CHICAGO - Barring a complete meltdown, the Mets are not likely to end up in the cellar of the National League East this season, and they helped their cause with yesterday's 4-1 victory over the Cubs to avoid a three-game sweep at Wrigley Field.
Nelson Figueroa had a career-high 10 strikeouts in seven-plus innings, the Mets piled up 12 hits and Francisco Rodriguez earned his 28th save, his first since Aug. 21. It was a rare day of good news for a franchise in turmoil.
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But as the Mets try to fix what went wrong this year, there is no avoiding the bottom line, and that is something the team continues to deal with in the wake of the Bernie Madoff scandal.
The most recent estimate of the Wilpons' losses from the Ponzi scheme is roughly $700 million, as Erin Arvelund details in the book, "Too Good to Be True." The author insists the family will be forced to sell the Mets, perhaps as early as 2010.
The Mets denied that is the case Friday with a statement that said: "The author of the book has no knowledge or facts related to the Mets business operations or finances. Her speculation that the Mets - or any part of the team - is for sale is completely false and is irresponsible."
But the Mets, whose $140-million payroll this season is second only to the Yankees, still are likely to think differently about how they do business in this post-Madoff world. There already is evidence of that.
The Mets have canceled their Instructional League, held annually in Port St. Lucie, and instead will have a "modified" program at their baseball academy in the Dominican Republic, according to general manager Omar Minaya.
The GM said other teams also have considered scrapping their instructional programs, usually conducted in September when the minor-league seasons have finished, and the amount of money at stake is substantial.
One person familiar with the situation said the Mets will save roughly $250,000 with the move, or a little more than half the major-league minimum salary for one player.
Former Mets GM Jim Duquette spoke Sunday about the team's decision to cancel the Instructional League on his Sirius XM radio show.
"It gives you a chance to extend the development of your young players, of your prospects," Duquette said, "and they're not gonna have it. They have canceled it for this fall. And to me, being a development guy, that's big news. If you're development-oriented, it's not a good decision, in my opinion."
In a statement late last night, the Mets defended the move, saying: "We believe that by housing our minor-league players in the Dominican, we will have more opportunities to have competition against opposing teams that have training facilities nearby. Over the past few years in Port St. Lucie, the competition has predominantly been among our own players as a result of other teams leaving the area."
The Mets also pointed out that the Cardinals, located 45 minutes south in Jupiter, have canceled their Instructional League program and that the Marlins, who share that facility with St. Louis, have cut back to a minicamp in September.
Another cost-saving move could involve the Mets' limited plans for their September call-ups; Minaya does not anticipate a big influx of minor-leaguers for the final month of the season. The only certain addition appears to be Double-A catcher Josh Thole, who is expected to arrive Tuesdaywhen the roster expands, but few players will follow him to the majors.
There are 40-man roster implications to those decisions, but there also is money involved. Each September call-up earns roughly $70,000 for the month. That may not seem like much in the big picture, but for a team going nowhere and looking to tighten the budget, it's an easy way to trim costs.
Even as the Wilpons repeatedly deny a need to sell the Mets, how they operate the team will come under more intense scrutiny in the months ahead, especially during what many feel will be a thrifty offseason for them in the free-agent market.
One of the factors in keeping Minaya and the front office intact is the financial cost of cleaning house. The Wilpons are reluctant to swallow more than $10 million in management contracts to start over again.
The Wilpons already have told Minaya and manager Jerry Manuel that they will be back next season, but it remains unclear what more ownership is willing to invest in 2010 to cover up the stench left by this terrible season.