What’s wrong with the Mets?

If you listen to Manager-for-the-moment Terry Collins, the answer is “Nothing. We just have to play better.” Well we’re all certainly glad he cleared that one up. Good to know he has the solution right at his fingertips. Meanwhile the Mets have just notched their second six-game losing skein of the season – they still haven’t played 40 games yet, mind you, so this is a feat that’s only been accomplished three times in 52 seasons, 2 of them in the Casey Stengel era: those almost shouldn’t count.

Among the fan base, of course, the bile is starting to rise. The season s slipping away fast, and the old knee-slapper about the Mets being eliminated by Memorial Day just might become and emotional reality, if not a mathematical one. Mike Francesa – the Grand High Exalted Mystic Ruler of New York sports-talk radio – went on a long rant earlier this week about the general awfulness of the team from Queens. With each loss, the Mets’ road to irrelevance gets shorter and shorter, as is the fans’ fuse. The front office realizes that something. Must. Be. Done. That’s why the Mets are graced with Rick Ankiel roaming center field. The next move, of course will be showing Collins the door. This will be a move to buy a little time with the angry fans, but it couldn’t be any more transparent. Everybody knows Terry Collins can do nothing more than he’s already done with what he has on hand. He’s not Buck Showalter. He’s not even Joe Girardi. He’s not the type to get “more” out of a player – whatever that means. He’s not a manager for whom the guys will run through the proverbial wall. It’s a shame: Collins is a good man, a perfectly serviceable manager and none of this is his fault. He will, inevitably, pay the price, though, as all managers do.

The problem also isn’t Sandy Alderson. It’s becoming clearer and clearer that Alderson is simply carrying out his mandate from Commissioner Bud Selig: slash spending enough to keep the owners solvent, product on-the-field be damned. Alderson has succeeded brilliantly. He’s smart enough to be able to double-talk the public – and the media, Francesa included — about the progress of this team and where on the success cycle the Mets actually are. But in his heart of hearts, he’s not a “baseball guy.” He’s a lawyer, an administrator, a caretaker, so taking him to task for personnel non-moves is fruitless.

The problem, of course, is the ownership. I have no doubt that Fred and Jeff Wilpon love the game and love being owners. The love it so much, they are fighting to their final breath to hold onto this team – though your intrepid columnist is still of the opinion that they’d rather own the Dodgers. They just seem to be spectacularly inept at it. For a couple of guys who try to avoid looking bad to the public, their every move comes off as nothing less than clownish. They will not come clean and acknowledge what is obvious: they do not, at present, have the resources to run a Major League franchise in New York. It infuriates at least one fan I can think of that they seem to be starving the team in order to meet the crushing debts that remain on the team, the ballpark and SNY. Mistrust at every level has been bred, right down to the questioning of injury news: Zack Wheeler might have a slight discomfort in his clavicle, but the assumption among the fan base is that he’s out with nothing more than the Super Two flu. With Selig’s backing, the Wilpons never will sell and they never will put a product on the field that will win on any consistent basis.

And we’re all the worse off for it.

Follow me on Twitter @CharlieHangley

32 comments on “From The Head Down: The Wilpons And The Mets’ Dysfunction

  • Michael Geus

    If Wheeer had been around all year there would be some amount of additional revenue and Wheeler would be making the minimum this year. If they have such crushing liquidity problems servicing their debt it would be better to have him up now.

    If they are broke why would they care about Super 2?

    We don’t know their personal finances but the teams debt load sure seems manageable now considering their stake in SNY. The banks agreed and did a refinancing recently. I would love them to sell and maybe they will finally cash out but I don’t think these guys are going bankrupt. They need public pressure to operate the team correctly, if hey need to raise cash the avenues to do so should exist.

    It’s not good for the business of baseball, a big business, to have a NY team run this way. It will change, the only question is when. The sooner the better for me.

    • Brian Joura

      Before the $700 million loan, this is what I had for their non-payroll financial obligations:

      They have a loan against the team due in 2014, reportedly $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

      Meanwhile, Forbes estimated their SNY money to be around $47 million
      http://www.forbes.com/sites/mikeozanian/2011/02/04/mets-will-need-30-million-profit-just-to-make-debt-payments/

      We don’t know what the terms of the $700 million loan are so all we can do is guess and speculate. But I find it hard to believe that the money problems are behind them.

      • Michael Geus

        The YES network recently sold for $3.4 Billion. If SNY were worth half of that it could be sold for $1.5 billion. And that seems way too low as last year SNYs gross revenue was over 80 percent of YES. But for fun, say $1.5 Billion.

        The Wilpons own 65 percent of the network. So they could sell SNY and eliminate the debt if they felt like it. But I doubt they will. I believe they will continue to use the asset appreciation to refinance and add more debt at lower interest rates.

        It’s like owning a house. If your house is worth a million dollars there is nothing crippling about having a 300,000 mortgage. At any time you could flip the asset and eliminate the debt.

        The Wilpons debt is related to assets which have real value in the marketplace. If they have liquidity problems they just need to refinance or sell assets.

        Now one of the assets they could sell is the team itself, which would also raise more than the entire debt load. This would be my dream, and maybe, just maybe, it was why they are running down payroll.

        A new buyer would pay a premium for the flexibility of less outstanding player contact obligations. That is my dream.

        • Brian Joura

          The banks will continue to loan them money as long as their assets outweigh their liabilities. But if all they do is continually refinance without paying down any debt – soon you have no equity.

          When they got the $700 million refinance, it was widely reported that the owners were taking $160 million of that for their own purposes. So, they used $540 million to pay off debts. They owed more than that so they essentially created more debt – although likely with a longer period to pay it off.

          Good luck to them playing that game.

  • Steven A

    They will never sell unless they must financially to meet their personal obligations. Does anyone really think that the Wilpons give a hoot what the average fan thinks about them. The circles they travel in socially and professionally probably dont even follow the team. On the other hand, in the circles that they travel in and want to travel in, owning a ML team is immediate cachet no matter how bad the team does on the field. Think about it. If someone wanted to get front row seats and back stage passes to a Springsteen concert and then a meeting for one’s grandchildren, or wanted to impress a potential business partner by setting up such a meeting, the Wilpons are more likely to get that for zero dollars just by making a call, than a rich hedge fund guy. The prestige of owning a team is truly priceless.

  • NormE

    The only power the fans have is the power to withhold their money. Shrinking attendance leads to less money for concession stands. It also leads to lower advertising revenues. Someday, Bud Selig will be gone and the new commissioner will have to deal with other owners who realize
    that a vibrant NY team is good business. The fans have the power to undermine the Wilpons, but it will take time.

    • peter

      NormE! You are so right! Problem is next season the new MLB television contracts kick in with more than 50 million dollars in revenue for each team. I think the Wilpons are trying to hold on and play a wait and see game. Maybe Citibank can decline to refinance their loan? You know we have a terrific candidate for the new owner of the Mets. How about our own mayor? He’s a shrewd businessman and has the willingness to surround himself with people who know more than him and can lead us into the playoffs. I know! Wishful thinking. But its better than drinking the kool-aid the Wilpons are offering their fan base.

    • peter

      NormE! You are so right! Problem is next season the new MLB television contracts kick in with more than 50 million dollars in revenue for each team. I think the Wilpons are trying to hold on and play a wait and see game. Maybe Citibank can decline to refinance their loan? You know we have a terrific candidate for the new owner of the Mets. How about our own mayor? He’s a shrewd businessman and has the willingness to surround himself with people who know more than him and can lead us into the playoffs. I know! Wishful thinking. But its better than drinking the kool-aid the Wilpons are offering their fan base.

  • Jim OMalley

    Wilpon and his son are the problem…Eliminate Wilpon and the rts problems begin to go away. Retain the Wilpons and the problems just linger and linger.

  • AJ

    I love the picture that’s used to illustrate this article! I’ve seen it here before and it always catches my eye. I think it would make a good subject for a “write the caption” contest.

  • peter

    The truth always hurts. But as a loyal Met fan it pains me to see how the Wilpons game plan is to manipulate the media into allowing them to hold on to the team. I said spring training to boycott Citifield as a way to demonstrate that the fan base deserves more than what the Wilpons can give. You can voice your displeasure by hitting them where it hurts the most and that is not to attend any games until the team puts a better product on the field. The Mets have become irrelevant. Thank you for reminding the Wilpons that the fan base is watching them and has put them on notice. We all know nothing is going to happen unless the Wilpons cannot refinance their loans.

  • Name

    Think of your most prized possession or perhaps even your most loved one, Something or someone you couldn’t live without. Now how would feel if I told you had to sell it or abandon the person.
    The Wilpons are humans. They have emotions and feelings like all of us. Why would they sell one of their most prized possessions? If I were in that position, i’d certainly fight and claw to keep the team at all cost. How is what they are doing not reasonable and rational?

    It seems like most fans are like kids asking parents (the owner’s) for money. When the money is flowing, all is well and the kids are happy. Once the kids are cut off by the parents, even for just a little while and a justifiable reason, the kids go into tantrum mode and kick, scream, and cry foul.

    The problem with the team, as Terry noted correctly but phrased poorly, are the players. The severely underachieving players. Everyone goes through major slumps where they hit under .200. It just so unfortunately happened that everyone got into a slump at the same exact time. Eventually, the players (except for Ike) will break out of it. Until then, the games are going to be ugly and frustrating.

  • peter

    To Name. Love is blinding. You deceive yourself into thinking that everything will be alright if you have enough time. But in your heart you hear that voice telling you your time is running out. Yes the Wilpons are human. They made a grievous mistake and stuck their heads in the sand not wanting to admit the possibility that their investment was being used fraudulently. We as fans of the New York Mets are paying for that mistake. If the commissioner was not a personal friend do you think the team would still be owned by the Wilpons? It is not fair to the fans and those who support the team by attending home games. Those underachievers are what Alderson was able to scrape together off the junk pile or are not ready for the major leagues. So why complain? You get what you pay for. Cream isn’t the only thing that rises to the top of the barrel.

    • Name

      Did you not understand my analogy? The Wilpons had been shelling out money, for like what, 10-15 years? As soon as the money has dried up the fans want to replace him. Have we no loyalty? Or do we treat the owners simply as a money tree and as soon as the tree wilts we throw it away and find a new one? I don’t think it’s fair to treat them that way.
      Tejada, Murphy, Davis, Duda , Niese, Marcum, Gee are not “players off the the junk pile”. They have all had some success before but are just struggling right now. Their problems are magnified because it just so happens that everyone is struggling at the same time.

  • Metsense

    The Mets are quickly becoming irrelevant.
    Bob Raisman, of the Daily News writes “The Mets on SNY are averaging a household rating of 1.91, down 22 percent from the same point in 2012. Among men 25-54, the key demographic, the Mets are averaging a 1.05 rating, down 15 percent from 2012.”
    It usually takes the year after winning before attendance figures reflect on a team. Therfore no money flow from attendance, no money flow from local television. The money is going to have to come from the salary coming off the books and a reinvestment of that money.
    The Wilpon’s want to own this team because they could sell it tomorrow and make a profit and lose the headache (but I don’t think they perceive it as a headache). MLB had the opportunity to force the sale when the Mets couldn’t pay the 25M back but chose not to. We are stuck with an ownership that can’t even afford a 2.5M contract to resign the only productive outfielder in 2012. I’m not an advocate of throwing money around but when opportunity comes around on a sound player investment and it is rejected because of money, then it is time to sell the team.
    The Wilpon’s are the disease and they don’t have the money for a cure.

  • peter

    Metsense you are soooo right on the mark! Organizing the fan base to boycott the Mets is the only tool that will make a difference and force the issue. What would happen if the Mets were to average less then 10,000 fans per game? Do you think that would rattle ownership?

    • Chris F

      I doubt it. As Name says, this is like a loved one. It doesnt appear that way to us, but I believe owning a baseball team (in this case the Mets) is key to their personal family validation. I imagine they would prefer to own the Dodgers. The mere look of Citi Field shows their nostalgia for a team and a time that does not exist, and wresting that from their claws will be be nigh impossible. I think they would financially go down the drink before letting go. We’re nostalgic for great Mets teams; they are not. We grew up with the Mets. The boss grew up with Koufax and Robinson and Hodges.

      It has been pointed out that the Wilpons have dumped a fortune into big name contracts over the years. We are paying for quite a few not to play baseball for us this very minute (Im looking at you Bobby Bonilla…and we all know who else). Although money is a large crisis this moment, all evidence points to that not being the main problem. I think it gets back to a heart and soul, or specifically the lack of one, which has translated to lousy FO personnel, and then lousy choices on the field. It gets back to not having a stable, consistent, and ambitious “Mets way.”

  • peter

    Bobby Bonilla’s money was deferred(hopefully in an escrow account not named Madoff). Major League Baseball cannot allow the Mets to default. If that were to occur then Bud would have no choice but to ask the Wilpons to sell. If there was going to be a “Met Way”, who would you like to see running the organization?

  • Chris F

    I guess my first call would be to Seaver, not to run the ship, but to build the team that would identify the right people. I would harness the experience from members of the great teams. I still marvel that the ’69 team rose from infancy to killers through the professionalism of Hodges. It takes no time in listening to Seaver talk about it to see how significantly a club can be transformed.

  • peter

    The next call would have to be to a manager the team respects. Someone who has the fortitude to tell them if they’re not hustling then you don’t play. Not to many out there.

  • Steven A

    This is a very interesting discussion. Again, I think that history shows that people only sell Major leage baseball teams when an external financial event requires them to sell their biggest asset. There really is no such pressure on the Wilpons anymore. In todays debt market, they can probably refinance all of the debt at a lower rate and take advantage of the increased value of the team. In terms of operating income, the reality is that because of TV revenues, if necessary the mets can decrease payroll to an amount that makes the team profitable even without a single seat sold. Think Houston Astros. the bottom line is that ownership of this asset is the indentity for the Wilpon family and they are unwilling to part with that just because a bunch of fans in the 99% think they are idiots.

  • peter

    I think you misunderstood my analogy. Instead of signing one solid free agent who could solidify the outfield(and buy some valuable time for the Mets) or making a trade with the Indians for Shin-Soo, Alderson choose to low ball Scot Hairston and wait for what? There is no immediate help for the outfield in the minors. There are no free agents on the market for 2014 one would consider to be game changers. Shawn Marcum is a one year pitcher. The Mets continually shop for bargain players passed their prime in the hope that the they can rekindle their previous success. I don’t think the Wilpons are idiots. It’s there arrogance in thinking that a family friend would never screw them over 400 million dollar investment. Citifield is about the Mets not the Brooklyn Dodgers.
    To Name. Yes the Wilpons have been shelling out money the pass 10-15 years. In return they were able to field a competitive team that had Shea stadium drawing nearly 3 million fans.

    • Name

      Yes. The Wilpons had been quite good before their money troubles. They are also not too meddlesome, not like George Steinbrenner or even worse like a Jeffrey Loria who really have no business interfering with day-to-day stuff. The worst that they have done, in my memory, are make some … questionable comments.
      Therefore, they should be given a chance by the fans to fix their problems. Something as big as up to $1 billion obviously was not going to be a quick fix. It’s been around 5 years now and they finally have started to settle things financially and I think that was a reasonable time to do it considering the size and magnitude of the situation.
      If they don’t spend in the next year when there are clear upgrades available in the markets at a reasonable cost, you can feel free to start bashing them and I won’t defend them anymore.

    • Jerry Grote

      Yes. Certainly.

      The Mets should have given Scott Hairston what he wanted. It certainly turned out well for Chicago.

      While we are at this charade, I’m surprised no one has pulled out the Dickey Trade. Doesn’t it support the “cheap Mets ownership” argument? Oh … right … uh …

      Charley’s article is a good one, except it reaches to completely castigate the Wilpons. They have been at best marginal ownership and over the last three years, they’ve been financially hamstrung by Madoff. It’s a toxic beverage, and as Name points out, made worse by the idea that even this poor group of players timed their slumps at once, in a very competitive division.

      162, and you play them all. The team is 2.5 games away from Philly for third place; and you might want to take note that the Mighty Mighty Nationals are 3 games above 500. Yes, by all means, let’s jump out of the building.

  • peter

    It’s not just the spending that’s involved. Yes, the new MLB television contracts kick in with each team receiving about 50 million in additional revenue for 2014. It’s the two major loans that are due 2014-15 the Wilpons made which could spell the end for the Wilpons. They would have to refinance over 750 million dollars(Forbes.com) between the two loans. Fred Wilpon claims he is debt free. But what he doesn’t state is that SNY(of which he owns 65%) owe more than 750 million dollars on a loan that is due 2015. He’s liable for 450 million on that loan. We’ll see what happens when the team loan (320 million) that is due in June comes due.

  • peter

    There is no problem with the Mets. They’re just going to be inconsistent. Considering the lack of talent and depth the team can only get better by building on the starting pitching. All teams have offensive funks throughout the season. It’s the pitching that will eventually dictate where this team ends up. the Phillies are in a downward spiral as their starting pitching begins to falter and the Nat’s had their opportunity last year when everything fell into place for them.

  • Charlie Hangley

    This organization is not cheap, eh? Check out this baby from my friend Steve Keane:

    http://www.kranepoolsociety.com/2013/05/13/i-guess-the-mets-plan-is-lose-the-battle-and-win-the-war/

    • Jerry Grote

      http://www.baseball-almanac.com/yearly/yr2007n.shtml

      This would have been the last year before the Mets likely would have seen the net effects of Bernie Madoff. I don’t know how you would say the most expensive payroll in the NL was being cheap.

      Don’t be ridiculous. The Mets haven’t spent money in the last few years because they’ve been on the brink of financial ruin. There are some people in finance that might give the ownership kudos for emerging from such a situation without bankruptcy … if indeed, they are able to still get out of it. I guess that question is still open.

      AAR, Charlie, you are quite well aware that before BM, they spend as well as anyone. Well. They spent a lot. And every single, knowledgable fan realizes that spending, in and of itself, doesn’t reflect wins. LA Dodgers, anyone?

      • Charlie Hangley

        I agree, Jerry. I’m also thinking of the “grace notes,” if you will. Stuff for the fans. Like they can’t have a 40th Anniversary of the 1973 pennant winners because it’s “cost prohibitive.” Give me an effin’ break. Real first class org. we have here…

        • Name

          Since when is a 40 yr anniversary special?

          • Charlie Hangley

            Any anniversary that ends in “0” is a big deal, IMHO.

  • peter

    When Citifield opened and had no Hall of Fame or tribute to past Met World Series winners that should of told you everything right there. So is the Met organization a class act? You can decide for yourself. How about an Old-Timers reunion with the ’69 and 86′ Met World Series Champions getting together? Would you go out to Citi to see that? Let the rookies see and chat with the former stars.

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