Source: Mets plan to sell 4-percent shares

Owner Fred Wilpon of the New York Mets

Owner Fred Wilpon of the New York Mets addresses the media during spring training at Tradition Field. (Feb. 17, 2011) (Credit: Getty Images)

The Mets will begin seeking multiple investors next week to raise the $200 million they need to help the financially strapped team, a person familiar with the process said Friday.

The Mets intend to sell an estimated 40 percent of the team in units priced at $20 million apiece, according to the source. Each unit will yield a 4-percent share in the club. The source said the units cannot be combined to create a larger percentage of ownership.

Steven Starker, one of the original bidders in the partial sale of the Mets, still is interested in buying a smaller share.

"We've always been interested [in partial ownership]," said Starker, co-founder of the global trading firm BTIG, "but I have no official comment until I talk with them next week."

The team ended negotiations with hedge fund manager David Einhorn on Thursday over potential control issues.

"The deal [with Einhorn] got so complicated, so complex," the source said, "it became apparent [Fred Wilpon] would be living the next five years or so with a 200-page document sitting on his desk that he would have to refer to on a daily basis and saying, 'Can I do this without calling David, can I do that without calling David, is David entitled to this?' It got much too complex."

Owners Wilpon and Saul Katz are being sued by Bernard Madoff trustee Irving Picard for $1 billion -- an amount that includes $300 million in alleged fake profits and $700 million based on claims that Wilpon and his partners knew or should have known Madoff was running a Ponzi scheme.

The Mets initially considered selling unit shares, but, the source said, "There was so much interest from big hitters who could write a $200-million check."

Most of those willing to put up the full $200 million sought significant say in the baseball operations, the person said, and Wilpon and Katz decided to abandon that strategy after the proposed deal with Einhorn fell through.

According to the source, the team has a list with up to 50 parties who expressed interest in a smaller share when the announcement about selling a portion of the team was made in January. "There was a tremendous amount of interest from people who said, 'I can't do $200 million; I'd love to do a smaller amount and have the fun of being a part-owner.' [The Mets] are pretty confident there is a lot of interest in these units."

The Mets refused to comment on the process.

A Major League Baseball spokesman said any potential owners will have to be vetted by the league, so it could take some time.

What will a 4-percent piece of the team yield?

"You go to the game, you get some perks," the source said. "You go to spring training. You do a bunch of stuff that the average fan can't do, but you don't have any say in running the club and you own 4 percent and it's pretty clear who is in control. None of these people will be at the batting cage during batting practice."

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