News broke this week that Mets majority owner Fred Wilpon and his son Jeff are being implicated in a lawsuit looking to recoup some of the losses of the now infamous Bernie Madoff ponzi scheme. The Wilpon's are reportedly one of the only members of Madoff's numerous investors to have positively gained from the scheme, and the trustee leading the lawsuit is looking for hundreds of millions of dollars from the owners of the Mets. The trustee alleges that they, as longtime and successful investors, should have known Madoff was operating a fraud. The trust is looking to repay those who lost money from Madoff by targeting those few who profited.
As a result, the Mets announced this week that they are looking for candidates to buy a minority stake in the franchise in case the Wilpon's suddenly find their pockets several hundred million dollars lighter. What will this mean for the Mets? And what does it mean for their ability to compete in the National League East in the years to come? Right now we can only speculate, although one thing is for sure, based on how the team has conducted itself this past winter it looks like they may be preparing themselves to operate as a smaller market team for the next several years.
To gain some perspective, we caught up with Joe Janish from Mets Today to get a New York fan's point of view:
"The recent news coming from Flushing -- that the Wilpons are looking to sell off part of the team -- confirms the suspicions of the pessimistic Mets fans and conspiracy theorists: that the Wilpons are knee-deep in the Madoff scandal, and the team's finances are adversely affected by it.
This is only the tip of the iceberg, I fear; we'll find out much worse things as the lawsuit drags on. As a Mets fan it's frustrating to know that our team plays in the largest market in the country but has to operate financially as a small-market club -- a New York team should be able to outspend its mistakes. And unless something changes with the ownership, it sounds like it's going to be that way for a few years -- despite the fact a ton of money is coming off the books after the 2011 season."
To drive Janish's point home, the Mets uncharacteristically made no major moves this winter, and have been rumored, very quietly, to be shopping some of their best players. The club also went out and signed a general manager, Sandy Alderson, who made a career helping small market teams become successful, a sign that they may need that type of leadership. A thrifty New York Mets is something that we haven't seen in decades, and something that, if it comes true, could change the balance of the division for years.
The Washington Nationals made a statement this winter that they are now willing to spend to be taken seriously. The club went out and made a huge splash when they signed Jayson Werth to an above market value contract, and they generated more collective buzz than they had in their entire franchise history when they made seriously strong push's for former Cy Young winners Cliff Lee and Zack Greinke. While they only added one major player, they were in the hunt to make the sort of moves the Mets have been making in the past.
It was a good thing that Washington was active this winter because the National League East found itself in a bit of an arms race. The Philadelphia Phillies, who already were World Series contenders, slipped in and took Cliff Lee out from the noses of the Nationals, Rangers, and Yankees. The Braves added Dan Uggla to go with super prospects Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman, and the Marlins added Omar Infante to an already talented young roster spurred by Mike Stanton and Hanley Ramirez.
Yet, despite the incredible growth within the division, the Mets stayed stagnant. Instead of going out and even attempting to woo the talent in free-agency this winter, they decided to bank on their talented, but often injured base. Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes, David Wright, and Jason Bay could certainly help fill out a line up strong enough to compete...if they can all stay on the field. There are many questions in their roster that could have been addressed this winter but instead were left in limbo.
The Mets are certainly at a crossroads, and if their gamble on their aging and oft-injured lineup doesn't pay off...they could find themselves falling behind the National League East arms race.