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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The Anonymous Met and the Fallen Prospect

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An “anonymous Mets player” published this piece in New York Magazine that slams the franchise for pretty much everything. From being willingly oblivious to the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme to the firing of Mookie Wilson, there’s a “woe is me” retaliatory tone sprinkled in with the righteous indignation that tells me it’s probably not a current player who said these things. You can speculate on your own and leave your suspicions as to who it is in the comments section.

I don’t see what firing Mookie has to do with anything. Everyone likes Mookie, but one of the things that has consistently gotten the Mets into trouble has been being too nice and doling out severance jobs and contracts to people who might not deserve them. Perhaps Terry Collins and the front office wants a better first base/baserunning coach than Mookie. They don’t have to give a reason when they fire someone and a player from the 1980s shouldn’t have a job just because he’s a player from the 1980s.

It’s a combination of maudlin reminiscing for years gone by with pleas of loyalty and comparisons to the positive aspects of the Yankees without the negatives.

What’s most galling isn’t what’s said—he’s entitled to his opinion—but that it’s hidden behind the veil of anonymity and not, I suspect, because it’s a current Mets player or employee, but because the person wants to maintain the possibility of having a job with the organization in the future.

And that’s weak.

On another note, the Mets waived former top outfield prospect Fernando Martinez to make room on the 40-man roster. Because Martinez is only 23 and has a minor league option remaining, someone will claim him.

Given the Mets current circumstances in being unlikely contenders and that they’re looking for cheap talent, they wouldn’t have dumped F-Mart if they expected anything out of him.

This isn’t an indictment of the Mets insomuch as it’s indicative of the fleeting nature of “top” prospects. Some make it, some don’t and every team has situations like this where a youngster is overhyped and falters.

Looking at F-Mart’s minor league numbers, injuries and Angel Pagan-style displays of rockheadedness, the performance and substance weren’t there to warrant taking up a roster spot; those who are criticizing this move as a Mets-style bit of short-sightedness are basing that on nothing. Common sense says the Mets tried to trade him before waiving him and if no other team wanted him, it’s more telling on the player than anything the Mets have done. This front office watched him and determined that he was no longer worth it; that they wouldn’t be able to pump his value to get something for him, so they cut the ties.

If he somehow gets through waivers unclaimed, he’ll go back to the minors and keep trying. Just don’t expect him to suddenly stay healthy and fulfill that potential that may have been limited in the first place.

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