I think if you asked Mets fans this question – If you had a spare $20 million would you buy one of the shares in the team that the Wilpons are offering? – most would reply no. My guess is that they would not want to do anything that would help keep the current owners in power one day longer than the bare minimum. But I don’t think that’s the right question in the first place.
Are the Wilpons bad owners? I don’t think that answer is quite as easy. To me, a bad owner is one who won’t spend on payroll. Former Twins owner Carl Pohlad would be featured regularly on Forbes’ Wealthiest Man lists yet the Twins had a bottom-tier payroll. To me, that’s much worse than the shape we Mets fans find us in today.
When the Wilpons had liquid cash, they spent money on payroll. Now that their main source of liquidity has, um, gone away they reacted by cutting payroll. I can’t see that in and of itself makes them bad owners. Let’s say that Fred Wilpon buys a Power Ball ticket and is the lone winner of a $500 million jackpot. What do you think he would do? I think he would settle his most pressing debts and then look to reinvest *some* money back in payroll.
So, I think a better question would be: If you had a spare $500 million, would you reach out to the Wilpons about some kind of partnership? And I think here is that my answer would be yes.
Now, part of the hypothetical includes the word “spare” which in my mind means that you’ve already taken care of your family and any other people or institutions that are more important than a baseball team. The amount – $500 million – is certainly not enough to buy the team if the Wilpons are forced to sell. It may not even be enough to be the majority partner if you assembled a group of investors. But even if it was, do you really want to deal with a bunch of hedge fund managers all angling to come up with ways to drive you out?
No, I think I’d rather work a deal with old Fred. I do think the elder Wilpon cares and he wants the club to do well. But I think I could be a perfect partner for Wilpon, helping him with his trouble spots. Wilpon wants the Mets to do well, over everything else but selling the team. So, I give him the money to keep the team and write our partnership to make it so that I could never do to him what he did to Nelson Doubleday – take more control on a technicality.
In this deal, I’m not interested in money or prestige. Well, maybe prestige. Essentially, I want Wilpon to reap the benefits of a winning team, but have nothing to do with the day-to-day operations of the club.
So, in return for my $500 million, Wilpon gets to keep all of his ownership of the club. He gets to rake in the money and he gets the commissioner to hand him the World Series trophy. He has full responsibility for attending and voting in owners’ meetings. None of that stuff changes in the slightest. But he has to turn over every responsibility in the day-to-day operations to me, including what the payroll is. Of course, I’ll consult with him. However, I’ll call the meeting and I’ll have final say if the payroll is $90 million or $150 million.
He and his offspring have no authority. That means that Jeff Wilpon is stripped of his title. He can keep his office but everyone from interns on up can tell him to take a hike if he tries to meddle and he cannot do anything about it.
I keep Sandy Alderson and his entire staff. I’ll borrow my title from Bill Simmons and be known as the VP of Common Sense. Alderson reports to me and has a daily briefing where I mostly tell him what a great job he’s doing. I defer to his team on the pick of Brandon Nimmo. I congratulate him for getting out of the option for Francisco Rodriguez and for pulling Zack Wheeler for two months of Carlos Beltran. I laugh at the bad memory of him allowing Blaine Boyer to make the club out of Spring Training last year. And I tell him there’s no way he’ll ever be allowed to spend $3.5 million on Jon Rauch.
Terry Collins still reports directly to Alderson, but I imagine I’ll have a word or two with him every now and then. Jay Horowitz and David Howard report to me and my guess is there will be a few changes on how PR and marketing are handled going forward. Matt Cerrone and Howard Megdal will form a committee tasked with coming up with a blogger credential policy. Jon Springer will be in charge of forming a committee to recommend which uniform numbers get retired.
Wilpon can turn over the team to any family member but the current arrangement remains in place. If he sells the team to non-family members or corporations where he and his family do not have a controlling interest, I get my $500 million back.
In this deal, the Wilpons essentially become our version of the Royal Family. They get to enjoy tremendous perks and live a life of luxury in the spotlight. It’s just that they have no say on making any decisions of real importance.
My question to you is: Would that be worth $500 million to Fred Wilpon?