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Can the Mets enjoy a Wilpon/Madoff/Picard-free season?

Mets owner Fred Wilpon at State Supreme Court

Mets owner Fred Wilpon at State Supreme Court in Kew Gardens. (Dec. 13, 2010) Credit: Uli Seit

Hung out last night with Neil "Yakosphere" Best at MSG Studios, as we attended a party for MSG's upcoming special on the 1986 Mets.  Word is that I'm in it as a talking head, even though I enjoyed the '86 Mets season from the comfort of my childhood home as a high school student.

Best interviewed Davey Johnson and spoke to him about, of course, the Wilpons. There's no avoiding the topic. And while we'll once again profess our non-expertise concerning what's going on, you take a common-sense look at all of the information that's out there, and it bodes quite poorly for the future of the Mets' current owners. Here's the latest doozy from The New York Times.

In the bottom half of the Johnson story, you see that our interpid Islanders reporter Katie Strang caught up with Jose Reyes at the Leafs-Islanders game, which begs the question: What the hell was Reyes doing at an Islanders game? (Sorry, Katie. And Islander505.)

Anywho, Reyes discussed what every Met will eventually discuss this spring: How a baseball team can navigate through such a big problem that is not at all of their own making. Although I wouldn't put it past the Wilpons to try to blame Carlos Beltran for Irving Picard's actions.

There's no way to look scientifically at similar such situations in the past and see how teams persevered or didn't. But we certainly can try to investigate it anecdotally, to look at clubs that experienced extreme ownership turbulence.

Four prior "ugly" scenarios stood out to me:

1. The 2002-04 Expos and 2005 Nationals, who were wards of Major League Baseball before the Lerners purchased the team in 2006.

2. The 2008 Padres, whose owner John Moores ultimately lost the team due to a divorce.

3. The Dodgers, starting in the 2008 playoffs and continuing today, dealing with the divorce of owner Frank McCourt and his wife Jamie and the subsequent battle for whose team it is.

4. The 2009-10 Rangers, whose owner Tom Hicks suffered such immense financial losses that the team ultimately filed for bankruptcy and needed MLB's help to pay the bills.

OK, so looking at these examples, what can we say are the keys to overcoming ownership uncertainty?

1. Talent. Well, that wasn't too difficult, was it? Most notably, last year's Rangers team overcame its budget limits (imposed by MLB) by using its rich farm system as currency. By giving up talented youngsters in trades for Cliff Lee and Bengie Molina, Texas convinced the teams on the other side of the deals (Seattle and San Francisco) to kick in cash to pay the veterans.

The '08 Padres, meanwhile _ remember, Alderson was the team president and Paul DePodesta was there, as well _ probably would've faltered even if John Moores and his wife had renewed their vows like Homer and Marge did in this "Simpsons" episode

The Mets have some talent in their big-league lineup, but their farm system absolutely lacks the sort of abundance the Rangers had last year.

2. Leadership. Rangers GM Jon Daniels and manager Ron Washington seemed to find a way to convince their players to rise above the Hicks muck, to use it as a rallying point. You know who else did? Montreal GM Omar Minaya and manager Frank Robinson, at least for a while.

The Hall of Famer Robinson was all about proving people wrong, while Minaya seemed to revel in finding creative solutions to keeping his team in the race. This makes sense, when you think about it. We saw how Minaya lacked long-range vision in running the Mets, and operating those Expos didn't require that skill set. It was all about day-to-day survival.

On the other side of the equation, the McCourts' turmoil and their failure to invest in the team really seemed to embitter Joe Torre last year, and Torre is now on record saying that he lost his Dodgers team.

Can Sandy Alderson and Terry Collins find a way to overcome this? I think Alderson can. Collins? Color me skeptical. It's why I'm looking forward so much to his first full-squad meeting, to see what sort of message he sends to his players.

3. Commitment. Torre's bad mood started after the McCourts spent so little on the 2010 Dodgers, failing even to offer arbitration to valuable free agent Randy Wolf. And the 2003 Expos' hopes of a miracle wild-card run died when MLB wouldn't authorize any September call-ups, damaging the team's morale.

(Want to see a funny stat? The '03 Expos went 12-12 in September - 6-1 against the Mets and 6-11 against everyone else. Where have you gone, Art Howe?)

We saw  how little the Mets spent this winter, although I'd commend Alderson for getting some good bang for his player bucks. If the Mets defy the odds and stay in contention, would they actually green-light a trade that would bring on more payroll? Would they even be allowed to do so? Color me skeptical.

4. Luck. I just put this in there for the heck of it. As Jonathan Rhys Meyers' character says in "Match Point," "People are afraid to face how great a part of life is dependent on luck. It's scary to think so much is out of one's control."

When you look at all of these elements, I'd say it's awfully naive to think that the Mets can insulate themselves from the trouble occuring above them.

--The hard-working Erik Boland, already in Tampa, spoke with Russell Martin and Jesus Montero. I'll guess that Montero will be the centerpiece of the Yankees' July trade for a starting pitcher, unless 1) No good pitching options emerge or 2) the Yankees aren't close enough in the race to justify making such a deal. 

--I'm curious to dig a little more into this Alex Rodriguez-Cameron Diaz "popcorn shot" controversy, only because it seems out of character for A-Rod to get so worked up over something like this. Shoot, he'd be more likely to get upset if he hadn't been shown during the Super Bowl telecast.

At the 2010 BBWAA New York chapter dinner, comedian Bill Scheft cracked a joke that was something like this: "The Yankees suffered some major losses since their World Series title in October. They've lost Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui and Kate Hudson." A-Rod, sitting on the dais, flashed a wide grin. If he was faking it, it was a good act.

--Don't forget, Free Crap Week continues later today with another giveaway contest.

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