In all the drama that has followed the Mets since Fred Wilpon took over, I tried to comfort myself by saying “He’s a self made billionaire, he’s got to have some idea what is going on”. Turns out he’s been a key cog (wittingly or otherwise) in the biggest Ponzi scheme in history. The Wilpons have said all along that they are amongst the victims here – and if they are to be believed the personal betrayal is breathtaking. But regardless of who knew what when, the Wilpons sure are victims now, whether it is of a nefarious scheme or their own irrational exuberance (or worse) is a matter for the courts to decide. And let’s face it, very few of us would understand all the details of this case were they to be dropped in our laps – and they haven’t been. Much speculation has been made on the future of the organization, and who will be running it both in the near future and long term. Generally, this has been met with trepidation by the fan base, and with good reason. Almost all of us have had issues with ‘Freddie Coupons’ in the past and believe whole heartedly that “Jeff Wilpon” is baseball speak for “James Dolan”, but still, it’s the devil you know… Facing into the great unknown of an ownership in financial turmoil, most fans look back longingly at the good ol’ days of ‘05-‘06, when the team was bringing up prospects, flashing cash, and winning games. Those days seem like a long time ago.
But can Madoff actually help the new front office regime of Sandy Alderson? IN terms of the minor league system, then answer may be yes. The rare baseball related stories to come out about the Mets this winter have focused on their lack of player personnel movement, an inertia that is due directly to the club’s inability or unwillingness to spend heavily when they are being sued for hundreds of millions of dollars. For the Mets fan who understands that the Minaya regime left a multi-year rebuilding project in its wake – Madoff or no – this current scandal may give Sandy & Co. the cover to do what Fred & Jeff are unable to do in baseball (and maybe elsewhere): use their money wisely.
In 2009, the first season after Madoff was arrested, the Mets broke with tradition and exceeded the MLB slot recommendations for draft picks when they signed second rounder, and Long Island native, Steve Matz for $895,000 (slot was about $507,000). Many pointed out that the Mets had money to throw around since they didn’t have a first rounder to spend on, and with that in mind, under $1MM for your top pick was not all that impressive (Matz has yet to pitch above instructional league due to Tommy John surgery). In 2010, the beat went on as the Mets again went over slot for the 7th overall pick in the draft, University of North Carolina’s Matt Harvey, who sign for $2.5MM (slot was $2.2MM). In both years, with a late round exception in each, the Mets towed the line in slot bonuses the rest of the way. In previous drafts, the Mets were criticized for not flexing their perceived financial muscle. Now, the question is do they have financial muscle to flex?
The Mets have spent less than $8MM on the last two drafts combined. The small market Royals have spent over $13MM. The Pirates dropped almost $12MM on the 2010 draft alone! With the Wilpons ability to run the Good Ship Mets coming into question on a daily basis, Alderson and his deputies (JP Riccardi and Paul DePodesta) all known for being able to construct a strong farm system, have a great chance to convince Fred & Jeff that a slight increase in financial outlay – from say $4MM per draft to $7MM this year (the Mets have the 13th & 44th overall selections), and then letting the new brass do what they do best, could boost the minor league talent level, and in the midst of a season where they are not expected to be competitive, show the fan base that they have the financial wherewithal to make improvements. This would be a nice precursor to the 2011 offseason when some $50MM is expected to come off the books, and then we’ll see for sure what kind of shape this franchise is in.