Monday, February 27, 2012
Fred speaks about Mets future
By Adam Rubin
Mets principal owner Fred Wilpon gave a 22-minute interview to reporters on Monday morning, during which he said seven minority ownership shares already are in escrow waiting to close. Wilpon also spoke about the payroll, his finances, the future of David Wright, why Jose Reyes was allowed to depart and the 2013 All-Star Game, which he's still "optimistic" will be played at Citi Field.
Read the news story here.
Here's the transcript ...
What's your outlook for the Mets this season?
"Well, you know, you always want to feel good and optimistic. I think what Terry [Collins] and Sandy [Alderson] have said is that we're going to surprise a lot of people. I think we have very good players. I think that some of them didn't perform the way they would have liked last year and I think that they have something to prove. Listen, I've been around 33 years and I know it's hard to tell in spring training, but we're very optimistic. We're very optimistic that this team is going to be far better than you all have reported."
What's the status of your finances?
"I'm OK. I've got fives. [Wilpon then pulls out a roll of $5 bills and shows them to reporters]. No, we're OK. I can't talk about anything like that in detail. I can't talk about the lawsuit. But that's proceeding as you all have been reading. And we're proceeding with bringing in partners. We have seven partners ... in terms of groups. We have seven whose money is in escrow because they've been through major league baseball. We have two that are ready to almost finalize in Major League Baseball, and a couple of others that are in the process. It's a real process. If you have three, four people in your group, everybody is vetted. They're all in there. And we hope to be able to close that out shortly."
Is it possible you may have more minority shareholders there than you originally planned?
"Well, if nothing falls out right now, we have more than 10. But you never know. We probably would consider selling 12, because we bought the first two."
When you say 12, how many have no ties to the Mets or your family that are just external buyers who wanted to get into baseball?
"When you say no ties ... "
Excluding things like SNY.
"For example, there are people, friends of 0urs. There's groups, a couple of them, we don't know at all. The SNY group, don't forget they have an interest on both sides, so that was a natural kind of thing."
The Times said it was four shares for SNY. Is that accurate?
"For SNY? Yes."
You cut your payroll dramatically. How concerned should Mets fans be about the future and viability of you owning this franchise?
"Well, they shouldn't be concerned about us owning the franchise, because we intend to own the franchise for a very long time. Whether they're happy about that right now or not, I don't know. Don't forget, we cut a lot of payroll that wasn't producing. If you look at the payroll now, it's fluid. I don't know what's going to happen. I don't know what Sandy is going to do. Many of the people that weren't producing are not here now. Terry just said, yeah, we didn't make many major moves that Sandy and Terry wanted to make, but we're pretty satisfied with some of the people that were coming back from injury, and pretty satisfied with some of the people whose career years were not great last year and they weren't satisfied. They think they have a pretty good team. So do I."
There's been a lot of talk about David Wright's future. Is your intention to try to lock him up and keep him here for good?
"My intention is always to follow what the baseball people [say]. In spite of what you all used to say that we were running the baseball department, Sandy Alderson has a great feel for this. So does Terry. And if it works out, I would be thrilled. I think there's no finer guy. He's just a very fine young man. Any of us who are old enough to have him as a son would be proud to have him as a son."
When can you get payroll back to where it was a few years ago and where you can spend for big free agents?
"Well, that's Sandy view. Sandy, he was the architect when he came in of saying, 'I want to do some things, I want to have some flexibility and I want to have flexibility in the four or five areas that you can have flexibility in.' And that's what he's doing. I don't know whether there's someone out there that he might want. I don't remember a time that we've turned down when the general manager and the manager wanted certain people. Look at our history. For a long period of time, some of it wasn't well-invested. And you criticized us for that, rightfully. So now you have a right to say, 'OK, you'd like seven more stars here.' But if some of these guys become stars then ..."
Isn't Sandy acting within your parameters though? Wouldn't he have treated Jose Reyes differently, or pursued more high-end free agents, if the payroll was set higher?
"Listen, we certainly act in certain broad parameters. But the parameters always change. I think, I'm not sure of this, but I think Sandy made an offer of around $100 million that Jose could have earned if he were healthy. But Jose did what was best for Jose. Jose is a very nice young man and a very good player and we wish him well. I think we've got a very nice young player who will play shortstop this year."
Is it fair to say the contract Reyes got from Miami was more or less a baseball decision as opposed to having anything to do with team finances?
"It was clearly a baseball decision. Are we a little leery of six-year, seven-year, eight-year contracts? Yes. Is Sandy leery of it? You bet. I'm big-time leery of it. So, listen, others have done it. I don't want to criticize anybody else who's done something different. We did different also, and we were burned. That doesn't mean there won't be some player in the future that we think we would do something with longer term, but the history has not been very good."
Is selling this team in your vocabulary?
"As long as I can, I plan to be the owner here."
Twelve shares is the max, because 12 at 4 percent each keeps the collective minority investment at less than 50 percent?
"It's correct arithmetically, but it's really not correct because you can find a lot of ownership where someone might own 20 percent and yet they are the control person."
So you don't have to keep 50.1 percent?
"You don't have to. I doubt whether we would sell significantly more. That's not the plan right now."
How long will it take to be big players in free agency again and in making trades for top echelon players? Will fans have to be patient?
"Well, I think it's a combination. When you say financial things, when I said three years ago that the Mets weren't affected by the [Bernard] Madoff thing, I was telling the truth -- I know you don't want to hear it -- because we weren't sued then. This was prior to the suit, OK. Then did it affect it? Sure. I would tell you let's see how this team plays. Let's see what we need. I can tell you that my view of what I see in winning teams is that they have a core of winning players. And that core usually comes from the minor league system. And then they fill in. May he rest in peace, Gary Carter. Gary Carter came in, I think, '84. He came at the end of '84. ... And Gary was, I don't mean a fill-in, he was a great player, but they were ready for that kind of great player to play around the core that was in place. You look around, Sandy tells me that the number of calls he got on our right fielder, the number of calls he got on the injured first baseman, the number of calls he got on some of these young guys was very significant this winter."
So there's a waiting period for this next generation?
"They've had some experience now. We can be talking six months from now, or three months from now, at the All-Star break, and say this core looks like it matured. He may then want to do something then."
You said you weren't affected by Madoff thing originally. Now, as you stand here, how much have you been affected?
"That's been a motion picture. When it started, there was a really big number out there. Now it's down -- I'm not minimizing it -- but it's down to a different number. So I think the next couple of weeks will tell. Whether there's a trial or no trial, we'll see. I think that things are going to become a lot clearer in the next months."
What would be your message to Mets fans?
"My message would be the same message I said to you: I actually believe we have a far better team, I think the professionals think we have a far better team, than what you all feel. And I would tell them to feel good about it. One of the questions is when do you get back. We've got to win the fans back. Strike that, we've got to win the fans and customers back. They love coming to Citi Field. But we have a diminished population coming to Citi Field. We need that revenue. We just can't do it on air. We need that revenue to support. And the only way we're going to get that revenue is if we have a competitive, interesting team on the field. Otherwise, they're not going to come just because they love Citi Field. And so we're hoping to do that. And we're hoping that trend starts the other direction this year."
Is it hard for you to sit here and talk about a team that could contend as opposed to a team that should dominate the division?
"I've stood here many times when you guys said, 'Well, how soon are you going to win the division? Who are you going to kill in the World Series? I've been through that. I've been through the early '80s, when we had no one, to all of a sudden '83, was it when we started to have someone? And '84. And then '85. And the core developed. Sure, I would love to stand here and say we're All-Stars at every position. By the way, you can have All-Stars at every position and you know damn well that doesn't mean you win."
Could the result of the court proceeding have any impact on Wright's future?
"No, they're not tied in."
For clarity, when you said as many as 12 shares, you mentioned two that your family purchased -- Jeff and Saul. Is that included in the 12?
"The family bought the two to begin with to start the process, and then we said we would sell 10."
So it could be as many as 12 including the two family members?
"Up to 10 more."
How much has the payroll been affected by Madoff? Would Jose Reyes still be here?
"I've said, no, because I don't think Sandy would have made the kind of arrangement that he was able to make elsewhere. I think Sandy offered $100 million if he stayed on the field and that he could earn. And the amount of time was less time than he got elsewhere. So that was Sandy's decision. Absolutely Sandy's decision."
That was your decision to cut the payroll, no? You said in the magazine piece last year it was likely going to $100 million.
"Remember we had payroll that wasn't even on the field. And some of it on the field wasn't very productive. We knew we weren't going to keep certain of that payroll."
You could have brought people in to raise the payroll to the $140 million, or even to $120 million.
"But your correlation is higher payroll, better team in every single case. And I'm not sure that it's proven to be the case. The Mets have had the highest payroll, within the top five, for numbers of years. And we weren't successful."
Was the amount of money you're spending affected by Madoff?
"No, because it was affected by the revenues we got. It was affected by the operations of the team and what the team was doing. Don't forget, it's been a motion picture. There was a point when the suit was almost three times what it is now. It seems to be, hopefully, going in the right direction. It has some effect, but that was not the deciding factor."
The 2013 All-Star Game at Citi Field has not been announced yet. Can that be announced before you pay back the $25 million loan to MLB?
"The loan has nothing to do with it. I think that the hold-up in the announcement is conditions have changed for New York City and their finances and what they can do. ... We're very optimistic we will have the All-Star Game in 2013."
Once the minority ownership shares close you'll repay the loan from MLB?
"Yes. None of the money that's coming in, by the way, is going out. All of the money that's going in is staying in the club."
Close soon and favorable in next several weeks?
"I don't want to comment. I'm always optimistic. But I don't want to comment about what's happening now in the courts."
What will it allow you to do in practical terms when you get the minority investors closed?
"It will be better for the organization because we'll pay off a lot of debt. We'll reduce the first mortgage on the team debt. And we will have additional ready cash to run the team."