Alderson: Cloud lifted, farm still priority

Sandy Alderson said a cloud had been lifted with the settlement of the one-time $1 billion lawsuit against team owners Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz and their family.

"From just an overall organizational standpoint, the landscape today is a lot brighter than it was two or three days ago, going into a potential three-week trial," Alderson said. "Obviously we're very happy for Fred and Saul. And putting something behind us that has been an overhang for the franchise for well over a year -- just about from the time I arrived -- I think is a real plus."

Asked whether he meant "overhang" referred to the litigation cloud or actual payroll constraints, Alderson added: "I think just the overall perception of the franchise was significantly affected. You know, what I've said before with respect to baseball operations and our payroll is that, to a large extent, what we're doing has been independent of the Madoff litigation. The fact is we lost quite a bit of money over the last couple of years. We have to create a more sustainable operation. And that relates to putting a good product on the field. That's what we're about.

Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

Sandy Alderson spoke about Mets finances Tuesday, a day after a settlement in the Madoff-related lawsuit against Mets owners.

"On the other hand, there's no question the Madoff litigation had an impact on many of the things we do, and certainly the perception of many of things that we've done. Almost everything was interpreted in light of the Madoff litigation and the potential liability. For example, we eliminated a minor league team this year. The fact is we had a very bloated system, very bureaucratic because of the numbers of players and affiliates and so forth. It made absolute baseball sense to eliminate a franchise, at least for the moment, given where our system is. And yet what was essentially a baseball decision was interpreted in light of the Madoff litigation and other financial issues.

"So having moved beyond that now, I think we as a franchise have a chance to go through sort of an evolutionary process to get us back to where we want to be. The immediate impact on our payroll is going to be negligible. The last time I heard, Albert Pujols already had signed for 2012. So those opportunities are past us. I do think the overall environment will be much more positive and will allow us and fans to focus more on the team and less on the other externalities, if you will. I think those externalities have affected people's view of the team. I think that's been unfortunate, but inevitable. And hopefully all of this will change that."

The Mets have been in the financial Catch-22 of needing fan attendance/revenue in order to spur spending, while fans are less enthusiastic because the team has not spent to excite them. Will the combination of the settlement and infusion of $240 million from minority investors, which largely is going to pay down debt, spur a change in that pattern? Or will the Mets' near-term success remain almost entirely dependent on what the farm system produces?

"I think what we've been looking for is flexibility -- the flexibility to adopt the kind of [spending] strategy you described, at least having it as an option," Alderson said. "I certainly believe what has transpired makes that more possible. But, at the same time, as I've said, we're going through a process of redirection and sort of reinvigoration, if you will. That takes a little bit of time and a little bit of patience. But I do believe having put this behind us and the likelihood of this major investment in the team allows us a greater array of options going forward.

"There's no question: We have to put a better product on the field, and ultimately that means winning. Last year I think we made inroads into the overall perception of the team. But, look, we finished with 77 wins. That's the bottom line. Then I think in the offseason we didn't make any acquisitions of significant note, Jose [Reyes] went to Miami -- notwithstanding the return of a number of players. And the background noise of Madoff litigation, it was a perfect storm. So I think the clouds are parting. But, at the same time, we have to do a good job on the baseball side.

"I think our guys have done a great job of focusing on the baseball, but it's hard to ignore everything else entirely. So we need to continue to focus on the game and put a good product on the field. If that means it's a product with $90 million payrolls or something else remains to be seen. But we've got to give people a reason to come back to the ballpark. That's our mission."

Still, Alderson insisted, how the team approaches David Wright's eventual contract expiring is not dramatically different than a few weeks ago.

"I don't think so," Alderson said. "No."

Alderson would not entertain a question about whether Reyes might have been treated differently had Monday's dual events -- the minority ownership sale completion and lawsuit settlement -- had been achieved months earlier.

"That's speculation," the GM said. "So I can't answer that question."

Wilpon, during a lengthy interview with reporters early in camp, put a lot of onus for the $90 million payroll on Alderson's penchant for conservative spending. It hardly seemed fair to assert, though, that Alderson of his own volition created such drastic constraints.

Asked if his boss, Wilpon, was scapegoating him to a certain extent, Alderson said: "Look, there are a lot of things that were going on at the same time. The litigation was percolating. There was the hope of closing an investment. So lots of things going on, lots of considerations, some of them conflicting with one another. From my standpoint, where we are is very reasonable given where we've been and the need to transition and get to a place that we would like to be and have been before -- and that's with a winning team that inspires people to come to the ballpark."

But was Wilpon putting the onus on Alderson unfair?

"No, I don't think so," the GM said. "I've always said with respect to certain decisions, it's my job to convince the owner that my recommendation should be followed. In this particular case, we're in that ballpark. I don't have any misgivings about that before."

Wilpon, in the same interview where he placed the onus on Alderson for the $90 million payroll, also suggested that because the Mets have been burned by larger contracts, the organization now will shy away from those. Are the Mets done with big contracts as an organization -- not just six- and seven-years deals, but less years with large annual payouts?

"I wouldn't say we're out of the business of good contracts," Alderson replied. "But I do think you have to be realistic about the risks associated with those contracts. Whether we do five in the next two or three years, or none, or 10, there's going to be a lot of risk associated with it. And I think that over the last two or three years, perhaps, some of that risk has been realized. And we all have to just understand that -- that there's not just one panacea. Ultimately the best solution for the Mets is to build a strong core of young players who are coming through the system and can be continuously coming through the system. I think if you look at what we have now, we've got the potential for that kind of core. But it's a next generation, together with some of the players who have been here longer term."

As for Monday's developments collectively, Alderson said: "It may not affect us immediately, but I think this changed landscape may provide some options that may not otherwise have existed. To me, there are two significant impacts from this settlement. One is that obviously from a financial standpoint Fred and Saul and the Mets are in a much better position today than say a year ago when the trustee was looking for far more in damages. The second thing is that there is finality now to this. It's very possible that even a positive outcome in the trial could have been subject to appeals, could have been an overhang for the next two or three years.

"First of all, it's totally misguided this notion fans have about the Wilpons' desire to win. Until very recently they were putting out top dollar for players. There's no reason to believe their passion for winning has changed significantly. I don't believe that."

Will the remaining debt with which the team is saddled mean continued austerity?

"Look," Alderson said. "There are so many things that we could speculate about. We could talk about the debt. We could talk about the increased value of the franchise given what's going on with other teams that are in market today. I mean, there are so many different variables that I think it's unwise, and to a certain extent unfair, to focus only on, 'Let's talk about the debt.' Well, let's talk about the fact that the team may be worth $2 billion. And could that affect how the team is operated? Sure. Could a stronger real-estate market in the city of New York affect how the team is operated? Yeah. There are all kinds of things that could happen. Among them, the resolution of the Madoff case and the probable investment in the team, those are good things."