When the Mets season started to go off the rails in late June and early July, there were many people wondering why the team didn't make any moves to stop the bleeding. Key members of their already anemic offense were dropping like flies, yet the team kept turning to retreads and minor leaguers instead of swinging a trade that could help them continue competing for a playoff spot. One of the reasons discussed at the time was that the Wilpon family's losses in the Bernie Madoff scam precluded them from adding to the team's already healthy payroll.
The Wilpons vehemently denied it at the time, just as they denied that Mets operations would be affected when news of the losses first became public. The whispers haven't gone away, though, and they became a shout on Friday when Erin Arvedlund, author of a buzzy new book about Madoff, spoke to Jon Friedman of MarketWatch.
"You can quote me," Arvedlund said of a possible sale of the Mets. "It's a matter of when. It could be as soon as next year." Arvedlund estimates the Wilpon family may have lost as much as $700 million on Madoff-related investments that went awry. ... "As I understood it, they knew each other from way back when," Arvedlund told Friedman. "Wilpon was one of the big real-estate magnates who was a Madoff investor."
Arvedlund has been on Madoff's trail since 2001, when an article she wrote for Barron's cast a wary eye toward the legitimacy of Madoff's investment firm. Her assertion about how long Madoff and Fred Wilpon know each other is backed up by an article in the September issue of Vanity Fair which points out that the two families were neighbors in Roslyn before Wilpon bought the team.
A Mets spokesperson repeated the denial line, but it's been a perfect storm for the Wilpons. Their main business, real estate, has taken a hit from the economy. That makes it harder to placate their own investors and ride out a rough patch, even if it is less of a loss than Arvedlund speculates. On top of that, the Mets might not fetch as much in a bad climate despite Forbes valuing the franchise at $912 million.
Still, it's become difficult to ignore the preponderence of evidence that something has caused a tightening of purse strings with the club. There's the inactivity during the season as well as the overall lack of depth within the organization which helped cause the need to make moves. The Mets also spent less money on their first 10 picks of June's draft than any other team in baseball, a move which saved money but could hamstring the club at all levels for years to come.
While that prospect can't make Mets fans too happy, the exit of the Wilpons would be a good deal more popular after this season. Putting aside their reluctance to do what was necessary to help the team, the Mets found various ways to embarrass themselves because of the dysfunction within the front office. Many have called for a complete changing of the guard in the organizational structure, and it would certainly come with a new owner.
Be careful what you wish for, though. James Dolan could come in as the highest bidder.