of graft that accompanied Frank McCourt’s tenure as Dodgers owner in which MLB essentially shoved him out the door as bankruptcy filings indicated that he was possibly taking money from the club to maintain a lavish lifestyle like some sort of Beverly Hillbilly, the Wilpons are well-liked by the other owners in baseball and Fred Wilpon is close with Commissioner Bud Selig. Selig, if he could help it, wasn’t going to take steps to force the Wilpons out. Perhaps it was friendship or perhaps it was that Selig and his inner circle people examined the Wilpons’ plans and understood that if they settled the Madoff lawsuit with trustee Irving Picard, regained some of the money they lost, and got their array of businesses back on solid financial footing, then they could do as they just did and secure a loan to have more cash available to spend on the team.

While the easy decision is to take that money and purchase cosmetic upgrades, given the manner in which GM Sandy Alderson and his staff have gone about rebuilding the farm system and swiped top prospects from the Giants (Zack Wheeler) for the soon-to-be-free agent Carlos Beltran in the summer of 2011 and Blue Jays (Travis d’Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard) for R.A. Dickey, it would make little sense to spend for the sake of it. There are players out on the market that can help the Mets, but the strength of the NL East and their own weaknesses makes it risky to even part with a second round draft pick as compensation plus pay the amount of long term dollars it will to get a Michael Bourn. The Mets could use Bourn, but is it worth it at his agent Scott Boras’s current requests? No.

The important fact is, though, that they can do something significant with the money available. This team isn’t far away from contention. With the young pitching they’ve accumulated; their new young catcher with All-Star potential d’Arnaud; David Wright having re-upped to stay long-term; the pitching and Ike Davis, they’re on the verge of taking the next step.

It has to be remembered that the Madoff nightmare began in December of 2008 when the contending Mets from 2006-2008 were on the downside of that cycle. It took another two years for the entire apparatus to come down completely with Omar Minaya fired and a new regime—with the aforementioned limited funds and mandate to rebuild the farm system—in place with Alderson.

Five year plans are five year plans for a reason. It takes at least three to get rid of the dead weight (Jason Bay); change the template of how they find players; draft well and let the young players develop; and to alter the perception of the team as a dead-end, transforming it into a destination that players will welcome rather than use because they were traded there or have no other choice.

It’s hard to remember, but there was a time that no one wanted to go to the Phillies, the Dodgers, the Yankees, the Red Sox. Things change.

No matter when the club finally turns the corner, the Wilpons will be the owners of the team. They’re going nowhere. By the time 2014 rolls around (or even 2013 if the young pitching comes along faster than expected), no one’s going to say a word about the ownership since the on-field product will make the Mets fans and fans in general forget that Bernie Madoff even existed and the media members whose agendas are all-too-clear will run out of places to put the goalposts to salvage their predictions—few of which have come to pass.

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The Meaning of the David Wright Signing

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A week after Black Friday, it was Blue and Orange Friday as the Mets signed their star third baseman David Wright to an 8-year contract extension for $138 million. Of course this decision elicited reactions far and wide. Let’s take a look at the reality of the Wright contract for everyone involved.

For David Wright

I wrote about Wright’s decision to re-sign with the Mets yesterday.

Wright had the choice of waiting until his chance at free agency after next season and face the prospect of being traded or getting hurt. Maybe he would have had a career season and put himself in position to make perhaps $20-30 million more on the open market; maybe he would’ve been traded to a preseason/mid-season title-contender.

Or it could’ve ended badly.

Wright saw what happened to his friend and former teammate Jose Reyes when he chased the money, went the the Marlins and now is playing for the Blue Jays in Canada on artificial turf for the next five years. There was the added attraction of Wright being a Mets icon who will rewrite their record book, be the best position player in their history and to never wear another club’s uniform. The offer was on the table, he wasn’t going to do much better as a free agent and didn’t really want to leave apart from a fleeting, “what if?” curiosity of what it would be like elsewhere.

In the end, he chose to stay in the only baseball home he’s ever known.

For the Mets

There’s no getting around how important it was for the Mets to keep Wright not just because he’s a top 5 third baseman in all of baseball and their most popular player, but because they had to undo the perception of the club being broke and having little interest in: A) spending money; B) give the fans what they wanted.

Like Carlos Beltran functions as a symbol of the near-miss of the 2006 team; Jason Bay the symbol of the desperation to hold onto the shriveling tendrils of contention; Reyes the star who spiraled down the drain like the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme money that gutted the Wilpons’ finances, Wright is a bridge to the better times of the Mets and can be the elder statesman for the future.

It was important for the club to step up, show the fans, media, and the rest of baseball that they were willing to do what it took to keep the one player they had to keep. It wasn’t simply an on-field maneuver. Truth be told, the rebuilding might have been expedited with a lower payroll had they traded Wright for a package of prospects—in fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if there were loud voices in the front office that wanted to do that exact thing. But for the same reason they didn’t trade Reyes when many were screaming that they should, there were collateral reasons not to pull the trigger on Wright.

And here’s a flash about Reyes: the Mets did want him back. To say that they didn’t is silly. What they didn’t want to do was give $100 million to a speed player whose defense was markedly declining and who had had multiple injuries over the years when they knew they were also going to need money to sign Wright. What they were hoping was that the Reyes market crashed and he had to return on a deal the club found reasonable. Had the Marlins not jumped in with their backloaded $106 million deal, that’s exactly what would’ve happened. In addition, the Mets had a big league ready replacement for Reyes in Ruben Tejada. No such replacement on or off the field existed for Wright.

It didn’t have racial undertones of choosing the handsome, steady white guy over the flashy and injury prone Dominican. It was a cold baseball decision made by the front office—exactly the type of rationality they wanted when the hired Sandy Alderson as the GM to replace the “I want to make people happy immediately regardless of long-term cost” Omar Minaya.

As for the repeated reference to Fred Wilpon’s ill-advised comment in the New Yorker Magazine that Wright wasn’t a superstar player, it was a year-and-a-half ago. Do you really believe that Wright and Wilpon haven’t since spoken and hashed it out? The Mets paid him like a superstar and Wright will be the first one to tell you that he’s not an Albert Pujols or Alex Rodriguez in their primes. How many true “superstars” are there in baseball? Not many and Wright, along with many other All-Star players, is not a prototypical superstar. It’s not the insult it’s portrayed to be and in the end, what’s the difference?

For the rest of baseball

Wright is very popular around baseball and if he’s willing to invest the rest of his career to the Mets, it’s a signal that the circumstances are getting better around the entire franchise. Because of the lack of money and last four seasons of steady decline and rebuild, the Mets were a “no go” destination unless a player had no other choice. As we’ve seen with the Orioles and Athletics on the positive side and the Red Sox and even the Yankees on the negative side, that is more of a function of how they’re viewed in the moment.

With Wright onboard and the young pitching Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler and Jonathon Niese that has much of baseball salivating to get their hands on them, along with NL Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey, the Mets have the foundation in place to make a serious move into legitimate contention.

Wright signing and the Mets paying him tells the rest of baseball that the talk of wanting to keep Wright wasn’t lip service to placate without a true intention of following through. They followed through.

For the fans

Even the most miserable Mets fan who didn’t want Wright back, who is still complaining about the supporting cast they’re surrounding the third baseman with, has to feel some sense of happiness that they’re keeping someone and not masochistically pleading for a repeat of the flogging they took for their dealings with Reyes.

They kept Reyes rather than trade him because, as said before, they wanted to keep him; and they also wanted to sell a few more tickets in a lost season. It was a retrospective mistake, but it was more understandable—given the circumstances—than the simplistic entreaties that they “should’ve traded him” would suggest.

Mets fans will still complain, but it won’t be about not holding onto their own players. For now anyway.

For the media

As usual, the Mets can’t win with the media. Whatever they do, it’s twisted to suit the narrative of a moderately brainless idiot who occasionally and by mistake manages to get something right.

This is exemplified by today’s passive aggressive piece in the New York Times by Tyler Kepner. Amid the begrudging credit given to the club for keeping their third baseman, Kepner took the cheap shots that have become a prerequisite in this market by, of course, mentioning the Wilpon comment; rehashing past mistakes such as Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo; questioning the wisdom on the part of Wright and the Mets in staying together; and naturally making sure to mention the supposed superiority of the Yankees who, according to Kepner, have a “business model sets them up to contend for the title every year.”

That same Yankees’ business model that: has an array of immovable contracts; Derek Jeter appearing as if he’s packing on the pounds to audition to be Engelberg in The Bad News Bears—20 years later; ancient players from top to bottom; lost Russell Martin to the Pirates; and has, topping their catching depth chart, the equally horrendous Eli Whiteside and Chris Stewart.

Referencing the Yankees as anything to admire right now is an outrageous display of clinging to the past and a none-too-sly shot at the Mets during a brief moment of happiness.

Kepner offhandedly points out the acquisition of Wheeler from the Giants for Beltran in the tone of the Mets being a broken clock that manages to be right twice a day, then contextualizes it by equating the decision to trade Angel Pagan—a talented player who is baseball-stupid—as the Giants getting “even.” Like the Wright signing, the Pagan trade made sense at the time. It didn’t work, but the way to judge any trade/free agent signing/draft pick is whether it was logical. Anything other than that is second guessing.

What the Mets have done under Alderson is to retreat from the Wilpons’ prior modus operandi with GMs of the past and, instead of concentrating on doing what the media wanted them to do to garner good press, are pushing back and running the club as it should be run. The same press that had Minaya thinking everyone is his friend is intimidated by Alderson because the GM sees right through them and won’t respond to their tactics—tactics that Kepner again employs and will be roundly ignored if not ridiculed by those who know better and understand his intentions with such a transparent piece.

This is a positive move for the Mets. They did what needed to be done in keeping Wright. That is the only way in which this signing must be judged. It makes sense now, therefore it makes sense, no matter what happens in the future and over Wright’s career that will be as a Met and a Met alone.

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Bet On the Wilpons Surviving and Thriving

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I’m ambivalent about the Wilpons settling their part in the Madoff lawsuit.

All along, I was relatively disinterested in the entire episode. The circumstances were what they were and once the trial was completed, then the direction of the Mets would be determined. Because they were so badly hurt by the Madoff Ponzi scheme, the money that was once available to the Mets to pursue players was no longer there; they were forced to scour the bargain bins and deal away veterans Francisco Rodriguez and Carlos Beltran while sitting by haplessly and avoiding any bidding war for big free agent names that, given their on-field state, likely wouldn’t have come to the Mets under any circumstances apart from the Mets being the highest bidder. (See Jason Bay.)

Now that the lawsuit is over (and you can find details of the settlement here on NYTimes.com), it’s become clear that the supposed experts didn’t know any more about the nitty gritty of these types of deals than the media/social media would-be experts who were lending their opinions regarding issues about which they knew nothing.

Yes, the sources and “experts” might have information and insight about the law and the financial world, but that information and insight stemmed from personal experience and not from what they were privy to in terms of information as to what the Wilpons’ strategy was going to be to save themselves.

In the end, the Wilpons chose to settle and for now they’ve bought themselves time with what wound up as, by all accounts, a very favorable deal considering the alternatives.

What we’re presented with from those who provide commentary to the reporters telling the story is something to the tune of factoids that are kindasorta true, but only true from their point-of-view. These are not absolute facts like in a math/science problem that’s been solved; they’re interpretations.

I don’t recall reading or seeing anyone suggesting that the Wilpons were going to be able to settle the case and save themselves. Every outcome ended with them having to sell the franchise because their financial footing was no longer viable.

Look where they are now.

As much as the context is provided that the case was settled and their creditors are off their backs for the time being, there are ongoing doom and gloom revelations about the bonds that funded the building of Citi Field; the loans to the banks due on the club and SNY; and how the Wilpons are still in dire financial straits.

“X loan with Y bank of $400 million comes due on <THIS> day.”

“The bond interest payments must begin late in the year <BLANK>.”

“They’re still going to put a subpar product on the field because they don’t have the money to pay for players.”

Don’t buy it.

The Wilpons didn’t get rich being stupid.

Guilt, innocence or willfull blindness no longer matter because they settled the case and put themselves in a great position to end up retaining control of the franchise.

I said long ago that the Wilpons and Saul Katz had to know what was going on with Madoff, but there might’ve been a “don’t tell me what I don’t want to know” aspect of the gains they were making with the disgraced swindler.

They didn’t ask. Madoff didn’t tell. And everyone rolled merrily along.

Then Madoff got caught and the Mets were in the middle of the cesspool.

What the chroniclers of the case and the Wilpon-bashers have failed to account for is how smart the Wilpons are. They didn’t get rich being dumb or lucky and they’ve hired lawyers whose specialty is extricating their clients from situations just like these and helping them maintain their businesses and positions.

What I find funny (ha-ha and sad) is that a bunch of non-financial, non-lawyerly reporters felt that they were somehow qualified to provide commentary on issues that they probably only had a baseline understanding of and were simply regurgitating what they were told by “experts” and believed everything that was said because they had neither the aptitude nor the education to question what was being offered as what “would” happen in this lawsuit.

The settlement was pragmatic and smart and you can bet that the Wilpons are going to figure a way to keep control of the franchise when the loan payments become onerous by refinancing and extending the timeframe in which they have to pay.

What this means to the Mets and how they’re going to move forward remains to be seen. Will Sandy Alderson stay? Will the Mets examine a contract extension to keep David Wright past 2013? And what’s going to happen if and when all the decisions they made due to financial constraints wind up being seen as a net positive (a term that became familiar during the lawsuit) because the Mets couldn’t continue tossing bad money after bad money in a self-destructive attempt to placate angry fans and overpay for players who weren’t going to help them one way or the other?

They’ve cleared some players they no longer needed and are moving in the direction of paying players what they’re worth rather than giving them a large contract to keep pace with the big spenders in baseball. Letting Jose Reyes leave could eventually be seen as a smart and lucky baseball decision. They’re concentrating on development and giving their own young players a chance to play.

In a few years, we might one day look back at this and say something to the tune of, “The Madoff mess actually led the Mets back to prominence because of the seeds that were planted out of necessity because there was no money to buy ready made players.”

The Wilpons survived mostly because they, their lawyers and advisers are smarter than you.

Don’t think they’re not preparing to get their other financial ducks in a row, because they are.

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Joke Or Not, If Alderson’s Unhappy, He Should Leave

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To the best of my knowledge the Mets aren’t paying Sandy Alderson with IOUs from one ply peeled from two-ply pieces of toilet paper.

Nor are the checks written in the penmanship of someone right-handed trying to write left-handed and signed, “Jeff’s Dad” as if Jeff Wilpon were trying to pay Alderson with whatever’s left of his dad’s teetering financial empire.

Alderson’s being paid in real money and he’s being paid a lot of it.

Alderson has decided, as he’s making his way to spring training, to start a Twitter account. The first tweet was either a badly worded or misunderstood joke or a shot at the Mets’ paucity of funds.

Under the handle MetsGM, Alderson said:

Getting ready for Spring Training-Driving to FL but haven’t left yet. Big fundraiser tonight for gas money. Also exploring PAC contribution.

Whether it was an attempt at comedy or a legitimate kick at the fact that he doesn’t have any money to spend, he’s oblivious if he didn’t realize that saying that would be construed as a negative toward his employer.

Can you imagine one of George Steinbrenner’s GMs saying something like this and still being the GM the following day?

Or Vince Lombardi so openly disparaging a team that he tried to craft into the epitome of professionalism and year-round proper representation of the Green Bay Packers?

It wouldn’t happen because there was a baseline, known code of conduct of what would and wouldn’t be acceptable from any and all employees of their teams.

Alderson was a Marine and should understand that even if the Secretary of the Navy is from a different party as the President or disagrees with policy, he’s not going to publicly say something so negative—even in a joking context—about his bosses or his branch.

Alderson was a lawyer and a respected GM for the first decade of his career with the Athletics. Then, when he moved to the forefront, his own personality came to light.

Along with the resume of being Vietnam veteran and well-spoken military man and adaptive, intuitive corporate lawyer, there’s another side to Alderson—a snarky, credit-seeking and obnoxious side that has reared its head repeatedly.

As GM of the Athletics, Alderson’s success was tied to two things: money and Tony LaRussa. When the A’s spent money under Alderson and were managed by the Hall of Famer LaRussa, they won. When the money dried up, they slowly declined; then LaRussa left and the team came apart.

Alderson went to the Padres, behaved like a capricious tyrant and created factions that were beholden to him to craft an aura of dysfunction where everyone was looking over their shoulders for someone holding a knife.

It’s been this way in every job he’s undertaken since and is now happening again with the Mets.

Whether he wanted the Mets job (and it certainly appeared he did when he was interviewing for it) or took it as a favor to Bud Selig is irrelevant. He took the job and is being compensated heavily for it. He’s gotten everything he wanted including the high-priced hirings of his lieutenants Paul DePodesta and J.P. Ricciardi. He hired the manager he wanted in Terry Collins. If he had a load of money at his disposal, there’s no guarantee he would’ve wanted to spend it on Jose Reyes because it’s never been his modus operandi to invest so much money in a player who relies on speed and doesn’t get on base.

But that’s neither here nor there.

The circumstances with the team are what they are, financially and practically.

Financially, ownership is under siege from a lawsuit that they claim is doling out blame and holding them accountable for transgressions that they are not guilty of committing.

That will be settled in time and the Wilpons will either find a way to maintain control of the team or sell it.

Alderson may or may not be the GM of the new owner; he may or may not remain as the GM if the Wilpons retain control.

Practically, even if there was a ton of money available, the free agent market was such that the Mets were unlikely to dive deeply into it to bring in enough talent to compete in a loaded division. The farm system needed to be rebuilt and the big league club overhauled. In actuality, the Madoff trial is giving them the built-in excuse to refurbish the club correctly—something I would think Alderson would embrace to put a club together devoid of the $200 million superstar since those contracts almost inevitably become onerous by year four or five.

That too is secondary to the perception of the team.

On the one hand, okay, it’s a joke; on the other, he’s the GM and shouldn’t be openly attacking his club even in jest. If you’re the GM of the team and there’s even a split-second hesitation as to how a joke is going to be interpreted, then it shouldn’t be said. Once it has to be explained, it was a bad joke.

If it was a subtle attempt to say publicly what he says in starker terms privately; if Alderson is unhappy with the money at his disposal; if he doesn’t like working for the Wilpons; if he took the Mets job only as a favor to Selig; if he wants out and is being passive aggressive to get that information into the public sphere, then he should resign and stop taking the Wilpons’ money to be the GM of the club.

This type of stuff is why they’re the “Mets”. I don’t mean the Mets organization. I mean an adjective for a punchline of whatever can go wrong, will go wrong and that the employees—even in the upper reaches of the hierarchy—are willing to make negative and embarrassing comments to highlight that fact.

Done with appropriately hideous timing befitting the “Mets”, while the team across town is enduring their own humiliating scandals involving their GM Brian Cashman and his bevy of girlfriends and divorce, one of whom was apparently stalking him, Alderson decided—as seems to be the Mets wont—to make the Mets the butt of evening gossip and laughter. For the titular head of the baseball operations, someone whose conduct and skills in dealing with the media and manipulating the language to prevent such a thing from happening, it was a stupid and inappropriate comment to make. Former GM Omar Minaya’s biggest fault was crisis control and a lack of skill with the language, but I have no recollection of him saying something like this about his employers.

The Mets are not going to stop being a joke until they cease treating themselves as a joke. It comes from a clear set of rules that are adhered to from the simplicity of wearing a coat and tie when traveling on the road to not criticizing the organization.

From the time of Alderson’s hiring, I said that the Mets have to cease the practice of acting as if any star player who joins the organization is doing them a favor; that any and every player they currently have is here out of desperate necessity rather than out of a business agreement between parties. Until the Mets make the conscious decision to stop laughing at themselves, why should anyone else hesitate to laugh at them?

If there are people within the current organizational structure who don’t want to be part of the Mets, then they should leave. When I said it 15 months ago, I was referring to the players. But it also applies to the GM.

If Sandy Alderson doesn’t want to be part of the Mets, then he should go. They’ll get someone else.

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Jose Reyes And The Truth Of Lies

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It was entirely believable that Jose Reyes signed with the Marlins so early in the free agent process; without seeing what other offers were out there; declining to go to the Mets and seeing whether they could and would match or surpass the Marlins deal.

After all, the Marlins have a history of…signing…big…name…free…age…

Um…well, they signed Carlos Delgado after the 2004 season. The contract was heavily backloaded and didn’t have a no-trade clause, so naturally they traded him—to the Mets, whom he’d spurned to sign with them—following the 2005 season.

Never mind that.

They have sane ownership widely respect…ed…in…base…ball…circl…

Actually, Jeffrey Loria is petulant, disingenuous, capricious, bullying and sneaky.

Well, okay.

They’ve known on-field stability with their man…a…gers….

So, Ozzie Guillen is the seventh managerial change that Loria has made since taking over as Marlins owner in 2003 and that’s not counting Bobby Valentine, who essentially had the job until he got into an argument with team president David Samson (Loria’s son-in-law) during Valentine’s interview.

The players enjoy the…at…mos…phe…

Alright, Logan Morrison has filed a grievance because the Marlins demoted him for reasons he and the Players Association think were based more on his use of Twitter than for his play.

There’s an air of professionalism perm…e…at..ing…the…tea….

Okay. Hanley Ramirez is a diva who’d make Madonna look reasonable; doesn’t play hard all the time; and has taken the “prodigal son of Loria” act to its logical conclusion by acting like Loria.

Er…ah, so…playing the game fairly and in an aboveboard manner is the hall…mark…of…the Mar…lins…organ..i…za..ti…

Oh, well there’s that overblown issue of using Leo Nunez AKA Juan Oviedo while he was an illegal immigrant living in the United States and pitching for the club under an assumed name and that the team presumably knew about it and said nothing.

Aside from all that, it’s Utopia.

Are you getting the picture?

This whole “story” started when someone, somewhere said that Marlins had agreed to terms with Reyes, pending a physical.

The news blasted across the internet; Twitter went bonkers; people searched for information; Mets fans whined; Marlins fans rejoiced; those with a stake in roasting the Mets teed off.

It went on briefly and with a white hot intensity.

Then it stopped.

Because the report was a lie.

Typical of social media, it followed the script that a rumor based on nothing usually does: it’s reported; it’s repeated; it’s reacted; it’s refuted.

Fast, frenzied and embarrassing, if there was any shame or plausible deniability left for those with a clear and blatant agenda in Reyes leaving the Mets, it was extinguished with this bit of “news”. Prepared with their purposeful bashing, it came and went, did its damage and receded. The backtracking was half-hearted because, as a form of self-justification, we again saw the vitriol doled out on the Mets front office and ownership…even if there was none to be passed around.

Let’s just say, hypothetically, that the report was accurate and Reyes had signed with the Marlins.

What then?

Would it be because of his craving for the stability, sanity, atmosphere, adherence to rules and professionalism with the Marlins that was missing with the Mets?

Would it be the money?

Does it matter?

And how are the Wilpons and Mets GM Sandy Alderson to be held accountable if Reyes signed immediately with one of the first teams he visited before making the rounds and chose not to go back to the Mets with the offer to see if they’d match or surpass it?

What were they supposed to do if that had been the case?

The Mets and Alderson asked Reyes and his agents the Greenbergs what it would take to sign the player; they received silence in response; Alderson basically said, “okay, shop around and get back to us”.

If Reyes decided not to do that, who, if anyone, is to blame for that?

The argument that the Mets should’ve signed Reyes to an extension before this is ludicrous. Despite protestations to the contrary—using his games played from 2005-2008 as a basis—he is not a guarantee to stay healthy and perform as he did at his best over the first half of the 2011 season. He missed almost the entire 2009 season with a torn hamstring and 5 weeks of this season with more hamstring woes; he had hamstring troubles in his first two seasons and his 2010 spring training and part of that season were compromised with a thyroid condition.

This is not Lou Gehrig or Cal Ripken.

The idea that the Mets should have traded Reyes at mid-season is just as idiotic. They want to keep him; the number of players who’ve been traded and then return to the team that sent them away as free agents are limited and unimpressive (think Austin Kearns). Worst case scenario, he leaves and they take the draft picks; had they dealt him, he wasn’t returning and the hit the team would’ve taken for dealing Reyes, Francisco Rodriguez and Carlos Beltran wouldn’t have been worth the potential bounty unless a trading team got unimaginably desperate and sent them a Bryce Harper/Mike Trout-type, blue chip, can’t miss prospect.

So they kept him. He’s a free agent. They’re interested in making an offer when they know what the market is and if they can afford it.

That’s the way it is.

Reyes has a right to sign with anyone at anytime.

He’d be stupid to do it with such expediency unless someone offers a Jayson Werth contract of lunacy, but that has yet to happen. Because he hasn’t signed anything.

Not even on Twitter.

There’s a troubling rush to judgment and a stimulus response of rage inherent with any unverified statement presented and accepted as fact.

Reyes may stay with the Mets.

He may leave.

The decision was not made last night.

But we received a preview of the true face of those who have a vested interest of their own in the outcome.

It’s an ugly face.

It’s a duplicitous face.

Now that we know what it looks like, we can see through the subterfuge of what they’re selling.

And we can point it out and shun it.

In a sense, it’s worth the attention that it’s received as a means to uncover the truth.

The truth of lies.

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Could The Braves Go After Jose Reyes?

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With tremendous depth in their starting rotation and bullpen, money coming off the books and the gaping hole both at leadoff and shortstop, could the Braves be a stealth pursuer of Jose Reyes?

After examining their contracts, there’s an absolute fit for a dynamic leadoff hitter to slide in neatly with young core the Braves have built, mostly through the farm system.

Reyes’s price—which not too long ago was going up-up-up-up—won’t be as prohibitive to a team like the Braves unless one team (the Nationals?) gets crazy and offers him the oft-mentioned “Carl Crawford money” that Mets owner Fred Wilpon said Reyes isn’t going to get.

What if the Mets make an offer of a guaranteed $110 million and that’s the limit of what’s out there? Then what if the Braves match it?

Would Reyes—knowing how things generally go for the Mets and that the team is far behind both the Braves and Phillies in terms of talent and stability—say to himself, “I’d rather go somewhere that I know I’m going to have a legitimate chance to win while I’m still in my prime”?

The Braves are shedding the salaries of Nate McLouth after this season and Derek Lowe after next season. Chipper Jones says he’s coming back in 2012 and will be paid $13 million. Dan Uggla and Brian McCann are signed; the young players Freddie Freeman, Jonny Venters, Jason Heyward, Craig Kimbrel, Brandon BeachyMike Minor and Tommy Hanson are all far from free agency. Current shortstop Alex Gonzalez is a free agent at the end of the year.

There’s an opening; it’s workable financially; and the player is available.

The Braves have upended the Mets one way or another since the two teams were placed in the same division in 1994. They’re the bane of the Mets existence. If the Braves want to, they can punch the Mets in the gut again by stealing away Reyes and improve themselves drastically in the process.

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