PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - Not too long ago, the biggest issues facing the Players Association used to be drug testing and the next collective bargaining agreement. These days, it's the solvency of the Mets, and union chief Michael Weiner was asked about that very subject during yesterday's visit to Digital Domain Park.
Weiner made Port St. Lucie the second stop on his annual tour of all 30 major-league camps, and the union's most pressing business remains the CBA, which expires after the 2012 season. But with the Mets' ownership group facing a lawsuit that could seek as much as $1 billion, Weiner also has a responsibility to make sure that his members' checks won't bounce - regardless of the outcome - and he confirmed that wouldn't be a problem.
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"We want to make sure all contractual obligations to the players are honored," Weiner said, "and we've been assured through the commissioner's office that's the case."
Rangers owner Tom Hicks had to be bailed out by the commissioner's office last season before selling the team, but the Mets don't seem to be in any imminent danger of that this year. If the Mets do need to make a significant payout to Madoff trustee Irving Picard, however, the fallout could weaken the Mets to the point where baseball as a whole - from TV ratings to ticket revenue - becomes affected in a negative way.
Of specific interest to the union is the ripple effect the Mets' financial problems could have on free agency, which needs big-market teams to create competition and drive salaries skyward.
The Mets' $145-million payroll is among the highest in baseball this season, but any subsequent belt-tightening will take a potential bidder out of the market. That's not a comforting thought for the union.
"It's in the interests of everybody associated with baseball that the National League franchise in New York be a strong franchise," Weiner said. "The Wilpons have always attempted to field a competitive team. They've had success at doing that during their tenure and we certainly hope they're in a position to do that. But the real key is less what the payroll of the Mets is than a team like the New York Mets in the National League from New York should be in a position to be a strong franchise."
Just last week, the union lost the grievance it filed against the Mets on behalf of Yorvit Torrealba, who claimed the team reneged on a contract two years ago. But Weiner pledged that the union would keep an eye on the Mets regarding Francisco Rodriguez, who needs to finish 55 games this season for his $17.5-million vesting option to kick in for 2012.
It's possible that the Mets could alter their usage of K-Rod to block that option, but Weiner does not anticipate any attempts to deliberately sabotage him.
"We monitor every situation for compliance with the Basic Agreement," Weiner said. "There's arbitration precedent that deals with that that essentially says that the club's decisions for using a player have to be motivated for trying to win. There's arbitration precedent that makes clear that a team cannot sit a player down or decline to use them in order to prevent him from earning a bonus or having a year vest.
"I have every expectation that the Mets are going to fully honor their commitment."