According to Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork.com, New York Mets principal owner Fred Wilpon has claimed that his family’s financial woes are a thing of the past, and the Mets are ready to spend to become contenders again.
These claims raise two major questions: Do the Wilpons really have money now? And if so, are they really ready to spend it on the Mets?
Wilpon has been quiet for a while about the financial status of his family and of the Mets, who are still recovering from the Ponzi scheme of Bernie Madoff. Madoff’s friendship with the Wilpon family was well-publicized, and as the New York Times feature portrays, Madoff played a clear role in the Mets finances as well.
After Madoff’s Ponzi scheme was revealed, the Wilpons were sued for $1 billion by Irving Picard. Picard is the trustee who is trying to recover losses on behalf of Madoff’s victims. But earlier this week, also according to Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork.com, the Wilpons now only owe $86 million after settling with Picard.
This is obviously a huge win for the family. But there is a reason this settlement ended up so lenient.
According to an affidavit by Picard, he essentially lost interest last April in seriously pursuing money from the Wilpons when it was revealed that they didn’t have a significant amount of money; continuing the lawsuit wouldn't have been worthwhile for him.
Another worthy argument casting doubt on the Wilpons’ willingness to spend now is the team’s recent pursuit of star outfielder, Michael Bourn.
It is no secret that the Mets were strongly interested in signing Bourn for weeks. However, Bourn inked an out-of-nowhere deal this week with the Cleveland Indians for four years and $48 million, with a fifth-year vesting option.
Immediately after Bourn signed elsewhere, GM Sandy Alderson let it be known that the Mets offered basically the same contract, but without the fifth-year option. But in Alderson’s tenure, the only contract worth over $4 million was given to injury-riddled and inconsistent closer Frank Francisco.
Yet the real eye-opening aspect of the Bourn deal is with regards to the 11th pick of the Mets in the upcoming draft.
Under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, if a team loses one of the top free agents to another team, the player’s original team is entitled to a first-round draft pick as compensation. However, the first 10 picks of each draft are protected from that compensation.
The Mets originally had the No. 10 pick in this year’s draft, but because the Pittsburgh Pirates failed to sign their first-round pick last season, they received a top-10 pick this year to make up for it. This bumped the Mets down to No. 11, which also meant their pick was no longer protected.
If the Mets signed Bourn, they would have given up that newly unprotected pick as compensation rather than a second-round pick, which was a steep price to them.
But here’s the catch: If the Mets were supposedly so publicly interested in Bourn, and willing to offer much more money to him than any free agent in recent years, why is it that they never even attempted to appeal for their draft pick?
Filing a case against losing the 11th pick was expected to take only 2-3 weeks.
I understand the reluctance to give Bourn’s agent, Scott Boras, any sort of leverage, but the months of free agency are over. Why not go through the hearing process, which the Mets were expected to win, and have that in your back pocket in case the market for Bourn disappeared over free agency?
And considering that Bourn was signed just days before spring training, that market did indeed dissipate.
The lone argument, tweeted by Joel Sherman of New York Post, is that if the Mets got a favorable ruling, then this would have given Boras incentive to force the Mets to offer even more money.
On paper, this argument does have merit.
Boras is notorious for holding off in free agency in pursuit of mega deals, which he usually receives. Bourn’s value lies primarily with his speed. He is entering the wrong side of 30, and perhaps is not worth much more than $12 million per year into his mid-30s.
With all this evidence at hand, it is conceivable that the front office was never even interested in Bourn at all.
Think about it.
The general theme of these rumors about the Mets and Bourn is that the Mets "expressed interest," and that the draft pick predicament remained the primary roadblock. But the Mets also engaged only in informal discussions about the draft pick. For being such a major barrier to the Mets signing Bourn, they did very little to get rid of it.
And yet, hours after Bourn was signed, Alderson claims the normally cash-strapped Mets offered the same contract without the fifth-year option, despite openly admitting that losing the draft pick was not an option for the team.
None of it adds up.
Even more, Bourn is far and away the last expensive fielder left on the free agent market. Therefore, is it also a coincidence that Wilpon’s claims of being financially sound come exactly one day after Bourn goes off the market?
Timing is everything. Fred Wilpon claims that the Mets have the money to spend "now," if they choose to.
But free agency is over. The offseason is over. Wilpon will have an entire season until he has to worry about backing up these claims.
The Mets also have about $50 million in contracts coming off the books at the end of 2013, including Jason Bay, Johan Santana and Francisco. So obviously, the Mets will have money to spend on next year’s free agents, regardless of the financial status of the Wilpons. There are a number of high-profile free agents in 2014, including Jacoby Ellsbury, Robinson Cano and Shin-Soo Choo.
It will be interesting to see which ones the Mets front office will "express interest" in, especially since all three are clients of Scott Boras.
This is all not to say there is no hope for the marriage between the Wilpons, Sterling Equities and the Mets.
The Wilpons have presumably been working privately for years to recover losses from the Madoff scandal, and it is anyone’s guess how well that is going. There is also a chance Fred Wilpon isn’t lying, and his family does indeed have zero remaining debt.
He may even be using his words carefully, as zero "personal" debt could have no bearing whatsoever on the financial status of Sterling Equities and the Mets.
But the Wilpons were clearly decimated after the Madoff scandal hit. They have been slowly riding out the storm, with the Mets riding alongside.
To Alderson’s credit, he has done a phenomenal job with the little money the Wilpons have given him. He has gotten rid of massive contracts on aging stars for huge prospects. Most recently, he acquired top catching prospect Travis d’Arnaud in a deal that included R.A. Dickey.
But perhaps the best deal of his quiet tenure was trading a rental Carlos Beltran to the San Francisco Giants for a few months to get future ace Zack Wheeler.
It is intriguing to think of what Alderson could accomplish with more financial resources.
But I think I speak for all Mets fans when I say this about Wilpon’s claims of departed financial woes and aggressive future spending: I’ll believe it when I see it.