Of Course Bankruptcy is on the Table for the Mets

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The Mets have hired CRG Partners, a consulting firm that assisted the Texas Rangers in their bankruptcy and sale. Naturally, it’s being assumed that this is in preparation for an eventual bankruptcy and sale of the financially hemorrhaging Mets.

So what would happen if the Mets’ situation reached avalanche proportions so they had to start selling the light fixtures and they were entirely unprepared for the legal and practical ramifications for such a move?

What would be said then?

It’s at the point where everything the Mets organization does or doesn’t do is dissected to find some underlying “truth” that they’re not disclosing.

But what if what they’re saying is the truth? What if the apparent spin doctoring to keep the wolves at bay is what’s really going on?

Are the Mets preparing for a bankruptcy or did they hire CRG to, as the club statement says, “provide services in connection with financial reporting and budgeting processes”?

Does it really matter?

If the Mets hired a “turnaround specialist” to help with their morass of debt and legal entanglements, isn’t that the wise thing to do? Aren’t they performing their due diligence based on current circumstances?

This story doesn’t automatically imply a bankruptcy filing is on the horizon; obviously that’s on the table, but regardless of public perception and until the Madoff trial begins, the Wilpons are within their rights to do everything they can to keep the team.

As absurd as it sounds, has anyone ever truly considered the possibility that they were victimized by Madoff as so many others were? There’s a presumption of guilt surrounding the Wilpons, in part, because the club has been run so haphazardly on the field and the front office has been adept at telling half-truths and misleading the media and public with semantics. Because of that, they don’t deserve the benefit of the doubt for anything they say, but logically what they’ve done is what they should do to prepare for every eventuality.

The entire episode has turned into a spitting contest over the breaking of the story, what the hiring means and the fans newest attempts to get the Wilpons to sell the team immediately.

This new culture of being the “first to report” has degenerated reporting into stories coming out based on anonymous sources whether they’re accurate and reliable or not. It appears that this story has been reported accurately, but it’s on the short list in that achievement.

I’d rather be right than first.

What Mets fans have to understand is that the Madoff trial and the Mets ownership issues are not going to be resolved in the near future; no matter how much complaining, threats and ridicule are doled out, nothing is going to change that. Fans are of the opinion that they have this power over ownership by their self-indulgent ranting about the way the franchise has unraveled and that their demands will be met immediately.

Mark Cuban is not buying the Mets tomorrow no matter how many times you demand it.

Is it more enjoyable for fans to be talking about the pursuit and signing of big name free agents like Prince Fielder, Albert Pujols and keeping Jose Reyes? Absolutely.

Does the endless public vitriol directed at the franchise affect the Wilpons when they have bigger things to worry about? No.

The Mets are under no obligation to even respond to these allegations—the club is not a public enterprise; they’re owned by a private entity—so they replied with a statement that’s exacerbated the factions of will they or won’t they file for bankruptcy.

But does it matter?

Really?

In the grand scheme, I don’t think it does.

It’s a story because it’s a story—an end unto itself with no legitimate endgame until the trial and its results are known. Until then, what’s the difference?

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Alderson And The Experts

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You can watch the Sandy Alderson interview with Kevin Burkhardt on Mets Hot Stove above and make your own determination as to what he’s actually saying.

The body language/tone/behavior/baseball experts on Twitter and in the media took the “look” of Alderson as ranging from profoundly negative to depressed to near suicidal.

If you read the transcript of the juicy bits of what he said here on MetsBlog, you can make an entirely different judgment.

Those who are ripping the Mets as a matter of course for the relentless need to complain; because there’s an editorial mandate to do so or because it’s designed to drum up webhits in a trolling sort of manner; to push a book; or just because, here’s the truth: they either don’t want to understand reality or are utterly incapable of doing so, and they’re not accepting facts.

If you dissect the Mets 2012 situation financially and in talent, they’re not going to be anything more than a fringe contender for a Wild Card spot if they bring Jose Reyes back and have everything go exactly right.

Some are actively trying to tilt at windmills, aggrandize themselves as influential voices and catalyze a new ownership.

The Wilpons are not selling the team. This is the position they’re in at least until their part in the Madoff lawsuit is completed and they have a firmer grip on what the circumstances are. Anyone hoping for a Mark Cuban to walk in, buy the team and start spending, spending, spending the team back into relevance hasn’t the faintest idea of how an organization—sports or otherwise—is run; Cuban did all of those things the Mets are entreated to do; but what the ignorant outsiders are failing to grasp is that the Dallas Mavericks went through multiple incarnations of players, coaches and a lack of success before hitting the jackpot with an unexpected championship last season.

The Red Sox, Yankees and Phillies proved this very year that spending capriciously for star players doesn’t automatically guarantee a championship.

The Mets have gone down that road. They signed the big names—Johan Santana, Jason Bay, Billy Wagner, Carlos Beltran, Pedro Martinez; they filled all the holes; they did everything the fans wanted them to do including building a new ballpark.

They haven’t won.

In fact, they degenerated into a disaster.

It’s not because of the Madoff Ponzi scheme and the Wilpon’s entanglement in that nightmare, it’s because they were top-heavy and shoddily constructed—built to win immediately for a short window.

The window closed and they hadn’t won.

It’s not Omar Minaya’s fault; it’s the Jeff Wilpon’s fault; it’s not Bernie Madoff’s fault.

It happened. And it happens to the teams that are perceived as doing everything the “right” way.

Sandy Alderson was hired to fix the Mets and that’s what he’s doing whether you like it or not.

Do you believe that John Henry intended to spend $160 million on payroll when he bought the Red Sox? If he did, then what was the purpose of hiring Theo Epstein and his young, stat savvy crew of Ivy League educated, sabermetric wizards? Why did he hire Bill James? Why did he hire Billy Beane only to be spurned at the altar?

Henry wanted to create the Moneyball Red Sox patterned after the cheap and efficient method in which Beane (and, in part, Alderson) transformed the A’s into a dominant franchise without spending a ton of money.

Things morphed into the Red Sox competing with the Yankees for the same players and a championship or bust attitude. It’s part of the reason for the 2012 Red Sox catastrophe and departure of both Terry Francona and Theo Epstein.

People wanted the “Red Sox way” and that’s what they’re getting.

Alderson has the people—Paul DePodesta, J.P. Ricciardi—from that school of thought; a similar school of thought that has made the Rays into a team that wins with a non-existent payroll and an atrocious ballpark. When the Stuart Sternberg regime took over the Rays, they knew they could’ve won a few more games if they’d spent some money on mediocre big leaguers to look better than they were. But is there really that big of a difference between 68 wins? 76 wins? 82 wins?

No.

So why bother wasting cash to lure a negligible number of extra fans?

Reyes will either stay or he won’t;  barring a sudden leap from the pitching staff, some luck with bullpen signings/trades and the new Citi Field dimensions helping David Wright and Bay become what they were before entering baseball’s version of the Grand Canyon, Reyes’s presence isn’t going to help the team escape the morass in which they’re currently trapped. The club will save some face and make people who already have Reyes out the door look foolish, but that’s all.

It takes a brutal assessment and sheer courage to say to the fans that the team isn’t going to be able to contend with Reyes, so why overpay to keep him? The National League East is a nightmare. If the Mets had the cash of the Yankees and Red Sox, they’d be able to cobble a contender from the current market by signing Jonathan Papelbon; C.J. Wilson; Josh Willingham.

They don’t.

This is why Alderson was brought onboard. I saw no negativity in what he said concerning the rebuild—and that’s what it is; his body language indicated what those who are looking for “clues” wanted to see; his tone was matter-of-fact, realistic and intelligent; his content was comprehensive and honest.

Alderson asked Reyes’s representatives what it would cost to sign him; they received silence; the Mets told him to shop around and come back. What else are they supposed to do? What else can they do?

Nothing.

Reyes will be presented with offers from other clubs; the Mets might be able to match them; if they can, he’ll stay; if they can’t, he’ll go elsewhere (watch the Angels) and the Mets will move on in a rational, coherent and coldblooded manner to turn the team into a profitable and successful franchise that can spend money to fill holes, but also has players who were developed internally or are unappreciated foundlings that come through.

This is where they are. Stop complaining about it. If you don’t like the product, don’t go to the games and come back when the team is deemed worthwhile for you to spend your money to watch.

Perhaps the Mets would be better off is Alderson was that straightforward about the team. Maybe then the armchair analysts would shut up.

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The Present And Future Of The Mets

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While the situation is still fluid, judging from the reporting of the Mets pending deal with David Einhorn, it’s a mutually beneficial arrangement for both sides.

According to this NY Times article, in brief and to the best of my understanding, Einhorn is infusing the organization with cash to continue operations and will have the option of purchasing the entire team if the Wilpons lose their case in the Madoff mess. If the Wilpons are able to maintain control of the franchise, Einhorn will keep a minority stake and get his investment money back.

The debate as to the wisdom of this will rage with those knowledgable and not weighing in, but from what’s being publicly divulged, it sounds good for both sides.

As for the reactions to a financial guy buying into the Mets and the attempts by the media, bloggers and fans to “influence” the negotiations in some way (stopping Einhorn; entreating Mark Cuban; “forcing” the Wilpons to sell), here’s my advice: wake up.

Using Fred Wilpon’s comments in the new issue of the New Yorker as a cause célèbre is a convenient way to complete a column and try to exert phantom power, but MLB and the Mets aren’t going to care about the desires of outsiders; they’re not going to pursue Cuban and beg him to buy in because some perceive him to be the answer to the Mets prayers; and they’re not going to shun Einhorn because he’s not “of the right background” as if his genealogy is not adequate to gain his membership card; he’s a Wall Street guy and Wall Street guys are the ones with the money.

And, um, the lauded Rays front office is loaded with Wall Street/financial guys.

I discussed the Wilpon comments last week; you can read that posting here.

As for the Mets current struggles on the field, what were you expecting?

This team isn’t good. They’re not equipped to contend even in the watered down National League; they’re in the toughest division in the NL and plainly and simply do not have the talent to hang with the Marlins, Braves and Phillies throughout the summer. Whether they win 73 games; 78 games; 80 games or whatever is largely irrelevant for 2011.

Mets fans don’t want to hear that; Mets club personnel don’t want to say it; but it just is.

This season is designed for GM Sandy Alderson to reconstitute the club from top-to-bottom; that might include trading Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran and Francisco Rodriguez. The borderline derangement at the thought of Reyes either being traded or allowed to leave as a free agent is typical of the response which caused prior club regimes to undertake acts that are now retrospectively ludicrous; maneuvers that were done only to accrue the short burst of positivity that comes from doing what the fans and media want.

The problem is that’s how they got into this mess to begin with.

So Mets fans and analysts have to ask: do we want to aspire to be the Red Sox—who were as much a laughingstock as the Mets are currently before John Henry (another financial guy) bought the team—or do they want to remain the “Mets”; not the noun Mets; it’s the adjective “Mets”—a meaning we don’t have to go into here because it doesn’t need to be explained.

The rampant panic as to the potential loss of Reyes is ignorant of reality. The Mets hired Alderson because he has a history of doing what he feels is right for his organization in lieu of what’s popular. Of course some of that was wrongheaded and selfish as was the case when, as president of the Padres, he tried to validate his role in Moneyball instead of making sound decisions; but given his statements since taking over the Mets, he’s learned from his mistakes as any competent executive must do.

The fleeting nature and crisis-a-day atmosphere is part of the 24-hour news cycle and it can be a detriment to running anything correctly.

This current club is not the one that will return the Mets to glory. Fans calling for the signing of Reyes immediately to preclude his departure; for aggressive (and stupid) player moves are the same fans who wanted Omar Minaya fired for the past 3 years after Minaya did what they called for him to do!

That’s what Jeff Wilpon, Tony Bernazard and the rest of the crew who were in charge of the club since 2004 created.

So conscious of public perception, the Mets were a creation of that stimulus response; it was a vicious circle; the pattern must be interrupted and altered for it to change in the long-term.

Regardless of the residue of what that management did and didn’t do, the Mets under that dysfunction, came close to winning it all in 2006; and were undone by circumstances and self-destruction in 2007 and 2008; by 2009-2010, the entire foundation came crumbling down.

But these things are rebuilt quickly and rarely is it done with one player such as Reyes; if he leaves in one fashion or another, it’s up to Alderson to figure out how to move forward; judging such a departure as catastrophic is short-sighted and leads to desperate stupidity.

Deranged ranting and self-indulgence won’t help this team in 2011, a known “bridge year”; once the sale to Einhorn is complete and the financial health of the club is stabilized, more will be known. They might choose to try and retain Reyes or they might not, but it won’t be that one decision that will make-or-break the franchise; in fact, dealing Reyes might be the building blocks of a return to prominence for the Mets—you don’t know.

The Oliver Perez, Luis Castillo, Reyes, Beltran and possibly K-Rod moneys are all coming off the books; which players from other clubs who might come available in a trade for a variety of reasons renders doomsaying for the future meaningless.

Let it shake itself out and trust the baseball people.

There’s really no other choice.

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I’m administrating a discussion group on TheCopia.com. Click on the link to leave a comment or start a new topic. Check it out.

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Viewer Mail 4.22.2011

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Jason C at 98 On the Black writes RE the Dodgers, Frank McCourt and MLB:

After Mark Cuban almost ended up with the Rangers, the last thing MLB wanted was to have a bankruptcy court deciding who ends up with the club. I’m sure that factored in to why MLB acted now.

I expect litigation because Frank McCourt has nothing to lose at this point. MLB might have to settle just to get him to go away.

I think you’re right. McCourt might win in court, but even if he wins it has the potential to wind up being a USFL type “win” where he gets a dollar.

I would think the same rules apply to MLB deciding who’s allowed to own a club even if there was a bankruptcy case; they still have control over who owns the teams. I’ve never understood the fear of Mark Cuban; he’s flamboyant, but it’s not due to being a fool or meddler—he’s passionate and to the best of my understanding has allowed his basketball people to run the Mavericks (I’m not much for basketball); I’d be perfectly pleased if Cuban bought the Mets with his money, personality and aggressiveness to attract players and fans.

Jeff at Red State Blue State writes RE the Dodgers and McCourt:

He’d have to be a bit crazy to go through with a lawsuit. I’m not convinced he’s NOT crazy. So there ya go. I think MLB made the right decision (ultimately). If you don’t have any money you shouldn’t own a team.

There are two ways of looking at it: one, quit before he’s totally broke—while he can still recoup some of his money and have a portion of his fortune remaining; two, go forward with more legal wrangling, say he’s got nothing to lose and hope he wins.

He does have a legitimate beef with MLB.

They approved him, they have to live with him. As I said earlier in agreeing with Jason, they’ll have to settle to avoid making an already big mess into a radioactive, unsalvageable wasteland.

Mike Luna in The Bleacher Seats writes RE teams with financial issues:

Don’t know if it crossed your desk, but Tom Van Riper at Forbes wrote an article about contracting the Mets, moving the Dodgers back to NY, and moving the Rays or A’s to LA. Thought it might be something you find interesting.

Or, perhaps, this is the sort of thing you’d rather not waste your time on.

Link: http://blogs.forbes.com/tomvanriper/2011/04/21/move-the-dodgers-back-to-brooklyn/

I don’t have a desk. I have a cage and a little rolling table.

I’ll look at the column—it sounds interesting in a fictional sort of way and I’ll bet it makes sense, but think about the contracts; the Players Association; the fans; the media—it would be a logistical nightmare and couldn’t possibly happen.

And why is it the Mets that get contracted? If they’re contracting a team, the Rays are a better choice based on a lack of fan support. I don’t know how they’d decide which teams stayed; which went; and how the whole thing would be coordinated.

Franklin Rabon writes RE Ryan Braun (via Twitter):

You seen this? Who would have thought of the day you and Dave Cameron are in firm agreement? http://goo.gl/z8f6f

Keith Law thought it was a bad idea as well.

These guys may be smartening up. Finally.

What I was thinking about regarding these long term deals given to players like Troy Tulowitzki, Ryan Braun and Evan Longoria is how they’re going to affect future free agent classes.

Slowly, teams choosing to lock up their players will water down the number of big names available. I’m sure player agents are displeased that their own clients are choosing to take short-term payouts at the expense of possible long-term security at huge money; it worked out for Tulowitzki, Braun and Ryan Howard

For a player who decided to shun the long-term offer as Carl Crawford did, he’s in line to get a giant contract when he does go free agent; that will be exacerbated by the paucity of free agents available as a result of the Braun-style contract.

I plan a posting to discuss this in the future.

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I’m administrating a discussion group on TheCopia.com. Click on the link to leave a comment or start a new topic.

****

Please purchase my book, Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide. It’s good for fantasy players and will be useful all year long.

I published a full excerpt of my book here.

It’s available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.

It’s out on Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook.

If anyone would like to purchase an autographed copy, leave a comment; Email me; contact me onFacebook or Twitter.

Become a fan on my Facebook fan page. Click on the link.

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