Mets principal owner Fred Wilpon held his own news conference on Field 2 Monday morning as the team stretched behind him during the first day of full-squad workouts. Here's what he had to say in the complete 22-minute interview:
Q: What's your outlook for the Mets?
Fred Wilpon: "You always want to be optimistic and I think what Terry and Sandy have said is that we're going to surprise a lot of people. I think we have some very good players. I think that some of them didn't perform to where they would have liked to last year. I think that they have something to prove. I've been around 33 years and I know it's hard to tell in spring training, but we're very optimistic that this team is going to be far better than you all have reported."
Q: What's the status of your financials?
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FW: (Takes out of a wad of bills from his front pocket) "OK. We're OK. Obviously I can't talk about anything like that in detail. I can't talk about the lawsuit, but that's proceeding as you all have been reading, and we're proceeding with bringing in partners. We have seven partners -- not only numbers of people, some groups -- seven that have money in escrow because they've been through Major League Baseball, we have two that are ready to almost finalize in major league baseball, and then a couple of others that are in the process. It's a real process. If you have three or four people in your group, everybody is vetted. So they're all in there and we hope to be able to close that out shortly."
Q: Is it possible that you have more than originally planned?
FW: "If nothing falls out right now, we have more than 10. But you never know. We probably would consider selling 12 because we bought the first two, and we said to the partners that, we might, when it's all over, we might consider at some point whether we'll do it now, at some point, we might consider selling two."
Q: Of those 12, how many have no ties to the Mets?
FW: "For example, there are people that are friends of ours, there's groups - a couple of them - that we don't know at all. The SNY group, they have an interest on both sides, so that was a natural kind of thing.
Q: The NY Times said that SNY has four shares. Is that accurate?
Q: How concerned should Mets fans be about the future and viability of you owning the franchise?
FW: "Well, they shouldn't be concerned about us owning the franchise because we intend to own the franchise for a very long time. Whether they're happy about that right now or not I don't know. But don't forget, we cut a lot of payroll that wasn't producing. If you look at the payroll now, it's fluid. I don't know what's going to happen. I don't know what Sandy is going to do. Many of the people that weren't producing are not here now. We didn't make major any moves that Sandy and Terry wanted to make, but we're pretty satisfied with some of the people that were coming back from injury, and pretty satisfied with some of the people whose career years were not great last year, and they weren't satisfied. They think they have a pretty good team. So do I."
Q: Is your intention to try to lock Wright up and keep him here for good?
FW: "My intention is always to follow what the baseball people - in spite of what you all say, that we're running the baseball department. Sandy Alderson has a great feel for this, so does Terry. And if it works out, I would be thrilled . . . I think there's no finer guy. He's just a very fine young man. Any of us who are old enough to have him as a son would be proud to have him as a son."
Q: When will you get the payroll back to spend for big free agents again?
FW: "That's Sandy's view. Sandy was the one who said look, he's the architect when he came in of saying, I want to do some things, I want to have some flexibility, and I want to have flexibility in the four or five areas that you can have flexibility in and that's what he's doing. I don't know whether there's someone out there that he might want. I don't remember a time when we've turned down -- when the GM and the manager and the people wanted certain people, look at our history. We had a lot of people, at one period in time, some of it wasn't well invested and you criticized us for that. Right? So now you have a right to say, OK, you'd like seven more stars here, but if some of these guys become stars then . . . ."
Q: So it's Sandy's discretion on signing big free agents?
FW: "We certainly acted in certain broad parameters, but the parameters have always changed. But I think Sandy made an offer of around $100 million that Jose [Reyes] could have earned if he were healthy. But Jose did what is best for Jose. Jose is a very nice young man and a very good player and we wish him well. I think we've got a very nice young player that's going to play shortstop this year."
Q: Not signing Jose a baseball decision instead of a financial one?
FW: "I think it was clearly a baseball decision. As you say, are we a little leery of six years, seven-year, eight-year contracts? Yes. Is Sandy leery of it? You bet. Big time leery of it. Listen, others have done it. I don't want to criticize anybody else who's done something different. We did different also, you know. And we were burned. It doesn't mean there won't be some player in the future that we think that we would do something with longer term. But the history has not been very good."
Q: Is selling the team in vocabulary or do you plan to own this team long term?
FW: "As long as I can, I plan to be the owner of this team."
Q: Is 12 shares basically the max for selling minority ownership for you?
FW: "It's correct arithmetically, but it's really not correct because you can find teams, a lot of ownership where someone might own 20 percent, and yet they are the control person, so it doesn't matter"
Q: Do you have to keep 50.1 percent?
FW: "You don't have to. But I doubt whether we would sell significant, that's not the plan right now."
Q: How long will it take for Mets to be big players again for top echelon players?
FW:"Well, I think it's a combination. When you say financial things, when I said three years ago that the Mets weren't affected by the Madoff thing, I was telling the truth. I know you don't want to hear it - because we weren't sued then. It was prior to the suit, OK. Then did it affect it? Sure. I would tell you that let's see how this team plays. Let's see what we need. I can tell you that my view of what I see in winning teams is they have a core of players and that core usually comes from the minor league system and then they fill in. May he rest in peace, Gary Carter came at the end of '84. And Gary was -- I don't mean a fill-in -- but they were ready for that kind of great player to play around the core that was in place. You look around, Sandy tells me the number of calls that he got on the rightfielder, the number of calls that he got on the injured first baseman, the number of calls he got on some of these young guys is very significant this winter."
Q: So there's a waiting period for this next generation to mature and develop?
FW: They've had some experience now. We can be talking six months from now or three months from now at the All-Star break and say, well, this core looks like it's matured. He may want to do something then.
Q: How much have you been affected by Madoff?
FW: "It started with a really big number out there and now, I'm not minimizing it, but it's a different number. So I think the next couple of weeks will tell. We'll see. I think things will become a lot clearer in the next months.
Q: What's your message to Mets fans?
FW: "My message would be the same message I said to you. I actually believe we have a far better team than what you all feel. And I would tell them to feel good about it. One of the questions is when will you get back? We've got to win the fans back. No, strike that. Win the fans and the customers back. . . . We have a diminished population coming to Citi Field. We need that revenue to support, and the only way we're going to get that revenue is if we have a competitive, interesting team on the field. Otherwise, they're not going to come just because they like Citi Field. So we're hoping to do that and we're hoping that trend starts to go in the other direction this year.
Q: What about the lower expectations?
FW: "I've stood here many times when you guys have said well, how soon are you going to win the division and who are you going to kill in the World Series, that kind of thing. I've been through that. I've been through the early '80s when we had no one to all of a sudden '83 or '84 and '85 and the core developed. Sure, I would love to stand here and say we're All-Stars at every position. By the way, you can have All-Stars at every position and you know damn well that doesn't mean you win.
Q: Will the court proceedings impact Wright's future?
FW: No. They're not tied at all.
Q: Do the 12 shares includes Jeff's and Saul's stakes?
FW: The family purchased two to begin with to start the process, and then we said we would sell 10 . . . up to 10 more.
Q: How much was the payroll affected by Madoff. Would Reyes still be a Met?
FW: No, because I don't think Sandy would have made that kind of arrangement that he was able to make elsewhere. I think Sandy offered $100 million if he stayed on the field at the year end, and it was less time that he got elsewhere. And that was Sandy's decision. That was absolutely Sandy's decision.
Q: Was cutting the payroll your decision?
FW: "No, that was in conjunction with our baseball people. . . . No, but remember, we had payroll that wasn't even on the field, and some of it that was on the field wasn't very productive. . . . Your correlation is higher payroll, better team in every single case, and I'm not sure that that has proven to be the case. The Mets have had the highest payroll for numbers of years and we weren't successful.
Q: So the payroll wasn't affected by Madoff?
FW: "No, because it was affected by the revenues that we got, that was affected by the operations of the team and what the team was doing. There was a point when the suit was almost three times what it is now and seems to be going in hopefully the right direction. It has some effect, but the fact is that was not the deciding factor.
FW: The loan has nothing to do with it. I think the hold-up in the announcement is conditions have changed for New York City and their finances and what they can do. . . . We're very optimistic that we will have the All-Star Game in 2013.
Q: Will the loan be paid back once all the shares are finalized?
FW: That's the plan. None of the money that's coming in, by the way, is going out. All of the money that's coming in is staying in.
Q: Are you optimistic about a favorable court result?
FW: "I don't want to comment. I'm always optimistic, but I don't want to comment about what's happening in court.
Q: Do you have to wait for all the minority investors to come in before MLB approval?
FW: We're waiting for the other three to come in. They're all committed. (why need to be done all at once?) People were ready. They were all anxious. They wanted to make sure they were in, so we did it that way. There's one group that has now been approved that probably will be announced. We're not announcing the names, by the way. You guys are all guessing names. . . . It's a great group, by the way, I'll tell you."
Q: What will the influx of money allow you to do?
FW: "Well it'll be better for the organization because we'll pay off a lot of debt. We'll reduce the mortgage on the debt. And we'll have ready cash, additional ready cash to run the team.
Q: Can you add payroll in midseason?
Q: Do you follow Sandy Alderson on Twitter (@MetsGM)?
FW: "No. I think he's got a great sense of humor though."