True New Yorkers

Because self-respecting Mets fans do not sign loyalty oaths to a team run by dishonest and incompetent owners

5 Questions for Major League Baseball On the Ownership of the New York Mets

A beautiful Harvey day turned ugly might be the perfect metaphor for the Mets.

A beautiful Harvey day turned ugly might be the perfect metaphor for the Mets.

The always insightful Howard Megdal has written what can only be read as a demoralizing piece on the state of the Mets for all who care about the team’s ability to sustain any semblance of long-run success.

To wit, even assuming that the Mets are able to marginally improve their offense in the coming days and years — no small question mind you given the depressing content of Megdal’s article — it appears the best us fans can hope for is a fleeting period of winning, given the inability of the Mets to re-sign the pitching currently coming through the pipeline.

Indeed, it appears that we are now past the state of grieving, having moved on to acceptance: All are resigned to the fact that the Wilpons will not put forth the resources necessary to ensure a franchise capable of competing on a yearly basis.

As Megdal notes, this is evidenced not just in manager Terry Collins stunningly already admitting that the Mets may not be able to re-sign The Franchise™ years in advance of his free agency, but in the fact that those who follow the team on a daily basis all silently acknowledge that the Mets’ poor finances loom over every baseball decision considered.

It is the elephant we all would rather ignore at first base, shortstop, the outfield, and even perhaps at the Citi Field perimeter.

With all of this in mind, we the fans, as well as the media ought to be demanding that Major League Baseball answer the following questions:

1) Is it acceptable to Major League Baseball that the Mets play in the largest sports market in the nation yet maintain a payroll in the bottom third of the league, behind teams that play in such locals as Kansas City, Milwaukee and Minnesota?

2) How can the Mets’ owners be considered sound and prudent stewards of a Major League Baseball club — with Fred Wilpon worthy of running the league’s finance committee — given the Wilpons’ apparent lack of judgment in investing not once but twice in Ponzi schemes?

3) Are the Mets constrained at all financially by covenants in the debt documents governing the team’s loans? If not, will Major League Baseball make the Mets’ debt documents public? In lieu of such disclosures, will Major League Baseball make public the total debt encumbering the team and all related entities, as well as relevant leverage metrics?

4) What evidence can you point to that indicates that the Mets have the willingness and ability to spend funds commensurate with other competitive teams throughout Major League Baseball?

5) Would an inability to retain crucial free agents — let alone sign additional ones — concern Major League Baseball? More broadly, are there any financial events at all that would precipitate Major League Baseball considering the forced sale of the club?

If Major League Baseball were forced to address these questions, it would likely obfuscate.

That obfuscation however would at least indicate that the Mets and Major League Baseball’s continued support of the Mets should be subject to significantly higher scrutiny than they have been to date.

I for one would love for Mets ownership and Major League Baseball to prove us wrong.

But I would not bet on it.

Why Major League Baseball Must Compel the New York Mets’ Sale

The above is a presentation in which we argue that in the interest of the New York Mets and Major League Baseball as a whole, Commissioner Rob Manfred must force the sale of the club.

In this presentation we show that the Mets’ on-field struggles are directly tied to a cash-strapped, fundamentally dishonest ownership group that has harmed the reputation of the franchise and destroyed the value of the team, to the detriment of the fans and Major League baseball itself.

This presentation was borne out of frustration with our beloved Mets, who have been mired in mediocrity for the last six seasons, and are being operated as a small market club despite inhabiting the largest market in the country.

Following several years of running off contracts and swapping proven players for prospects — all while proclaiming that the Mets were financially sound and ready to pursue free agents in the wake of the collapse of the Bernie Madoff Ponzi Scheme — the Mets have produced a number of successful young players.

In spite of this influx of young talent that screams for the addition of several additional veterans to put the team over the top, this offseason the Mets effectively sat on their hands with only one major free agent signing, of an outfielder who will turn 36 on opening day and played in only 49 games in 2014. Meanwhile, competitors such as the Washington Nationals and Florida Marlins improved significantly while taking on major new financial commitments.

With the Mets projecting to have a payroll in the bottom third of Major League Baseball, and a substantial amount of debt coming due in 2015, something has to give, or the window to win a World Series will quickly close on a talented young club.

That we are even talking about a window to win incidentally speaks to the weakness of an ownership group that has never produced a sustained run of success, with the Mets under Wilpon majority ownership making the playoffs only once in 11 years.

In spite of proclamations from Mets brass and former Commissioner Bud Selig to the contrary, it is abundantly clear to all who have followed this club under Wilpon ownership that management does not have the financial wherewithal to operate the Mets competitively, as evidenced by a series of emergency capital raises and refinancings, all while payroll has plummeted.

Moreover, as mentioned, management has tarnished the reputation of the club not only due to its Madoff investments and mediocre play, but a series of embarrassing public relations blunders that speak to an incompetence, tone-deafness and fundamental dishonesty that disrespects the fans and the game of baseball itself.

There is a recent precedent for taking a team out of the control of an ownership group that is damaging a franchise and the game itself in the form of the Los Angeles Dodgers, which have since become a perennial contender.

We believe that similarly, baseball must act swiftly in order to replace the Wilpons with an ownership group that has the financial strength, acumen, competence and credibility to restore the Mets as the competitive, entertaining, fan-friendly franchise that New York and Major League Baseball deserves.

Sandy Alderson’s Pivotal Comment, the Mets’ Mendacity and Bud Selig

Today Sandy Alderson made a comment that flies in the face of what Mets ownership and management has been saying for years.

During an interview with ESPN New York 98.7FM, as reported by Metsblog, Alderson stated [emphasis mine]:

I do believe it [payroll] will go up if we’re able to generate the kind of revenue that will support that, and that’s why we have to win.

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First, note that the Mets GM said he believes that payroll will go up. In other words, contrary to the Mets’ mantra that the team is over its fiscal woes and now has “flexibility” to spend again, apparently it’s no sure thing that the Mets will spend more than say, the San Diego Padres or Kansas City Royals or Seattle Mariners or Milwaukee Brewers, let alone those flush Arizona Diamondbacks.

Second, note the huge stipulation that the Mets will spend IF they are able to generate enough revenue to support spending. In other words, there are serious strings attached to the notion that the Mets will function like a ballclub that inhabits the world’s biggest baseball market.

Alderson reportedly made this point in a meeting with season ticket holders previously (why they remained season ticket holders after such a comment boggles the mind), but I cannot recall him stating it point-blank in a public interview like this. 

Back in February 2013, in a team press release, Fred Wilpon stated that:

the payroll will be commensurate with anything we’ve ever done, because we can do it…Everything that was in the past — and you guys saw the pain that we went through — is gone…Ownership does not have a strong parameter on the payroll…This is a different era.

But Wilpon’s most telling statement, which was ignored by the fans and media was this little addendum:

Now the people have to come to the ballpark, but if you have a competitive team, they will.

This is simply an untenable and unacceptable situation for the Mets, their fans and Major League Baseball more broadly.

The only way the Mets will generate more revenue will be to draft prudently while supplementing their farm system with talented Major League players — players on whom teams must spend money.

While the Mets have shown a propensity to draft promising young pitchers, players like Ruben Tejada, Lucas Duda, Chris Young, and to date, Travis d’Arnaud do not strike me as talented Major League players (ask yourself, would these players start on the Braves or Nationals or Brewers or Cardinals or Giants or Dodgers).

And while spending money in and of itself does not guarantee wins, the Mets have not shown any ability to spend like a small-market team and compete with their big market brethren.

Besides the signing of Marlon Byrd, thus far none of Sandy Alderson’s reclamation projects (see the Mets’ entire bullpen under Sandy Alderson’s tenure), let alone larger signings have been successful, while he traded away a serious talent in Angel Pagan for essentially negative value, and received literally nothing for Jose Reyes.

Also, let’s not forget that Matt Harvey was drafted by Omar Minaya, while prospects like Zach Wheeler and Noah Syndergaard (and the aforementioned d’Arnaud) were obtained only by way of the trades of players — Carlos Beltran and R.A. Dickey — signed by Alderson’s predecessor.

This digression aside, Alderson’s final comment that spending more money “probably raises the probabilities [of making money]…somewhat, but it doesn’t ensure anything,” strikes this fan as a total cop-out. To put a competitive team on the field, especially given the Mets’ historical failings in the draft, lack of Major League-ready offensive talent, and inability to scrape parts together to develop even an average professional bullpen, you need to spend money.

All of this brings us to one final question: In light of the facts, how can it be that Commissioner Bud Selig has “no concerns” about the Mets’ finances?

If the facts on the ground were exactly the same but the Mets’ owner was Frank McCourt, it’s very hard to believe that Bud Selig would be singing this tune.

A Teaser to Our Presentation on Why Major League Baseball Should Compel the Mets to Sell

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Below is a teaser to our aforementioned presentation outlining why Major League Baseball should compel the Mets’ owners to sell the team, pursuant to the league Constitution.

An Open Letter to the New York Mets from True New Yorkers

To The New York Mets:

Recently, I and many other die-hard Mets fans received a letter imploring us to stand with our team.

You invoked the strength of the fan base in supporting championship clubs of the past, and asked us “to give today’s club the same chance we had.”

The implication underlying your statement however offends the sensibilities of thousands of impassioned Mets fans not only in New York but across the country.

My fellow fans and I continue to root for this team, in spite of a seemingly endless string of embarrassing and demoralizing on- and off-field developments. We continue to spend millions of dollars cumulatively each season on a team that has been mediocre for over five years. We continue to sacrifice hundreds of hours out of each year for this team.

But our dedication to the Mets has not been reciprocated by you, the owners; ownership has irreparably impaired its goodwill with the fans by being utterly derelict in its fiduciary duty to the team.

To wit:

  • Ownership and management have repeatedly lied about the fiscal condition of the team, perpetually promising “financial flexibility,” and the resources to field a winning team, directly contradicted by the facts:
    • Subsequent to the discovery of Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi scheme in December 2008 — in which the Mets’ majority owners were invested — the team’s payroll has declined from a high of ~$149mm in 2009 to ~$89mm in 2014 (down 40%), the lowest payroll in over a decade; the Mets rank in the bottom third in payroll of all Major League teams, while residing in baseball’s biggest market
    • The heavily indebted Mets have been forced to undertake a series of restructurings — encumbering their most valuable asset in their tv network, SNY — and an equity capital raise, while potentially subjecting themselves to restrictive financial covenants[1]
  • While consistently “moving the goal posts” with respect to success as defined by ownership and management, the Mets’ on-field performance has been poor:
    • Since 2008, the Mets have finished no higher than 3rd place, averaging 75 wins per season, while spending an average of $1.6mm per win (21% more than the MLB average over such time)[2]
    • Over the same period the team’s total WAR has averaged 11% below the MLB team average[3]

As a natural consequence of the Mets’ tangible and intangible failures, fan morale has declined, manifesting itself in a 9.3% annual decline in Citi Field attendance from its open in 2009 through 2013[4].

***

True New Yorkers demand accountability, excellence, and an unwavering commitment to achievement. True New Yorkers deserve an ownership that will compete with its cross-town rivals year in year out – that in fact wants to overtake their cross-town rivals during the 21st century.

Until you, the Mets owners turn over your reins to honest and credible stewards, with the resources, intellect and dedication necessary to win world championships each and every year, any success will be incidental, and you will never have the full support of the fan base.

We true New Yorkers deserve nothing less than an ownership equally as passionate and dedicated to this team as we are.

So we ask the New York Mets: Will you give us the same chance fans of the 1969 and 1986 New York Mets had?

 

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Note: Detailed presentation to come.

[1] We do not know the financial covenants to which the Mets are subjected, as the club’s debt documents are not public.

[2] Based on historical payroll data via USA Today.

[3] Based on historical cumulative team WAR via Fangraphs.

[4] Based on historical Mets stadium attendance via Baseball Almanac.