New York Mets: Jed S. Rakoff

Judge approves Madoff-Wilpon deal

May, 31, 2012
Judge Jed S. Rakoff on Thursday evening has approved the settlement agreement between Mets owner Fred Wilpon, brother-in-law Saul Katz and their family and trustee Irving Picard, who is charged with recovering money for victims of Bernard Madoff's Ponzi scheme.

The formality cements previously agreed upon terms.

The family agreed to repay $162.7 million in profits from certain Madoff investments made over a six-year period. But the Wilpons will never pay anything close to that amount.

That's because the Wilpons can apply to the trustee like other victims to recover $177.6 million in losses from other Madoff investments -- and deduct whatever is recovered from the amount owed in the settlement. The Wilpons, like other victims, will not receive 100 percent of their loss claim, but they likely will recover more than half.

Read the full news story here.

Mets morning briefing 4.14.12

April, 14, 2012
R.A. Dickey delivered his 14th straight quality start, the longest active streak in the majors, and Jason Bay and Scott Hairston went deep against Cliff Lee as the Mets beat the Phillies, 5-2, Friday night at Citizens Bank Park. Washington rallied on an eighth-inning homer by Xavier Nady and eventually beat Cincinnati, 2-1, in 13 innings, so the Mets (5-2) remained a half-game out of first place.

Saturday's news reports:

David Wright indicated Friday that his fractured right pinkie was too swollen to even curl around the bat. Unless there was dramatic overnight improvement, Wright appeared headed to the DL before today's 4:05 p.m. matchup between Jon Niese and Vance Worley. A team source told that Josh Satin would be expected to be activated for a bench role if Wright does, in fact, end up on the DL. Daniel Murphy, who had a difficult time on three double plays Wednesday, and who committed a game-prolonging ninth-inning error Friday, would shift to third base for the time being, with Ronny Cedeno and Justin Turner sharing second. Read more in Newsday, the Star-Ledger, Post, Times and Daily News.

Josh Thole felt embarrassed by a baserunning gaffe during Friday's game. On what should have been a second-inning sacrifice bunt by Dickey, Thole -- approaching second -- inexplicably turned around and headed back to first base. He was tagged out for a double play. Read more in the Post and Record.

• Bay's two-run homer in the first inning was his first long ball since last Sept. 8, against Atlanta's Mike Minor. He had a total of one RBI entering the series between spring training and the first six games of the season. Bay had been 4-for-33 with no RBI in nine games at Citizens Bank Park as a Met. With Wright out, Bay is the Mets' best righty-hitting power threat. Writes columnist Kevin Kernan in the Post regarding Bay:

It’s now or never for Bay and he knows it. “It’s a big time for me,’’ Bay told The Post last night after the left fielder finally came up with a big at-bat in the Mets’ 5-2 win over the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. Bay crushed a two-run home run to right-center in the first inning off Cliff Lee.

• Read Friday's game recaps in the Record, Star-Ledger, Post, Times, Daily News, Newsday and Journal.

• Top prospect Zack Wheeler's second Double-A start proved a marked improvement from his Binghamton Mets debut. Wheeler allowed one run and five hits while striking out nine. He did not issue any walks, but hit three batters. In his first game as a B-Met, Wheeler had allowed two runs on four hits, three walks and a hit batter in three innings. Read the full minor league recap here.

• The trustee recovering funds for victims of Bernard Madoff's Ponzi scheme filed the official settlement paperwork with the U.S. District Court on Friday regarding the original $1 billion civil suit against Fred Wilpon, his family and their businesses and charities. Judge Jed S. Rakoff should approve the settlement at a May 15 hearing.

Terry Collins said he may, in fact, start lefty-hitting Kirk Nieuwenhuis against Cole Hamels on Sunday, rather than have a straight platoon with Hairston in center field. Collins reasoned that he does not want to have a rookie not starting two of three games in the series. Read more in the Star-Ledger.

Jenrry Mejia has started to face batters as he rehabs from May 16, 2011 Tommy John surgery, while D.J. Carrasco (ankle) has resumed lightly throwing off a mound. There has not been significant progress with Pedro Beato's shoulder. And Andres Torres (calf) is not yet running.

• At Yankee Stadium with the Los Angeles Angels, Jason Isringhausen expressed appreciation to the Mets for reviving his career, and suggested he wanted to re-sign with the organization for 2012. “I wanted to come back,” Isringhausen told Dan Martin in the Post. “We talked to Sandy [Alderson] and he said to call him before I went anywhere. But, by the time I got the deal here, they had already brought all those guys in. ... I’m still thankful they gave me the chance. And Sandy called to wish me luck. But I’m glad I wound up here and I think we have a chance to win.”

Ken Belson and Mary Pilon in the Times look into the use of Toradol in sports. Mets pitchers Mike Pelfrey and Dickey repeatedly have used the drug before starts, and Johan Santana used it at least once late in spring training. Write Belson and Pilon:

Toradol, a brand name for ketorolac, is among a family of drugs called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Doctors put it in the same class as ibuprofen (like Advil) and Alevel. But unlike those drugs, Toradol can be injected, as well as taken orally, and can act more quickly. It is most commonly used in emergency rooms and post-operation wards to help patients manage short-term inflammation and pain, but athletes are turning to it to deal with inflammation and pain.

The use of Toradol, which is made by a number of drug manufacturers, was at the center of a lawsuit filed in December by a dozen retired N.F.L. players who said the league and its teams repeatedly and indiscriminately administered the drug before and during games, thus worsening injuries like concussions. (The league disputed the claims.) The suit claimed that the use of Toradol was rampant in the N.F.L., with players lining up in their locker rooms before games to receive injections, a process the players called a cattle call. According to the complaint, no warnings were given and there was “no distinguishing between different medical conditions of the players, and regardless of whether the player had an injury of any kind.”

TRIVIA: How many homers has Bay hit as a Met, through Friday?

Friday's answer: When Cole Hamels lost consecutive 1-0 starts to the Mets in August 2010, he opposed Santana and Dickey.

Mets morning briefing 3.20.12

March, 20, 2012
After an eventful off-day, much of the narrative about the Mets' looming financial ruin is due to take a backseat for the near future.

First, at the U.S. District Courthouse in lower Manhattan on Monday morning, the parties in the Bernard Madoff-related lawsuit against Fred Wilpon and family announced they had settled the case for $162 million. In reality, the Wilpons ultimately will be responsible for repaying far less than that sum, since trustee Irving Picard will allow the family to claim losses of $178 million from other Madoff investments. The Wilpons won't be reimbursed that entire $178 million sum, but the fraction to which they are entitled to recoup after Picard collects money from net winners in the Ponzi scheme will be deducted from the $162 million they owe in the settlement. Also relevant: The Wilpons will not have to pay Picard whatever they ultimately owe until 2016 and 2017.

Secondly, word came that the Wilpons successfully had received a $240 million equity infusion from minority investors, allowing them to pay off a $25 million emergency loan from Major League Baseball and a $40 million bridge loan from Bank of America. The investment -- albeit with at least half coming from SportsNet New York, Jeff Wilpon and Saul Katz -- should allow the Wilpons to withstand any 2012 operating losses and meet immediate debt obligations without jeopardizing their ownership of the team in the near term.

Still, this does not mean the days of payroll austerity have ended for the Mets.

More may come Tuesday when the Wilpons are expected to be at Mets camp in Port St. Lucie, Fla.

Tuesday's news reports:

• Although the consensus is the Wilpons fared very well with the settlement, both sides had compelling reasons to reach a compromise, which was brokered by former New York Governor Mario Cuomo. Even if the Wilpons felt they did not act in bad faith in their investments with Madoff, a jury could have found otherwise and awarded Picard an additional $303 million aside from the up to $83.3 million to which Judge Jed S. Rakoff already had decided the trustee would be entitled. On the other side, by settling for $162 million -- the Wilpons' profits from certain funds in the six years before Madoff's arrest -- Picard restored that six-year clawback period as the appropriate standard. Rakoff had ruled that Picard could only go back two years, which would have capped the amount Picard could have recovered at $83.3 million -- unless the trustee could have demonstrated to a jury that the Wilpons acted "willfully blind" to Madoff's Ponzi scheme. The Wilpons, as part of the settlement, are free and clear of any bad-faith accusations.

Wrote Anthony M. Destefano and Steven Marcus in Newsday regarding Cuomo's role as mediator:

About 10 days ago, he called Wilpon and Katz again into his office at Willkie Farr & Gallagher in Manhattan for a frank talk. "They came. I spoke to them, I simply made the pitch. 'This is your last chance,' " recalled Cuomo. Then, in the past week lawyers for Picard, Wilpon and [Saul] Katz started to hunker down for some serious deal making. Each knew a trial had risks. "Number one, they may lose. Number two, they may win and then face an appeal. Number three, in either case it's going to cost a fortune," Cuomo said. Lawyers for Picard and the Mets owners swapped proposals and counterproposals through Cuomo, his partner Brian E. O'Connor and firm associate Emma J. James. At times, opposing lawyers talked directly by phone. What solidified the deal for Wilpon and Katz was Picard's willingness to drop his claim they were willfully blind to Madoff's fraud, an allegation that stung them deeply -- and could have cost them $303 million in damages if it stuck.

Read more settlement coverage in the Journal, Times, Daily News, Post, Star-Ledger and Newsday.

• The $240 million equity infusion -- which comes in $20 million blocks each worth 4 percent of the team -- averts any short-term danger of the Wilpons being unable to meet their debt obligations. The only known investor without existing ties to the Mets is Steve Cohen, who is a finalist to purchase the majority share of the Los Angeles Dodgers, which would force him to divest his new share of the Mets.

In addition to paying back the $25 million to MLB and $40 million to Bank of America with the newly infused funds, Josh Kosman in the Post reports, $100 million of the money immediately went to pay down roughly $430 million in team debt. Kosman wrote:

The Mets have not refinanced their remaining loans, but have bought the team goodwill. Last year, team lender JPMorgan wrote a letter warning that the team had breached its debt covenants. The owners first must prove they can come close to hitting their budget after missing it badly the last two years, one source said. In 2011, the Mets lost roughly $70 million. After big payroll cuts in the off-season, the team could break even this year.

Marc Ganis, the president of a prominent sports consulting firm, told Newsday: "This is a good day for the Wilpons, but their financial troubles with the Mets are still very significant. It's really a situation that needs a lot of work before Mets fans can start feeling like a corner has turned."

Read more on the minority ownership sale in the Journal and Daily News.

• Columnist Bob Klapsich believes Mets fans are losers in the settlement. Writes Klapisch:

So it’s fair for Mets fans to ask the Wilpons what’s in store, other than years and years of debt pay-down. The family owes $430 million in principal of a loan against the team, due in 2014. They owe $450 million in principal of a loan against SNY, back in 2015. They owe an estimated $600 million, due in $25 million increments every six months, on the ballpark. These are the fiscal realities that figure to keep the Mets locked in a nasty catch-22. They haven’t had enough extra cash to upgrade the roster, but without enough on-field talent to compete with, say, the Phillies and Marlins, let alone the Braves and Nationals, how are the Wilpons going to generate ticket-sales that would fund a renaissance? columnist Ian O'Connor has similar concerns about the Wilpons as owners. Writes O'Connor:

The Mets are a big-market joke with small-market bottom lines, and Wilpon's dreadful decisions in business and baseball are to blame. His fan base wants him out, and even the Mets' loyal, good-natured customers were hoping for some outcome before a judge and jury that left them with a new rich guy in charge. So when Mario Cuomo, the Kissinger of this case, told reporters outside federal court in Manhattan that this resolution would allow Mets owners to "return to normalcy," no season-ticket holder was seen popping open a bottle of chilled champagne. For Mets fans, normalcy is a team in the world's biggest, noisiest marketplace that slashes payroll by more than $50 million.

Anthony McCarron in the Daily News got brief reaction to the settlement. "As players, we’ve never been preoccupied with Madoff, but we understand it’s a huge burden lifted off the shoulders of Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz,” R. A. Dickey told McCarron. Said Terry Collins: "I’m glad this episode is in the past now."

• The Mets return to action Tuesday at 6 p.m. against the Washington Nationals after a team day off. They are winless in their past nine Grapefruit League games and have the worst exhibition record in baseball at 3-11-1. On a positive note, Daniel Murphy and Ruben Tejada are expected to start against the Nats in the middle infield. The two have logged only six innings together in Grapefruit League play because Tejada has nursed a groin injury for the past week. Read more in Newsday.

Andrew Keh in the Times wonders what the settlement means for the future of David Wright. Writes Keh:

The theory was that the Mets, if they found themselves buried in the standings this summer, would be tempted to trade Wright to a contender before the July 31 trading deadline and receive prospects in exchange. But that was before Monday’s settlement did away with the financial threat the trustee posed. Whether Wilpon might now feel more tempted to try to keep Wright for the long term remains to be seen. But he might, if for no other reason than to send a signal to the team’s discontented fan base that he is willing to make at least one investment in the team’s future at some point this season. Jose Reyes was let go this winter without a fight; letting fans know that Wright might be staying put might soothe some wounds.

TRIVIA: Who led the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons in steals last season?

(Monday's answer: The trial was due to begin Monday in the Daniel Patrick Moynihan U.S. Courthouse on Pearl Street in lower Manhattan, which was named for the late U.S. Senator from New York.)

Rapid Reaction: Wilpons settle for $162M

March, 19, 2012

WHAT HAPPENED: The owners of the New York Mets have settled with trustee Irving Picard for $162 million, their alleged profit from certain Ponzi scheme funds in the six years before Bernard Madoff's arrest.

In reality, Fred Wilpon and family will be on the hook for only a fraction of that amount -- and will not be required to make any payments until 2016 and 2017.

That's because, as part of the settlement, the Wilpons will be able to apply to the trustee to be reimbursed for $178 million in losses from certain funds. Obviously, like any victims of Madoff's Ponzi scheme, they won't recover every dollar. But they will get a certain percentage based on how much the trustee collects overall from net winners -- likely 50 percent or more.

As a result, the Wilpons' actual payment to Picard -- once the Wilpons' loser funds are reimbursed like other victims -- should be a fraction of the actual $162 million settlement.

Say if Picard pays to victims 50 cents on the dollars they lost. That means the Wilpons could be credited $89 million (half of $178 million) toward their $162 million owed as a result of the settlement. That's a net of only $73 million remaining to pay Picard to satisfy the settlement.

Any disbursements owed by Picard to Wilpon loser funds over the next three years will be deducted from the $162 million owed by the Wilpons to Picard in the settlement. The Wilpons then will owe the remaining amount in equal installments in four and five years.

The lawsuit sought to recover $386 million. Judge Jed S. Rakoff previously had decided that Picard likely was entitled to at least $83.3 million in profits from the two years before Madoff's arrest.

The original suit was for $1 billion, but it was reduced by Rakoff, who decided that Picard could only recover money from the Wilpons from the immediate two years before Madoff's arrest, not the six years Picard advocated. The settlement, while not overturning Rakoff's decision, does establish for the trustee six years as an acceptable period to recover profits.

The settlement talks were brokered by former New York governor Mario Cuomo.

WHAT IT MEANS: It's unlikely the Wilpons would have settled unless they felt they could withstand that financial obligation without jeopardizing their ownership of the team.

Still, the Wilpons are not out of the woods yet as owners.

Remember, the Mets still have a ton of debt unrelated to the lawsuit. Among the more immediate obligations are a $40 million bridge loan from Bank of America and $25 million emergency loan from Major League Baseball. UPDATE: The Mets have paid those immediate loan obligations thanks for a $240 million equity infusion from minority investors, many of which had existing ties to the ballclub.

You can read about the extent of the debt in Part 1 and Part 2 of the financial series from from late January.

WHAT'S NEXT: Back to baseball, hopefully.

Actually, it's going to still be the Mets on austerity for a while, because of the financial obligations mentioned above. That means the Wilpons will be utterly dependent upon fan attendance revenue in order to maintain ownership.

The Mets eventually hope to sell 10 to 12 minority shares of the team at $20 million apiece, although a good deal of that appears to be shifting around money among Mets-related entities. For instance, two of those shares are going to Jeff Wilpon and Saul Katz, who is Fred Wilpon's brother-in-law and Mets president. Another four will go to SportsNet New York, the regional sports channel primarily owned by the Wilpons/Mets.

There is only one known minority buyer without direct connection to the Wilpons or Mets. And that's Steve Cohen, who reportedly is the front-runner for majority ownership of the Los Angeles Dodgers, which would eliminate him as a Mets candidate.

Read the news story here.

Mets morning briefing 3.18.12

March, 18, 2012
Mike Pelfrey takes the mound as the Mets make a two-plus-hour drive to Kissimmee to take on the Houston Astros. The Mets then will have Monday off, with the complex closed until a Tuesday night game. Monday will not be quiet, however. Inside U.S. District Court Judge Jed S. Rakoff's courtroom in lower Manhattan, jury selection and opening statements are expected to occur Monday in the $386 million lawsuit against Fred Wilpon and family regarding Bernard Madoff's Ponzi scheme. The trial is scheduled to last 10 additional days.

Sunday's news reports:

Jon Niese tossed 5 1/3 scoreless innings despite allowing all six leadoff batters he faced to reach. Still, the Mets lost to a split-squad Atlanta Braves team, 3-2, on Saturday at Digital Domain Park. Daniel Murphy had a two-run single for the Mets, but Chuck James and Ramon Ramirez combined to allow three eighth-inning runs. The Mets are 0-7-1 in their past eight games and have the worst record either in the Grapefruit or Cactus League. Read more in Newsday and the Daily News.

Zack Wheeler allowed an unearned run while tossing three innings for the Double-A squad in the first day of minor league exhibition games. Read the full Buffalo and Binghamton recaps here. Watch video of Wheeler facing Cardinals farmhand Raniel Rosario here. Read more on Wheeler's outing in the Daily News, Star-Ledger and Newsday.

• The Mets signed infielder Oswaldo Navarro to a minor league contract.

Anthony Destefano in Newsday previews the Madoff-related civil trial that opens Monday. Writes Destefano:

[Trustee Irving] Picard's case, Rakoff has said a number of times, is far from rock solid. The trustee has to prove that the Wilpon defendants were willfully blind and ignored warnings about Madoff. Noted white-collar defense attorney and author Stanley Arkin describes the concept of willful blindness this way: "You turn your head away from facts that cry out for inquiry and you take no steps to make inquiry." Rakoff said it will be up to the Wilpons and partners to demonstrate that they weren't willfully blind to the fraud.

Barry Meier in the Times suggests Mets fans may want the Wilpons to lose the entire $386 million at stake. Of that amount, Rakoff already has declared the trustee is entitled to the profits made in the two years before Madoff's arrest -- as much as $83 million. Writes Meier:

The proceeding took place in the people’s food court (technically, the bar and snack stands along the right-field line) at Digital Domain Park before Friday’s game, in which a Mets squad was demolished by the Detroit Tigers, 9-0. The verdict of fans polled, while not unanimous, was clear. Put simply, they would like to see Wilpon and Katz have their financial clocks cleaned so the only option will be selling the team. “That is the biggest hope that I have for the Mets this year,” said Judy Sromovsky, a longtime fan who lives in Bridgewater, N. J.

The Daily News also outlines what's at stake in the case.

Jeff Bradley in the Star-Ledger has a Q&A with Justin Turner. Turner credits former Cincinnati Reds GM Wayne Krivsky, also a former special assistant with the Mets, for his opportunities at the major league level. "He was the GM of the Reds and drafted me in 2006," Turner told Bradley. "He got let go by the Reds and went to the Orioles and traded for me there. And then he came over to the Mets and picked me up when the Orioles put me on waivers. I owe a lot to him. He believed in me. He’s the reason I got this chance." Krivsky now has landed with the Minnesota Twins, where his career first ascended.

• Bench coach Bob Geren, a former major league catcher, tells the Star-Ledger Josh Thole is going to be prepared for games. Writes Bradley:

“He’s going to come to the field at a certain time at the start of the series to do his preparation from the video,” Geren begins. “Then, at a certain time, he’s going to meet with the pitching coach to go over it. He’s going to be heavily involved in the pitchers’ meeting, passing on what he’s observed. He’ll talk to the pitchers in between innings about how that inning went and who’s coming up next. That’s just the beginning.” Geren says when other players are playing cards on team flights, he expects to see Thole with his iPad, watching video of the next opponent. Not only does Geren want to see Thole putting in extra time, he wants the pitchers to see it.

Mike Kerwick in the Record looks at the competitors to take the lefty specialist role in the bullpen while Tim Byrdak takes approximately another five weeks to recover from surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee. Garrett Olson likely is the frontrunner. The Mets have pulled Josh Edgin into major league camp, even though he has not pitched above Class A. James appears the primary consideration beyond Olson. Daniel Herrera is the fourth competitor. Writes Kerwick:

On road trips, the left-handed reliever likes to sneak away, stealing a moment for himself in the cheap seats. Accompanied by his Nikon D700, he sets up shop high above home plate. Garrett Olson chooses a lens. He snaps a photo. Then he quietly returns to the clubhouse. These are his butterflies, the camera his net. Olson has attempted to capture a portrait of every major league stadium. During his six seasons in the majors, he has compiled a modest collection. "Not all 30," Olson said before the Mets' 3-2 loss to the Atlanta Braves on Saturday at Digital Domain Park. "Maybe half. Just a guess." There is one important stadium missing – the leopard absent from his safari. "This one," he said. "Citi Field. Certainly this and a lot of National League teams."

Mike Puma in the Post quotes pitching coach Dan Warthen regarding Edgin as saying: "I’m not going to talk about major leagues right now for him. But I wouldn’t be surprised if some time this year we saw him.”

• The Post quotes a Mets official as saying it's "50-50" whether the Mets sign left-hander C.J. Nitkowski. Newsday reported last week a deal was likely and seemed imminent.

• Columnist Joel Sherman in the Post wonders whether Johan Santana or Andy Pettitte will contribute more this season. Writes Sherman:

Both lefties missed all of last season, albeit for different reasons. Santana was recovering from shoulder surgery while Pettitte took what now amounts to a one-year sabbatical. Santana is close to a necessity for the 2012 rotation-thin Mets. Pettitte appears a luxury for the rotation-deep Yankees. Santana is seven years younger than Pettitte, but the shoulder ailment he is trying to return from does not come with a high success rate, and certainly not a speedy one.

• Sherman also says there really are only four positives for the Mets -- Santana, the middle of the order, the bullpen and their pitching prospects.

• Infield coach Tim Teufel tells columnist Kevin Kernan in the Post that he is using Chase Utley as an example to Murphy of how to turn double plays, because Utley also has a larger frame. Teufel also is repositioning his middle infielders. “The goal for us is to become better at double-play turns, and that means being more aggressive on groundballs, getting the transfer a little bit quicker,’’ Teufel told Kernan. “So I’m moving the guys in a step and one step closer to the bag. We’re going to give up a little bit in the hole, but it’s more important that we are on time and under control, a little less lateral and back movements and a little more angle direct to the ball movements as an infield.’’

TRIVIA: Eight players started in right field for the Mets last season. Can you name them?

Saturday's answer: Jose Valentin started for the Mets at second base on Opening Day in 2007. Luis Castillo had the Game 1 nod at the position the next three seasons, followed by shortlived Rule 5 pick Brad Emaus in 2011.

Mets morning briefing 3.15.12

March, 15, 2012
The Mets face the Miami Marlins in Jupiter, where Jose Reyes is expected to start at shortstop against his former squad. Reyes did not participate in either of the first two Grapefruit League games between the teams. R.A. Dickey starts for the Mets.

Thursday's news reports:

David Wright returned to camp Wednesday and revealed he actually had torn an abdominal muscle. Wright received an ultrasound-guided cortisone shot Monday at the Hospital for Special Surgery. He predicted he would begin easing into activity as soon as today. He noted his return is going to be a deliberate process, from hitting off a tee, to swinging at flipped balls, to actual batting practice. Regardless, Wright predicted his Opening Day availability was not in jeopardy. Read more in the Record, Newsday, Post, Daily News and Star-Ledger.

Barry Meier in the Times writes about the Mets' injury track record:

When combining injuries sustained in spring training and the regular season, the Mets led all other teams in both 2008 and 2009 in the number of player days lost to injury, according to data complied by Baseball Prospectus, a sports analysis and opinion Web site. Using those same measurements, the Mets ranked sixth in 2010 before dropping down to a more respectable 12th place last year, Baseball Prospectus found. ... Measuring injuries over the 162-game season, the team ranked second in 2008, third in 2009, sixth in 2010 and ninth in 2011 in days lost to player injures, Baseball Prospectus said.

• Judge Jed S. Rakoff caught legal experts off-guard Wednesday by ruling the burden of proof in the $386 million lawsuit falls on Fred Wilpon and family, not trustee Irving Picard, who filed the lawsuit. A week after expressing skepticism Picard could prove the Wilpons acted in bad faith and with "willful blindness" with respect to their investments in Bernard Madoff's Ponzi scheme, Rakoff on Wednesday ruled the burden doesn't rest with the trustee. Instead, the Wilpons' attorneys must convince the jury by a preponderance of the evidence that the family acted in good faith.

The ruling is a win for Picard. After all, it's more difficult for a defendant to have to prove he's not guilty than being assumed innocent at the start of the trial.

Perhaps Rakoff's ruling should not have been a surprise, given Rakoff wrote last week that the trustee would have to rebut the Wilpons demonstrating good faith.

Should the trial end adversely for the Wilpons, the judge's decision could be one area their attorneys try to appeal. Picard will have grounds for appeal as well, including the judge using a "willful blindness" as opposed to "inquiry notice" ("should-have-known") standard. Picard also believes he is entitled to recover money from the six years before Madoff's arrest, not the two years at which the judge capped the recovery period.

Read more in the Times, Post and Daily News.

Dillon Gee allowed a two-run homer to Prince Fielder but no other damage in four innings. The Mets ultimately lost to the Detroit Tigers, 7-6, in 10 innings Wednesday.

• The Mets suspended bullpen catcher Eric Langill for a week without pay, three days after he was charged with driving under the influence.

• 2010 first-round pick Matt Harvey looked sharp in a minor league intrasquad game, tossing 58 of 75 pitches for strikes and registering as high as 96 mph on a radar gun. Read more in the Post, Record, Daily News and Newsday.

Steve Cohen, the only known intended purchaser of a $20 million minority share of the Mets without some existing tie to the organization, may not be able to be a partner after all. Cohen has emerged as the top candidate to buy the Los Angeles Dodgers, USA Today reports. That would prevent Cohen from also having a stake in the Mets.

TRIVIA: Who has the most homers by a Mets shortstop in a single season in franchise history?

Wednesday's answer: Mets PR man Jay Horwitz is in the Fairleigh Dickinson University Hall of Fame. He served as the school's sports information director before Frank Cashen hired him with the Mets in 1980.

Burden on Wilpons to prove good faith

March, 14, 2012
In a major ruling Wednesday heading into next week's trial, U.S. District Court Judge Jed S. Rakoff threw a curveball to the defense team in the $386 million lawsuit against Fred Wilpon, his family, businesses and charities.

Five days before jury selection is set to begin in the civil trial in U.S. District Court in lower Manhattan, Rakoff ruled the burden is on the Wilpons to convince a jury they did not act in “bad faith” when they profited from convicted swindler Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi scheme.

The burden will not be on trustee Irving Picard, who brought the lawsuit, to prove the Wilpons were “willfully blind” to the Ponzi scheme.

Read the full news story here.

Mets morning briefing 3.14.12

March, 14, 2012
Dillon Gee was scheduled to pitch in a minor league game to allow Matt Harvey to log Grapefruit League innings against a credible offense in front of team personnel Wednesday. But the plan changed because the Mets did not have the MLB-stipulated minimum number of starting players making the two-and-a-half hour drive to Lakeland. So Gee now is on the bus and the starting pitcher as the Mets play at the Detroit Tigers for the second time in three days. Harvey will pitch in the minor league game.

Before media hit the road, David Wright is expected to speak about the "ultrasound-guided" cortisone shot he received to the left side of his rib cage Monday at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York as well as update his status going forward.

Wednesday's news reports:

Terry Collins got agitated when Ruben Tejada was scratched from Tuesday's game against the St. Louis Cardinals. Hours later, Collins said his frustration upon losing Tejada (groin) and Ronny Cedeno (knee tendinitis) in the same morning is that the absence of players from drills is inhibiting the team's ability to prepare to play fundamentally sound this season. D.J. Carrasco also is out for a limited period after twisting an ankle.

Columnist Kevin Kernan in the Post wonders what's going on here with the Mets' perpetual injuries.

Read more in the Journal, Star-Ledger, Daily News, Post, Record and Newsday.

Carlos Beltran faced the Mets for the first time since last July's trade and went 1-for-4 Tuesday. Beltran was in a chipper mood as he reminisced with New York reporters about his six and a half seasons as a Met and the team's rebuilding plan. Beltran also kept the drama going about when he eventually will pay Jon Niese $10,000 -- the cost of Niese's offseason nose job, which Beltran asked the southpaw to get -- and offered to pay for -- shortly before being traded to the San Francisco Giants last summer. Niese playfully professed not to care about the delinquent payment. Watch video of Beltran's interview here. Read more in the Star-Ledger, Record, Newsday, Times and Daily News.

The Mets, by the way, play the Marlins on Thursday in Jupiter. So there is a decent chance Jose Reyes finally will play against his old team, too. Reyes did not face the Mets in either of the first two Grapefruit League meetings between his present and former teams. Beltran's Cardinals and Reyes' Marlins train at the same Jupiter, Fla., complex. And Beltran said Reyes looks as chipper as always.

"He's like Jose. He’s always happy, always smiling, always playing the game hard," Beltran said. "He’s going to be fine. It’s going to be a transition for him because of all these years playing for the Mets, all these years playing in New York, now going to a new team, [there are] new expectations. I think he’s going to be able to handle that situation well.”

Mike Pelfrey allowed two homers while tossing 4 1/3 innings in the Mets' 7-1 loss to the Cardinals. Read more in Newsday.

Johan Santana threw a between-starts bullpen session Tuesday and pronounced himself fit for his third Grapefruit League start, Friday against the Tigers in Port St. Lucie.

• A team official said the employment status of bullpen catcher Eric Langill, who was arrested Sunday night and charged with driving under the influence, remains unresolved.

• Left-hander Tim Byrdak underwent surgery to repair torn meniscus cartilage in his left knee Tuesday and is expected to miss six weeks.

• As reported late Monday, the trustee suing Fred Wilpon and family has asked a judge to bar Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax as well as former Manhattan district attorney Robert Morgenthau from testifying. Writes Anthony M. Destefano in Newsday:

Judge Jed Rakoff is expected to decide Monday, when the trial is scheduled to begin, if he will allow the testimony over the trustee's opposition. If he testifies, Morgenthau would describe how he put the PAL money into a Madoff account after Wilpon said it was "safe," according to the court papers. Koufax would testify that he opened an account with Madoff at Wilpon's suggestion, court documents stated.

Read more on the witness list and legal wrangling in the Times, Post, Daily News and Star-Ledger.

Barry Meier in the Times looks at the $2.4 million in improvements at the Mets' spring-training home, Digital Domain Park. The upgrades are designed to entice a second team to relocate to the complex. Meier quotes officials saying the Mets would hope to lure the Washington Nationals or Houston Astros to join them at the Port St. Lucie facility. Florida's Atlantic coast has lost teams of late, leaving the Mets constantly facing the same opponents -- the Marlins and Cardinals, who are the nearest at 33 miles away in Jupiter, and the Nats in Viera 72 miles away -- or facing long drives. After those three opponents, all the drives are two-hours-plus. The Dodgers used to be closest to Port St. Lucie, but they bolted Vero Beach for Arizona. And the Orioles left Fort Lauderdale for Sarasota.

TRIVIA: At which university is Mets PR man Jay Horwitz inducted into the Hall of Fame?

Tuesday's answer: Pedro Feliciano set the franchise record for relief appearances three straight seasons -- 86 in 2008, 88 in 2009, then 92 in 2010.

Mets morning briefing 3.13.12

March, 13, 2012
David Wright is due to return to camp today after receiving an "ultrasound-guided" cortisone shot in his troublesome left rib cage Monday in New York at his request. Meanwhile, teammate Tim Byrdak remains at the Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan, where he will undergo surgery to repair torn meniscus cartilage in his left knee. He is due to miss six weeks. On the field, Carlos Beltran visits in a St. Louis Cardinals uniform to face Mike Pelfrey at 1:10 p.m. at Digital Domain Park. Johan Santana, who turns 33 today, should throw a between-starts bullpen session, too.

Tuesday's news reports:

Terry Collins said he believes/hopes Wright will resume baseball activities in the middle to end of the week. Wright was treading water with his left-rib cage issue -- experiencing soreness while neither improving nor worsening. A team official said an MRI revealed no structural damage. A frustrated Wright asked for the cortisone injection.

Sandy Alderson and Collins both said they expect to carry a left-handed reliever on the Opening Day roster, even minus Byrdak. Garrett Olson and Chuck James likely are the front runners. Daniel Herrera and Robert Carson also are in camp, but appear secondary considerations. Then there was this development Monday ...

Late last season, Paul DePodesta advised to watch left-handed reliever Josh Edgin as a rapid riser, despite Edgin not having pitched above Class A. Well, with Byrdak's surgery looming today, Edgin has been moved to major league camp. He blew a save chance in Monday's Grapefruit League game against the Detroit Tigers at Lakeland, but that was after his defense betrayed him on a would-be third out. Edgin then rallied nicely the following inning against Tigers left-handed batters. He previously had recorded a pair of Grapefruit League saves while being borrowed from minor league camp, before the official transfer.

Read more on Byrdak's scheduled surgery as well as Wright's injury in the Daily News, Star-Ledger, Journal, Post, Newsday, Times and Record.

• Bullpen catcher Eric Langill was arrested and charged with driving under the influence with property damage, a misdemeanor, according to a St. Lucie County Sheriff's Office arrest affidavit. Langill allegedly drove into a concrete fountain in the middle of a traffic circle, flipping the vehicle at approximately 11:25 p.m. Sunday. Read more in the Star-Ledger, Post, Record, Daily News and Newsday.

• With jury selection slated to take place Monday and a 10-day civil trial to follow, several motions were filed last night in the $386 million lawsuit against Mets owner Fred Wilpon, his family and businesses. Among the more headline-grabbing items: Trustee Irving Picard's lawyers asked U.S. District Court Judge Jed S. Rakoff to bar Hall of Fame pitcher Sandy Koufax from testifying on the Wilpons' behalf. Picard's legal team argued that the purpose of Koufax testifying is to influence a jury with star power rather than substance. On the Wilpons' side, Howard Megdal at Capital New York notes defense attorneys have asked the judge to bar the plaintiffs from using the term "other people's money" to describe the Wilpons' gains in the Ponzi scheme, saying that is a loaded term that could improperly influence a jury.

Lucas Duda belted a grand slam in his first game in five days and the Mets and Tigers played to a 7-7 tie in 10 innings.

• Columnist Bill Madden in the Daily News writes that Collins is trying to keep the faith:

No sooner had Collins arrived at Joker Marchant Stadium Monday than he was greeted by his old baseball buddy, Jim Leyland, who put out the welcome mat for him by fielding his "A" lineup featuring all his regulars and especially the Detroit Tigers' new twin pillars of power, Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder. "Geez," Collins exclaimed to Leyland in mock protest, "I thought we were friends!" In truth, Collins could probably use a good friend like Leyland right about now to unload his troubles on. For, aside from Santana’s steady progress from his career-threatening shoulder injury, most of the news coming out of the Mets camp this spring has been either bad, concerning or downright embarrassing -- and Monday was no different.

Ike Davis tells Dan Martin in the Post that he is having no ill effects from last year's ankle injury or the suspected valley fever. "I can't plan for something I don't know is going to happen," Davis told Martin. "If something happens, I'll talk to Terry, but until then, there's nothing to talk about and I'd like for there to never be a reason to."

• Left-handed pitcher John Mincone, a Huntington, Long Island, native and Half Hollow Hills East High School product, has signed a minor league deal with the Mets. Mincone, 22, was drafted in the 11th round by the Chicago Cubs in 2009 out of Suffolk Community College after an injury-plagued college career. He went 1-2 with a 4.61 ERA in six games (three starts) for Windy City in the independent Frontier League last season.

"I’ve had many high school highlights," Mincone said in this April 2010 interview. "I'd have to say that winning our league championship my senior year and winning the Paul Gibson award are up there on the list, but my best memory is from the summer after my junior year. I made the Long Island baseball team going to compete in the Empire State Games, sort of an 'Olympics' for the state of New York. Our team won the gold medal, going undefeated in the process, marking the first time in 13 years that the Long Island team won a gold medal in baseball.

"As for college, I have two major baseball highlights. When I was at James Madison University my freshman year, we won the Colonial Athletic Association Conference tournament and continued on to play in the NCAA Regionals at NC State. My best college highlight is definitely winning Region XV while at Suffolk County Community College ... and then playing in the NJCAA College World Series in Tyler, Texas. I was named Region XV player of the year (2009) and was a named to the First Team NJCAA All-American, leading the nation with 107 strikeouts in 62 innings pitched, and an ERA of 0.98."

• Ex-Met Jason Pridie, who signed a minor league contract with the Oakland A's during the offseason, officially was suspended 50 games after a second positive test for a drug of abuse, Major League Baseball announced.

• Left-hander C.J. Nitkowski's agent, Tom O'Connell, tells Tyler Kepner in the Times he believes the southpaw will join the Mets organization. "I feel pretty optimistic that we can come to an agreement," O’Connell told Kepner. "Hopefully this will play out in the next couple of days." Newsday previously has reported that an eventual signing is expected.

TRIVIA: What is the Mets' record for relief appearances in a season?

Monday's answer: Mike Jacobs homered in his first at-bat as a Met, which also was his first major league at-bat. He went deep on Aug. 21, 2005 off Washington's Esteban Loaiza as a pinch hitter. That staved off a demotion, and Jacobs went on to belt three more homers within three days.

Trustee wants Koufax barred from trial

March, 12, 2012
Batters did not want to see Sandy Koufax on the mound during the left-hander’s Hall of Fame career.

The trustee suing Fred Wilpon and family for $386 million on behalf of victims of Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi scheme does not want to see Koufax in the witness box, either.

In a slew of motions filed Monday night, trustee Irving Picard’s legal team asked that Koufax and three other high-profile figures be barred from testifying for the defense in the 10-day trial set to begin next week.

Courtesy Bruce Adler/New York Mets
Sandy Koufax at Mets camp on Thursday.

The trustee’s motion asks to exclude Koufax as well as former district attorney Robert Morgenthau, North Shore-LIJ Health System president Michael Dowling and First Long Island Investors CEO Robert Rosenthal from testifying for the Wilpons.

Wilpon and Koufax are friends dating to their high school days, when they were baseball teammates. Koufax visited the Mets’ spring-training complex as recently as last week.

“In identifying their expected witnesses, the defendants have disclosed their intentions to call certain of their most prominent acquaintances and philanthropic colleagues at trial,” the trustee’s attorneys wrote in one motion. “There is no other purpose for calling such witnesses except to improperly influence the jury. The expected testimony from the proposed Sterling [Wilpon] witnesses has nothing to do with the only issue to be tried in this case -- defendants’ willful blindness. Not only is such testimony irrelevant, but it is impermissible character and opinion evidence masquerading as testimony from purported fact witnesses.”

U.S. District Court Judge Jed S. Rakoff already has awarded up to $83 million to Picard -- the profits collected by the Wilpons and their businesses and charities in the immediate two years before Madoff’s arrest. Picard now seeks at trial an additional $303 million in principal that the Wilpons invested with Madoff. He must prove the Wilpons were “willfully blind” to Madoff’s fraud and that they acted in bad faith with respect to their investments in order for a jury to award that additional sum.

Rakoff has expressed skepticism that Picard can prove that threshold, but he allowed the case to go to trial by rejecting last week a defense motion to toss the lawsuit. Jury selection begins next Monday.

The trustee also asked in a flurry of Monday motions that references to his fees as well as the failure of the Securities and Exchange Commission to detect Madoff’s fraud be barred from being discussed at trial by the defense team.

Wrote Picard’s legal team with respect to his fees: “The trustee anticipates that the defendants will seek to introduce evidence relating to, or otherwise make comments concerning, the fees paid to the trustee and his counsel in an attempt to distract the jury from the trial and otherwise imply that the trustee’s action is solely driven by his fees and those of counsel. All such evidence and any references thereto should be excluded because the fees paid to the trustee and his counsel are not relevant to any issue at trial.

“Indeed, this court rejected the defendants’ attempt to depose the trustee on the fees paid to him, among other matters, because of lack of relevance. Even if such evidence were somehow relevant, any theoretical ‘probative value’ would be substantially outweighed by the danger of unfairly prejudicing the trustee and misleading and confusing the jury about the central issue at trial -- the defendants’ willful blindness to Madoff’s fraud.”

Mets morning briefing 3.10.12

March, 10, 2012
The Mets head north on I-95 to Viera to face the Washington Nationals on Saturday, with R.A. Dickey on the mound.

Saturday's news reports:

• Judge Jed S. Rakoff set the parameters for the March 19 civil trial against Mets principal owner Fred Wilpon, his family, businesses and charities. A nine-person jury will decide how much, if anything, to award trustee Irving Picard of the $303 million he seeks in principal the Wilpons invested with Bernard Madoff in the two years before the swindler's arrest. Picard must convince jurors the Wilpons were "willfully blind" to the fraud and acted in "bad faith" in order to collect that amount. The trustee already has been awarded as a matter of law as much as $83 million by Rakoff pre-trial -- the profits in the two years before Madoff's arrest. After a quick jury selection on Day 1, the trial is expected to last 10 days. Court is scheduled to be in session during business hours Monday through Thursday. Read more in the Times, Newsday and Daily News.

Matt Harvey tossed a pair of perfect innings and Matt den Dekker delivered a tiebreaking two-run triple in the eighth as the Mets beat the Atlanta Braves, 5-3, Friday at ESPN Wide World of Sports. Read more in the Record.

Andy McCullough in the Star-Ledger notes that Harvey's control wasn't precise, but he got the job done. Writes McCullough:

The count ran full to the Atlanta Braves' Jason Heyward. Catcher Josh Thole called for a four-seamer inside to tie up Heyward’s hands. "I didn’t really mean to go up that high with Heyward," Harvey said, as his team wrapped up a 5-3 victory. "I was trying to go in. But ..." But Heyward still waved at the pitch, which popped on the stadium gun at 95 mph as it buzzed the upper region of the strike zone. And therein lies the rub: Harvey's stuff appears capable of getting out major-league hitters. In his first inning, he retired veteran slugger Chipper Jones on grounder , recorded a flyout from former Rookie of the Year Eric Hinske, then whiffed Heyward.

• A reunion between Chris Young and the Mets is expected to materialize, Andy Martino reports in the Daily News. Young -- reportedly also considering the San Diego Padres -- supposedly is feeling strong. However, he underwent last May the same surgery to repair a torn anterior capsule that Johan Santana did the previous September. So there is no assurance of a 2012 contribution. Young made only four starts for the Mets last season before the shoulder woes ended his season. He received a base salary of $1.1 million despite the limited workload.

Lucas Duda was pulled from Friday's trip to Disney, but Terry Collins said he expected the right fielder on the bus for Viera to face the Nats today. Similarly, Andres Torres, who was dealing with a tight right glute, is expected on the trip. Read more in the Post.

• Ex-Met Jason Pridie will be suspended 50 games for use of a recreation drug, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

• A day after now-sidearm-throwing southpaw C.J. Nitkowski auditioned for the Mets, a team official said the organization had "not ruled out" signing him. But, the official added, Nitkowski almost assuredly would go directly to minor league camp if he were signed.

• Santana returns to the mound Sunday, but he apparently will not face former teammate Jose Reyes.

• The Mets' Triple-A Buffalo affiliate will play at Fenway Park against Pawtucket on Aug. 18 as part of a minor league doubleheader.

Neil Best in Newsday notes the April 18-29 Tribeca film festival not only includes the documentary "Knuckleball!" featuring R.A. Dickey, but also "Benji, about the ill-fated Chicago prep basketball star of the early 80s, Ben Wilson, and Broke, about the many sports figures who have gone astray financially."

Jason Bay is trying to revert to his old Pittsburgh-era swing. So far he is 0-for-5 with three walks and two strikeouts in Grapefruit League play. "It's tough when you're trying to work on things and people are trying to get you out," Bay told David Lennon in Newsday. "It's not batting practice. I think for right now, it's just about getting used to game speed -- getting used to seeing 95 and getting your timing down. Trusting what you do in the cage and not trying to think too much out there."

Writes columnist Joel Sherman in the Post about Bay:

Let’s give Jason Bay this benefit of the doubt because -- if nothing else -- the Mets certainly believe his failure as a Met is about caring too much, not too little. It is about the left fielder falling into a hole instantly in 2010 and losing confidence while gaining advice. It is about a destructive cycle of wanting to please so much that too many voices got beyond the velvet rope in his brain, too much counsel was heeded to tinker here and readjust there. His ears became a meeting place for the well intentioned to feed a series of recommendations that worked as harmoniously with one another as oil and water. Executives around the Mets couldn’t remember an accomplished player who turned every at-bat into a mandate on the positioning of his hands, the angling of a foot.

Adam Loewen discusses with Mike Puma in the Post making the switch from pitching to the outfield after suffering a second stress fracture in his left elbow. "Three years ago I made the switch, and it was actually an exciting time for me because I had a new life," the 6-foot-6 Loewen told Puma. "As much as it was heartbreaking not being able to pitch anymore, it was exciting to have that second chance and progress enough to think I could make it back to the big leagues."

Loewen and Mike Baxter currently are vying for a lefty-hitting backup outfield job, although the Mets very well also could pick someone else up near the end of spring training. At present, Loewen may have a leg up on Baxter in part because Loewen can play center field, whereas Baxter does not. Both play first base. Backing up in center field should not have been a requisite, but righty-hitting Scott Hairston (oblique) is starting to appear likely to open the season on the disabled list, leaving a void as a fill-in for Andres Torres.

Brian Costa in the Journal looks at the Puerto Rican Torres' offseason spent partly in the Dominican Republic, where he worked with Yankee Robinson Cano and his father. Cano met Torres on the MLB All-Star Tour of Taiwan in November and invited him to work out with them. They worked on refraining from lunging at balls. With the San Francisco Giants last season, Carlos Beltran also offered Torres advice, telling him he was too close to the plate and using too heavy a bat. Now, hitting coach Dave Hudgens has advice for Torres as well. Torres, who is slated to be the Mets' leadoff hitter, had his on-base percentage plummet 31 points, to .312, last season. Writes Costa:

Hudgens saw two things that concerned him. The first was an inability to stay on top of the ball, which made him prone to weak pop-ups. The second issue was lapses in plate discipline. Torres swung at a career-high 31% of pitches outside the strike zone last season. The Mets want him to be more selective and work the count better, and they told him as much during an early spring meeting with Hudgens, manager Terry Collins and general manager Sandy Alderson. They'll find out soon enough whether he can heed all the advice. "I know people look at me like, 'I saw you last year, and you didn't have it,'" Torres said. "But I feel really good right now."

Mike Kerwick in the Record checks in on the acclimation progress of new double-play tandem Ruben Tejada and Daniel Murphy. Writes Kerwick:

Their color choices were strikingly different, separate hues for separate personalities. Tejada leans on Spanish; Murphy speaks English. Tejada spent his life studying to be a middle infielder; Murphy is taking his first serious stab at it. But the chemistry between these two middle infielders -- Tejada at shortstop, Murphy at second -- will help define the Mets’ defense this season. "It's almost a courtship kind of thing," joked Mets third base coach Tim Teufel. "They're getting to know each other, their likes and dislikes."

Ken Belson in the Times notes today is the 50th anniversary of the franchise's first spring-training game. And Belson writes about the radio recording that captures it:

But what is somewhat intriguing is the identity of the first announcer to greet listeners of the game’s radio broadcast. It wasn’t Ralph Kiner or Bob Murphy or Lindsey Nelson, all of whom were on hand for the start of what would be their long collaboration chronicling the team’s fortunes. Instead, the first voice coming out of the radio belonged to none other than Howard Cosell, still emerging at that point as a larger-than-life personality in American sports.

Andrew Keh in the Times notes that Pedro Beato cuts his teammates' hair, even though a professional barber also visits the Mets periodically. Writes Keh:

On Friday morning, a New York Times reporter in need of a haircut became Beato’s latest customer. It was 6:45, the sun was just coming up, and Beato set up shop near the Mets’ dugout, his clubhouse stool transformed into a barber’s chair. "Tell me what you want on the sides," Beato said as he went through his accessory bag, looking for the proper comb attachment for his electric clippers. "You look like you need a four." Like any experienced barber, he mixed stern commands -- "Keep your head down for a second" -- with just the right amount of small talk. The customer’s interests were paramount, but he was quick to offer his own insight.

(Hopefully this won't be "Barber of Sheaville, Part II." Google Rey Sanchez and "haircut during game" if you don't understand the reference.)

TRIVIA: Eight players have produced a three-homer game in franchise history. Can you name at least one Met from each decade who accomplished the feat?

(Friday's answer: Roy Halladay is the lone active major league pitcher who has at least 125 decisions and also a better winning percentage than Santana. Halladay has a .671 winning percentage (188-92), to Santana's .658 (133-69). Justin Verlander (.652), Tim Hudson (.651) and CC Sabathia (.647) round out the top five.)

Trial schedule set in $386M suit

March, 9, 2012
In a Friday afternoon hearing in lower Manhattan, U.S. District Court Judge Jed S. Rakoff told the parties in the $386 million lawsuit against Mets owners that he will begin seating a nine-person jury on March 19.

After jury selection, there will be a 10-day trial. Court will be in session Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The judge also informed the parties of other deadlines -- Monday to submit past cases the sides would like the judge to review as well as witness lists, and next Friday for any transcripts to be submitted.

As with any federal case, a jury verdict must be unanimous.

Each side will have the ability to strike three prospective jurors, with the judge doing the early questioning of the citizens.

The judge also is paving the way for reporters to be able to have technology (computers for tweeting, etc.) in the courtroom. The primary exception is a ban on recording devices.

Rakoff already has ruled Fred Wilpon and family must repay their Ponzi scheme profit from the immediate two years before Bernard Madoff's arrest -- as much as $83 million. An additional $303 million will be at stake at trial, with trustee Irving Picard needing to prove the Wilpons were "willfully blind" to the scam in order to collect.

Judge calls 4:30 p.m. hearing

March, 9, 2012
Judge Jed S. Rakoff has called an impromptu 4:30 p.m. hearing in U.S. District Court in lower Manhattan in the $386 million clawback lawsuit against Fred Wilpon and family.

I'm told that's just the continuation of a Feb. 23 hearing setting up the specifications for a trial. Items to be discussed may include the size of a jury and the length of the trial.

Mets morning briefing 3.8.12

March, 8, 2012
Today, Johan Santana is expected to throw a between-starts bullpen session, although there is no guarantee. Then Mike Pelfrey is due to take the mound for an afternoon Grapefruit League game against the Miami Marlins in Port St. Lucie. The Players Association also makes its annual visit to converse with Mets players today, so we may find out what union chief Michael Weiner thinks about the Mets' payroll level.

Also, please join me for a 12:30 p.m. online Mets chat. Click this link.

Meanwhile, live near Bellmore JFK High School on Long Island? You can hear alums Steve Levy and Adam Schefter of ESPN speak tonight at 7. I'm an alum of Mepham, one of the other two high schools in the district. Details on tonight's event here.

Thursday's news report:

• Not exactly a shocker, even though it was treated as such: Jose Reyes was looking for the most money as a free agent, just $1 more, Marlins team president David Samson reportedly told Miami businessmen. Reyes is not expected at today's Mets-Marlins game. He played the past two nights in exhibition games at the Marlins' new stadium in Miami against college teams -- the University of Miami and Florida International.

Andy Martino in the Daily News doesn't believe Samson. Writes Martino:

According to sources, Reyes would have strongly considered a somewhat smaller deal from the Mets, both in years and dollars, and was shocked when his longtime team did not make an offer.

My analysis: Reyes would not have defected from the Mets to Miami if the disparity in offers were $1, or probably even $1 million. But my information from reliable sources is that the Mets were willing to go to as much as five years guaranteed, with a vesting option for a sixth year that would have raised the value to $100 million if Reyes stayed healthy.

Don't get caught up in whether the Mets made a formal offer to Reyes. Sandy Alderson conveyed to agent Peter Greenberg the parameters the Mets could reach. And Reyes' side decided that would not be enough and went with the superior Marlins offer.

And, by the way, that's no crime. Players almost always go where the salary is highest. The union obviously encourages that, too. Tom Glavine never wanted to leave Atlanta for New York, for example. But the disparity in money offered was too much.

Furthermore, and I know this because I ended up on a plane with a Mets official after the winter meetings, who was candid: The Mets' strong suspicion is that the Marlins would not have been done bidding until they got Reyes. I don't want to minimize the Mets' economic woes as a factor in their tepid pursuit of Reyes, but the fact of the matter is the Mets likely would have just been increasing what Reyes would ultimately have received from Miami had they actively bid. At some point the Mets would have had to stop anyway because the contract would have reached what is beyond a prudent salary versus injury risk and expected decline in performance as Reyes ages.

Richard Sandomir in the Times notes that Fred Wilpon and family may be at a disadvantage in front of a jury because a group of average folk is probably not inclined to be sympathetic to multimillionaires. The Wilpons' attorneys unsuccessfully had tried to have the $386 million lawsuit heard by Judge Jed S. Rakoff alone. Writes Sandomir:

Rakoff, regarded as a brilliant but unpredictable jurist, alone will question the jury pool. He is a Yankees fan and a partial season-ticket holder. So his neutrality is assured and seems unlikely to be affected by his rooting interests. Anyway, the role of the opposing lawyers in shaping the makeup of the jury will be somewhat limited. Experts suggest that both sides probably already know the sort of jury makeup they want, and that mock trials have likely yielded juror profiles. But neither side will get all it wants. "The real challenge is to ferret out latent prejudices, so it's extremely important for lawyers to suggest questions to the judge beyond those the judge would use to elicit obvious biases," said Mark Zauderer, a partner at Flemming Zulack Williamson Zauderer in Manhattan. Rakoff need not use their questions. According to several lawyers and a jury consultant, the trustee will want jurors who resent millionaires. But Wilpon and [brother-in-law Saul] Katz’s team, they said, probably want less class-conscious people who might be more inclined to feel the trustee's pursuit of the Mets’ owners was overzealous and unfair.

Andy McCullough in the Star-Ledger updates the progress of Jenrry Mejia, who is throwing off a mound -- albeit fastballs only. Pitching coach Dan Warthen estimated Mejia is already throwing in the low-90s mph. The Mets are targeting a May return to game action for Mejia, at the one-year anniversary of his Tommy John surgery, which is the standard rehab time. Warthen told McCullough that Mejia's delivery looks somewhat calmer now than pre-elbow injury, which should reduce his susceptibility to future injury. It was Warthen a year ago, going against the prevalent organization philosophy, who said Mejia projected to him as a reliever because of the violence of his delivery. Meanwhile, Mejia sought advice from Edinson Volquez while rehabbing, and has been consoled by friend/fellow prospect Jeurys Familia when dejected because of the long rehab process.

Jon Niese tossed two scoreless innings and Justin Turner went 3-for-3 with a homer and three RBIs Wednesday as the Mets beat the Marlins, 7-0, in Jupiter.

• Niese is trying to improve his changeup, notes Mike Puma in the Post.

Bobby Parnell -- who dined with his family at a Port St. Lucie pizza joint last night, according to an eyewitness -- had a perfect inning in Wednesday's Grapefruit League game, bouncing back from a woeful intrasquad appearance Sunday. He is the subject of a feature in the Daily News.

There are five bullpen locks -- Frank Francisco, Jon Rauch, Ramon Ramirez, Tim Byrdak and Manny Acosta -- and Parnell is not one of them. He does have a minor league option remaining, but continued outings like Wednesday's should get him onto the major league staff, even if it's not the late-inning role he struggled with last season.

The Mets have not written off Parnell. They were credibly approached at the winter meetings by a team interested in acquiring him and were rebuffed. The Mets were leery of trading a pitcher who throws 100 mph and is under their control for four more seasons and not even eligible for arbitration until next winter in all likelihood. Parnell has only two years, 132 days of major league service time and would essentially need to spend the year in the minors not to qualify for arbitration next offseason for the first of three times.

If Parnell is on the Opening Day roster -- again, no given as of now -- that leaves one more spot. D.J. Carrasco has an existing $1.2 million deal, giving him a leg up, but one team insider said to watch Miguel Batista for one of those final two spots. Relievers facing a more uphill battle to sneak onto the Opening Day roster include younger pitchers Pedro Beato and Josh Stinson as well as left-handers Chuck James, Garrett Olson and Daniel Herrera.

David Wright (left rib-cage discomfort) does not sound like he will be back for at least a week. Terry Collins said Thursday that Wright should start taking grounders this weekend, but not throw. And Wright may or may not start swinging a bat this weekend. Meanwhile, Beato was scheduled to undergo an MRI on Wednesday afternoon, a day after being pulled from a Grapefruit League appearance with right shoulder difficulty.

• Columnist Joel Sherman in the Post uses ESPN's fantasy baseball rankings to note the declining state of third-base play in New York. Writes Sherman:

ESPN was displaying its top 12 fantasy third basemen, and I noticed Alex Rodriguez was ranked ninth and David Wright was not even among the 12 names shown. Now I do not want to confuse ESPN’s fantasy rankings with, say, The Dead Sea Scrolls for relevance. But it does provide a snapshot of third base right now in New York, which is to say the most uncertain since 2004. That was Rodriguez’s first season at his new position and Wright’s debut as a Met. Both are coming off injuries and their worst full years, so suddenly 2012 has a mandate-like feeling for the duo.

Wright told Sherman: "As far as I'm concerned it is a big motivator, not the doubt, but the fear of failure. I just don't like failing. But there is no doubt in me. I am very, very confident in what I am doing and what I need to do."

As for Wright's future with the club, Alderson said: "He is not trade bait. Is he part of the future? I hope the answer is yes. Let's see how he bounces back this season."

• Does Alderson have the autonomy -- there's that word again -- to guide the Mets properly? Columnist Bob Klaspich in the Record wonders if the GM will stand up to the Wilpons. Writes Klapisch:

Alderson has a track record to back up his promises. Then again, he’s never worked in an environment as toxic as this or for owners who are this unpopular. Fans are angry, they want the Wilpons out, many are vowing to stay away from Citi Field until regime change is complete. Alderson knows he’s about two years away from turning into a marked man, himself. It didn’t help matters last week when Fred Wilpon threw Alderson under the bus in explaining why Reyes signed with the Marlins. The owner had the audacity to say it was a "baseball decision" hatched entirely by Alderson. Don't blame me, blame him, is what Fred was saying. It was an outright lie and Alderson knows it. So does every discerning Mets fan who figured out long ago the Wilpons didn't have the resources to write a $100 million check.

David Lennon in Newsday profiles Ruben Tejada. Writes Lennon:

Just as Reyes did in his early years with the Mets, Tejada is still getting a better feel for English, which makes him come across as a bit shy on camera. "He's a different person from what you see on TV as opposed to what you get behind closed doors," Wright said. "During interviews and stuff, he's very introverted, but he's very outgoing when he's around us. He's got a dry sense of humor."

Read more on Tejada succeeding Reyes at shortstop with the Mets from Andrew Keh in the Times.

Santana is on track to start Sunday against the Marlins in Port St. Lucie, according to Collins. Read more in the Star-Ledger, Newsday, Times, Daily News and Post.

TRIVIA: Who played shortstop for the Mets the game before Reyes' major league debut?

(Wednesday's answer: The game before Wright made his major league debut with the Mets on July 21, 2004, Ty Wigginton started at third base for the Mets. Wigginton moved to first base for Wright's debut and was traded eight days after that to the Pittsburgh Pirates with now-slugger Jose Bautista and Matt Peterson for Kris Benson and Jeff Keppinger.)

Mets morning briefing 3.7.12

March, 7, 2012
The Mets head to Jupiter on Wednesday to see the new-look Miami Marlins. However, Jose Reyes will not be there. He played Tuesday night at the Marlins' new ballpark in Miami, against the University of Miami. And he's staying down there for another game tonight, against Florida International University.

Wednesday's news reports:

Johan Santana had a solid 2012 Grapefruit League debut, limiting the St. Louis Cardinals to one hit and one walk in two scoreless innings. Santana's fastball mostly sat at 87-88 mph, and he threw a devastating changeup to Yadier Molina. The big question will be whether Santana can now pitch on a regular five-day schedule. The next test: Can Santana throws a between-starts bullpen session on Thursday (or maybe Friday) to set up his second exhibition start, against the Marlins on Sunday in Port St. Lucie?

Watch video of Santana discussing his outing here.

ESPN Stats & Information evaluated Santana's performance based on video-review data from Inside Edge. They wrote in part:

Santana threw 23 fastballs, ranging from 86 to 89 mph, and averaging 87. In 2010, Santana’s fastball averaged just more than 89 mph. Santana threw 15 of those 23 fastballs for strikes, including eight of nine to left-handed hitters. Santana's other six pitches were four changeups and two sliders. He threw two of his six offspeed pitches for strikes. He typically threw those pitches for strikes about two-thirds of the time in 2009 and '10.

Columnist Joel Sherman in the Post provides this caveat to Santana's positive day:

Now the public service in which we offer context. Where we note that within the euphoria, even the Mets know this was merely a hurdle in a long race of hurdles. Before a pitch was delivered yesterday, Collins had said the bigger deal would come tomorrow when Santana is slated for a normal between-starts bullpen. And Santana himself acknowledged, "That will be the key -- the next couple of days, trying to throw my bullpen and see if I'll be ready for my next start." The simple acts cannot be downplayed. After all, Santana was a calling card all last summer that never arrived. Twice he was shut down after minor-league rehab starts because his surgically repaired left shoulder did not respond.

Terry Collins has noted that five of Santana's first six regular-season starts would be on an extra day of rest without juggling the rotation, since the Mets have team off-days in April. However, Collins told Sherman, the manager already has discussed with pitching coach Dan Warthen using a spot starter at Colorado on April 28 and holding back the southpaw a day, to make sure every early start comes with an extra day of rest.

Columnist Bob Klapisch in the Record offers a similar reminder in noting that Santana's ability to throw a between-starts bullpen session Thursday is the next hurdle. Writes Klapisch:

That's the window the Mets are monitoring: the 48 hours during which lactic acid builds up in the muscles. Even perfectly healthy pitchers pay the surcharge, experiencing stiffness behind the throwing shoulder and on the fleshy side of the elbow. That's why bullpen sessions always are scheduled for exactly two days after the last start, three days before the next one, to break down the lactic acid and rebuild muscle tissue. In Santana's case, the Mets will want to know if his shoulder capsule, which was cut into deeply by surgeons 18 months ago, experiences even the slightest twinge. Santana himself said, "The key will be the next couple of days." A setback doesn't necessarily have to manifest as a searing line of pain, either. It could be as subtle as the ball feeling heavier while Santana plays long-toss, the sensation that his arm is a little slower or an overall fatigue that would be enough of a red flag for the Mets to push back his next start.

Columnist John Harper in the Daily News notes that the differential in speed between Santana's fastball (87-88 mph on Tuesday) and changeup (79-81 mph) should be enough during the regular season, assuming Santana can add an extra 1 or 2 mph of oomph to his fastball during spring training, as most pitchers do. Writes Harper:

The velocity matters for Santana, largely because he needs separation from his signature changeup, which ranged from 78 to 81 mph. "As long as he locates his changeup, and keeps it down," said one scout in attendance, "he can win with the stuff he had today. He just can't get away with hanging the change, the way he could when he was throwing 94." Those days were gone long before Santana hurt his shoulder in 2010. He hasn't thrown 94 since he was pitching for the Twins five or six years ago, and, in truth, his velocity on Tuesday wasn't far at all from where he had been in 2009 and '10 for the Mets. Still, adding a little velocity as he continues his comeback, and pitching closer to 89-90 than 87-88, likely would make a significant difference. We'll see if that happens.

Read more on Santana's outing in the Journal, Post, Star-Ledger, Record, Daily News and Newsday.

• Agent Scott Boras texted Mets chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon to clarify remarks from the agent that appeared in the Times. Boras told as well as Wilpon that when he said it was the ethical mandate of a large-market team to spend money or the owner should forfeit the team, he was speaking generally and not specifically about the Mets.

Earlier in the day, Sandy Alderson had responded to Boras' remarks, saying the Mets lost money and their primary obligation is to financially stabilize their franchise.

Pedro Beato was pulled from Tuesday's home Grapefruit League game with shoulder stiffness and tightness.

David Wright will not appear in an exhibition game until at least next week, Collins said. Still, the manager added, Wright had a good day in the weight room Tuesday. Read more in Newsday and the Star-Ledger.

• The Mets won one and lost one in split-squad games Tuesday. R.A. Dickey retired all six batters he faced while working after Santana. 2011 first-round pick Brandon Nimmo, borrowed from minor league camp for the game against the St. Louis Cardinals, walked in his first career Grapefruit League at-bat. The 18-year-old outfielder was so enthusiastic, Collins said Nimmo raced to the third-base line to greet D.J. Carrasco after the reliever completed an inning. Nimmo also marveled at the size of Cardinals slugger Matt Holliday after seeing him in person for the first time.

Nimmo overall had an eye-opening experience, according to Andrew Keh in the Times. Writes Keh:

He seemed particularly impressed by one item in the major league spread, a dish of baked bell peppers stuffed with beef and rice. "I never saw those in the minor league side," Nimmo said, laughing. "There was more variety. I definitely enjoyed that."

Anthony Destefano in Newsday underscores that the eventual judgment of as much as $83 million that U.S. District Court Judge Jed S. Rakoff plans to give the trustee trying to recover funds for victims of Bernard Madoff's Ponzi scheme is spread among many of Fred Wilpon's family members, businesses and charities. The Mets are only on the hook for a maximum of $1.6 million to $1.7 million of that amount.

Scott Hairston (strained left oblique), who received a cortisone shot on Monday, told the Record's Mike Kerwick he will be idle for two weeks and is aiming to play in Grapefruit League games the final week of spring training. That leaves little wiggle room, and suggests Hairston very well could open the season on the disabled list. Hairston landed on the DL on Aug. 26 with a strain of the same muscle and did not return last season. Unless the Mets look for outside help late in camp, Vinny Rottino might be the best righty-hitting alternative for backup outfielder. Adam Loewen and Mike Baxter are currently the candidates for backup lefty-hitting outfielder, although the organization could look to upgrade there as well. If Hairston cannot open the season, the Mets would need a backup center fielder for Andres Torres. Of the players mentioned above, only Loewen is capable of playing there.

TRIVIA: Who started at third base for the Mets the game before Wright made his major league debut?

(Tuesday's answer: Mike Nickeas' father Mark played professional soccer in the North American Soccer League for the Vancouver Whitecaps and San Jose Earthquakes.)



Daniel Murphy
.288 7 37 57
HRL. Duda 14
RBID. Wright 50
RD. Murphy 57
OPSL. Duda .829
WB. Colon 8
ERAJ. Niese 3.13
SOZ. Wheeler 112