The cliché that we learned growing up is that sports build character. The line they try to feed us now is that sports don’t build character so much as they reveal it. Like most things, I imagine the truth is somewhere in the middle.
In player-management disputes, I am unapologetically pro-player. After all, the players are the ones out there laying it on the line day after day. If David Wright strikes out with the bases loaded to end the game, he’s the one who has to look at his teammates, take heat from the press right after the game and hear from the fans at the park the next day. There’s nowhere for him to hide after we witnessed it first hand and see the numbers that are published in the newspapers and online.
I saw Jason Bay bust his tail and do everything within his power to succeed. I also saw him fail on a seemingly daily basis for three years. I wrote an article during the 2011 season asking for the club to release him. It was nothing personal against Bay, it was just business in wanting to see the club do better. Bay was paid an obscene amount of money by the Mets, especially compared to the production he delivered. My opinion is that he would give it back in a heartbeat to return to being the player he was in 2009.
Speaking of business, the Mets have made headlines recently with financial news, as information about ownership’s refinancing has started to come to light. I think this situation helps illustrate one reason why I favor the players over the owners.
Let’s compare David Wright’s financial situation with that of the Wilpons. Here’s what I know about Wright’s recently-signed contract, which is publically available at Cot’s:
• signed extension with NY Mets 12/12, replacing option in previous contract
• 13:$11M, 14:$20M, 15:$20M, 16:$20M, 17:$20M, 18:$20M, 19:$15M, 20:$12M
• Wright to defer $15.5M ($3M in 2013 and $2.5M annually in 2014-18), reducing present-day value at signing to $134,015,678
• award bonuses: $0.5M for MVP ($1M for second MVP, $1.5M for third MVP). $0.2M for finishing 2nd-5th finish in MVP vote. $0.1M each for Gold Glove, Silver Slugger, Hank Aaron Award, All-Star, most All-Star votes in league, Player of Year from Baseball America, AP or The Sporting News.
• Wright to donate $1.38M to Mets charity over life of contract
And here’s what I know about the Wilpons’ financial issues:
• They have a loan against the team due in 2014, which Howard Megdal reports as being $320 million
• They have a loan against SNY due in 2015, for $450 million
• They have debt payments on Citi Field due twice a year at some unknown number – perhaps as high as $25 million every six months (that’s the highest I’ve seen published – I’ve also seen $22 million per six months and $43 million per year).
• They have interest payments against those loans, but I don’t know the terms
• They owe revenue sharing but we don’t know how much
• They just got a new loan that Bloomberg’s Scott Soshnick terms as “for at least 700 million.” We don’t know much more than that.
We know exactly how much Wright is going to earn. We know the length of his contract, how much money is deferred, the present-day value of the deal, the award bonuses and how much he’s going to donate to charity. Contrast that with the Wilpons – we know some of their debts but mostly we don’t know how much or for how long.
One of the great things about sports is how definite things are. You always know where you stand at the end of the day. I don’t have any idea where we stand with the Mets’ finances. Is the latest “at least $700 million” good or bad? I’m sure one could spin that in any direction one pleased. I think it’s beyond bogus that we know every detail about Wright’s contract yet we have to play detective to piece together what little we know about the Wilpons’ situation.
You can say it’s different because we’re comparing Wright’s income with the Wilpons’ debts. Well, how much do we know about their income? How much do they take in from ticket sales or concessions or parking or naming rights or from local and national broadcast deals? We know some of this information but we don’t know it all – certainly nowhere to the degree that we know about Wright.
It’s incredibly easy to find stuff about Wright because we have a site – Cot’s baseball contracts – devoted exclusively to providing this information. No such creature exists for the owners. The closest we have are the “Business of Baseball” numbers from Forbes, a business magazine. And even though these numbers come from a conservative business publication, we are told over and over again by the owners and the commissioner how these numbers are not accurate and do not portray reality.
When we analyze players, we constantly look for numbers that portray reality – how good is this player? We used to think batting average and wins gave us that information but we’ve continued to strive and come up with better numbers that more accurately portray reality. Now, I suppose you could dismiss this as “the Pursuit of Comprehension Through Quantification” but it’s been proven to work and I’ll believe in it until someone gives me a better model.
And if it’s fair to subject players to this rigorous analysis – it’s only fair to do the same thing with the owners. But the owners bend over backwards to obscure and hide, if not outright lie about, the necessary information to make informed decisions. Forgive me if I trust them as far as I can throw them.
I’m all for everyone making an honest buck. I don’t begrudge someone having hundreds of millions of dollars if they earned it. Fred Wilpon was the son of an undertaker who went out and made his fortune in real estate. He wasn’t born on third base – he actually hit a triple. He should be an owner that fans admire.
When the Wilpons had liquidity – they spent money. But the real estate crash combined with heavy loans to build the new park and finance a TV network and then the collapse of the Madoff cash cow all coming at the same time killed their liquidity. And now they don’t spend money. I don’t begrudge the Wilpons for cutting payroll and doing what they need to do to retain the club. I imagine that I would do the exact same thing if I were in their shoes.
Yet, don’t lie to me while you’re doing what needs to be done. Don’t tell me that payroll is going to be X amount of dollars and then have it be a number 20 percent lower. Don’t restructure contracts and then refuse to say how much, if any, is going to be sunk into payroll. Don’t refinance loans without telling us the terms and what the money is going to be used for.
Just gimme some truth.
You might recall about this time last year the Mets hired the firm CRG to analyze their financial statements and help with business projections. But when the news broke, the hysteria in the blogosphere was that the Mets were preparing for bankruptcy because CRG was the same company that assisted the Texas Rangers when their owner hit the financial skids.
It’s possible that the work done by CRG assisted the Wilpons in getting this latest round of financing. If so, and if this financing turns out to be the key to the Wilpons regaining their financial control – then we as fans should be celebrating. We should be celebrating the Wilpons’ good sense to hire CRG. We should celebrate CRG for delivering the much-needed financing. And we should applaud knowing that the light at the end of the tunnel is sunshine and not an oncoming train.
But because of the lack of transparency in their financial matters – we don’t know. We can only guess and there’s little doubt that there’s a lot of really bad guessing out there – as the initial CRG reaction illustrates. Personally, I hate not knowing. I hate not knowing if the Mets will be able to spend money this year, next year or in the next five years. But I don’t know and I just kept getting lied to on a continual basis and I have a hard time believing that’s in the team’s best interests – to lie to their fans.
Let’s go back to Wright. We know the Mets just extended him with a lucrative long-term deal, one that the vast majority of fans favor because it keeps a homegrown star with the club for the rest of his career. There’s value to that, although the value I place on it is much lower than 99 percent of the rest of the fan base.
We never know how a player is going to perform over the life of his contract. Certainly while many panned the Bay deal when it was made, no one saw him being the complete and utter failure he proved to be.
Usually what we do is give our best guess as to the value a player will produce and place his contract in the context of the team and the team’s finances/payroll to determine if we think a move is “good” or “bad.” But when we have no idea about the team’s finances/payroll – it becomes that much harder to judge the relative worth of a deal.
Isn’t the $134 million to Wright dependent a lot on how much of payroll it absorbs? It’s one thing if it’s part of a $130 million payroll. It’s a completely different beast if it’s part of a $75 million payroll. It’s not destined to happen yet we have to acknowledge the possibility that in 2015 the Mets are paying Wright 26 percent of their total payroll to put up a .750 OPS.
It was no fun to pay Bay 19 percent of the team’s payroll in 2012. But at the time that he signed we thought he would A) be much more productive and B) that the payroll would be much higher. My fear with Wright is making the Bay mistake all over again. And if that comes to pass, the fact that Wright came up with the Mets won’t cushion that blow for me one single little bit.
Of course, that’s the worst-case scenario. Wright could continue to hit like he did in 2012 and the Mets payroll could stop its downward trend. I just wish we could have some idea how likely the latter was.
I want to be in Fred Wilpons’ corner. He owns my favorite team and my gut feeling is that he really cares and wants to field a winner. But it would be a lot easier to root for him if I knew as much about him and his financial picture as I did his top player.
If sports truly do reveal character – what does it say about Wilpon?