David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
David Einhorn, who popped up again Monday at Citi Field, was wearing a blue Mets cap as he watched batting practice. But as a man who's made his billions betting against the success of stocks, it's not difficult to figure out what Einhorn must be rooting for as he enters into an agreement to buy a minority stake in this critically wounded franchise.
Einhorn needs the Mets to lose -- and lose big -- if the reports about his path to a controlling interest in the team prove to be accurate. For his $200-million buy-in, Einhorn immediately will receive between 25 and 49 percent of the Mets for starters, and then reportedly could gobble up 60 percent in three years if principal owner Fred Wilpon is unable to block it by repaying him the original investment.
In other words, Einhorn would appear to profit from the demise of Wilpon, and that goes a long way toward explaining why the shrewd manager of an $8-billion hedge fund has decided to get involved in the financial misadventures of the Mets' current owners.
Einhorn is not arriving as a savior. His $200 million already is earmarked for the Mets' operating costs and substantial debt. It's essentially an infusion of cash to keep the Wilpons afloat -- but just long enough to sink over the next three years, if not sooner.
This is not about Einhorn ponying up the money to keep Jose Reyes. Just the opposite. He'd be more than happy if the Mets keep trotting out Triple-A lineups the way they did Monday night, when the only difference between them and the low-budget Pirates was the color of the uniforms.
Einhorn had no interest in blowing sunshine around Citi Field before the game. Standing near the on-deck circle, he was asked point-blank if he could assure Mets fans that the next few years will not be a "slow slide down to oblivion" from a financial standpoint.
"I can't make any such assurance," Einhorn said. "It will be what it will be, you know? It's not that people aren't going to try really hard to avoid that sort of a circumstance. But the future is uncertain and there's a wide range of possible outcomes of all sorts of things. That's true of life in general, and it's true in this circumstance as well."
As in, "Good luck, Freddy. We'll touch base again in 2014 so I know when to move my stuff into the big office."
With that comment, Einhorn -- who once finished 18th in the World Series of Poker -- may have tipped his hand. He's not interested in seeing the Mets rebound this year, next year or the one after that. His best-case scenario is a nuclear winter in Flushing: a mediocre team (or worse) combined with a barren ballpark that would reduce Wilpon's revenue stream to a trickle.
As Einhorn mentioned, "The future is uncertain." But he's been pretty good at predicting it, and you don't need a crystal ball to see that Wilpon is facing some steep odds. Einhorn's bailout fund doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of Irving Picard's $1-billion lawsuit, which threatens to torpedo Wilpon long before the three-year timetable comes up.
During Monday's visit, Einhorn looked like someone sizing up a new home.
On the field, the shorthanded Mets had Willie Harris leading off, Daniel Murphy batting cleanup and Ruben Tejada taking the place of Jose Reyes at shortstop. When Einhorn was asked for impressions of his prospective roster, he did not go the same route as Wilpon did last week in The New Yorker. "I don't have anything to say about the team at this point," Einhorn said.
The fact that he was even standing at Citi Field on a sunny May afternoon said everything you needed to know.