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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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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