The bidder selected to become a minority partner in the Mets would likely be positioned to become the majority owner should the Wilpon family change its stance and cede control of the team, people familiar with the situation said.
Although there are no immediate signals that Fred Wilpon and his family are willing to sell a controlling interest, a person familiar with the process said: "It is certainly often the case that if a controlling partner sells, the first person he turns to is his large minority partner. . . . It's logical to assume" that if the Wilpons' Sterling Equities company "ever decided to sell, they'd certainly give their partner a shot at it. Clearly, they'd be positioned to get a shot at it."
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The Mets are seeking an estimated $200 million for a minority share. Four bidders are said to remain, with a final candidate expected this month. The deal is forecast to close in June.
The issue of control, now and in the future, has been broached by some potential bidders, according to two sources. All of the bidders signed confidentiality agreements preventing them from openly discussing the transaction.
"If you believe the Wilpons, they are not intending to sell," said a person with ties to Wall Street involved in the bidding. "They said this is a minority transaction and there is no path to control. The rumors in the marketplace are that the guys [bidders] who are doing this are the guys who are betting they will have a second bite at the apple" for future ownership. "It seems like a lot of money to put up for that second bite.
"I would think the [winning bidder] would insist, 'If you ever go to sell it,' they get the first shot at buying it," the person said. "That isn't a given, it's something that's negotiated."
The person involved in the process said negotiations had not gotten to the stage where the right of first refusal had been discussed.
Another prospective bidder, who said his offer did not advance to the final four, said his group valued the team at $600 million to $700 million and that, in its estimation, a $200-million investment, weighed against reported debt of $450 million, would create an equal partnership.
The Mets intend to use the proceeds from the partial sale for operating expenses, to reduce debt and to pay off a $25-million loan from MLB.
The team's indebtedness and the $1-billion suit filed against the Mets owners by the trustee for victims in the Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme could be a factor. Talks aimed at reaching a settlement in the matter are continuing, the mediator, former Gov. Mario Cuomo, said Friday.
With Ken Davidoff