Sooner or later there was bound to be an N.L. East team that was worse than the Nationals, and now it turns out there likely will be. This is hardly a palliative for long-suffering Nationals fans, particularly since the death spiral of the team in question has as much to do with its off-field woes as it does with its on-field performance. Or more. The New York Mets have had troubles putting together a coherent line-up for some time now, but news that the Mets’ owners, the Wilpon family, are having trouble balancing the books is probably the last piece of evidence anyone needs to show that the Mets are not what they once were. Of course, we’ve said this before: last year, CFG announced immodestly that the Nats would finish ahead of the Mets in the “N.L. Least” — words that we had to eat ignore when a final accounting came do. Never fear: this is the year of the Nats.
And, in many ways, it’s also the year of the Mets. Rumors started to circulate early last season that the Mets were having financial troubles, the result of Bernie Madoff’s siren song financial promises to Mets owner Fred Wilpon. It’s not known exactly how much Wilpon lost in the Madoff scandal, but it was appreciable enough for Wilpon to ask Major League Baseball for a $25 million loan. Commissioner Bud Selig, a Wilpon fan, tossed over the money, hoping to stabilize the franchise and keep the team out of bankruptcy. It was that bad. Selig then recommended Wilpon hire baseball guru Sandy Alderson — and, as any businessman will tell you, when the bank holding your paper makes a suggestion, you usually take it. As it turns out, the $25 million-plus-Alderson may not be enough. New York newspapers are awash with reports that the team faces a mid-season fire sale of some of its best players just to stay afloat; that, or the Mets will relieve their financial distress by finding new owners.
The impact of this is being felt on the field. New York’s John Delcos’ writes: an ownership transition may be in the works, which means the Mets “will attempt to deal Carlos Beltran this July, doing everything it can from having Francisco Rodriguez’s $17.5 million option kick in, and after the season ridding itself of Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo.” Can franchise cornerstone David Wright be far behind? Writing in the New York Post, Joel Sherman says Alderson’s job will be to slash the Mets’ payroll from $140 million to $70 million — which means everything (and everyone) will be on the table. The Wilpons, Sherman writes “are fighting ardently to retain the team, and it would not be unique for an ownership in financial hell to make its costliest players available. For the Mets, that would mean not only the free-agents-to-be, Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes, but also Jason Bay, Francisco Rodriguez, Johan Santana, and, yes, even seeing what would be available for organizational icon David Wright.”
There isn’t anything here that is fair to Mets’ fans, who don’t like the Wilpons to begin with: they’re the ones who will have to watch as the Mets are made to pay for the Wilpons’ poor judgment. Nor is it particularly just to note that the Chokes (we promised not to use that term, but then . . .) were breaking down even before Bernie’s appearance — Jose Reyes is not the same player he was in 2006, Carlos Beltran continues to fight injuries, David Wright is having trouble hitting the long ball in the new stadium, Johan Santana’s arm is hanging by a thread and Oliver Perez is, well . . . you know. “I don’t think any NL East team would trade all the players in their organization for those of the Mets,” Sherman writes. “Even the Nationals can imagine their next three-to-seven years being better than the Mets’ simply by having Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg under control.” Which is only to conclude with this irony — while Nats fans complain endlessly about the Lerners (the “slow Lerners” as one of our readers recently commented), compared to the Wilpons they look absolutely enlightened.