CHICAGO -- Fred Wilpon, in an interview with Sports Illustrated, acknowledged that the Irving Picard lawsuit could cost him the ownership of the Mets. And even if he does maintain control of the Mets with the help of a minority owner, the slashed payroll expected for next season would have a dramatic effect on the roster.
"I think the club became in jeopardy when he [Picard] filed [for] this billion dollars," Wilpon, the Mets' principal owner, told SI in a story this week. "That's when I decided to sell part of the club and maintain control in our operations and share the partnership with somebody."
The Mets are trying to sell as much as 49 percent of their team for about $200 million, but there's a belief throughout baseball that even that -- should it occur -- would provide nothing more than a Band-Aid for the Mets, given their massive financial problems. Wilpon did little to discourage that notion in his interview with SI reporter Tom Verducci.
Wilpon detailed to the magazine how he would spend the $200 million: $25 million would go to pay off the emergency loan that Major League Baseball extended last November; $75 million would pay down the $427 million in debt the Mets are carrying ($375 million to banks and another $52 million to MLB, which extends low-interest loans of that size as a matter of course to all clubs); and $100 million toward operating costs. Wilpon said that the Mets "are bleeding cash" and could lose as much as $70 million for the 2011 season.
Verducci reports what has been widely assumed, that the Mets will not put back much, if any, of the $64 million coming off the team's payroll at the conclusion of this season. It's why the notion of signing Jose Reyes to a long-term contract appears to be highly unlikely, and why the Mets will probably look to trade Reyes, Carlos Beltran, Francisco Rodriguez and any other veteran player approaching free agency if the team can't stay in contention.
General manager Sandy Alderson declined to comment on the SI story. "Look, I haven't read Sports Illustrated, I haven't read Mechanics Illustrated, or Men's Health," he said. "I don't know what stories are out there, so until I've read those stories, I can't comment.
"Let's focus on getting past the New Yorker article."
Reyes was asked before Tuesday night's game if the team's financial woes meant his days with the Mets were numbered.
"Right now, I can't put those thoughts in my head," Reyes said. "The only thing I can put in my head is continue to play and continue to play good and stay healthy on the field. I don't know what's going to happen in the future, but right now, the only thing I can control is the present."
Jason Bay weighed in:: "Obviously, there's a lot more factors going on here . . . There's a lot of things we don't even know about. I can't pretend to know and pretend to speculate on what's going to happen."