Posted on: March 6, 2012 2:51 pm
Edited on: March 7, 2012 7:17 am

Owners should prevail, unless jury has Mets fans

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- The Mets suffered their first loss of what could be a very long season when bankruptcy court Judge Rakoff ruled Monday that team owners Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz must pay back up to $83 million in Madoff profits. Further, he ruled that they must stand trial for another $303 million. So the drama and unrest continues, into the baseball season.

Madoff overreaching trustee, Irving Picard, originally sought $1 billion from the Mets owners, so from that standpoint, Wilpon and Katz are already ahead of the game. But to no one's surprise, people close to the case suggest a loss of even $386 million could put their ownership in peril.

Beyond the immediate loss of up to $83 million and upcoming trial, the other bad part for Wilpon and Katz is that the case of their baseball lives is going before a jury. One thing they say about jury trials, they are unpredictable. The other thing about this jury trial, the jury could be made up of angry Mets fans.

Seeing what's happening on the field, Mets backers aren't in a very good mood these days. Wilpon contended when the Madoff story broke that their investment in him wouldn't affect their beloved team, but Mets fans know by now that most of their money is going to the owners' lawyers, not their outfielders, infielders, pitchers and catchers.

Wilpon and Katz have taken the payroll down an unprecedented $50 million. What's left on the hole-filled roster are veterans who have been disappointments in recent years and a whole bunch of kids with varying degrees of promise. Their $90-million payroll and limited talent doesn't become any major market, much less New York.

One piece of positive news for the Mets owners is that Judge Rakoff, a brilliant veteran jurist, signaled that he doesn't believe Picard has much of a case here for the next $303 million. Rakoff even tweaked Picard for producing more "bombast'' than "bombshells'' (Rakoff apparently has a writing touch), and indeed it appears Picard's case for "willfull bilndness'' by the Mets owners appears woefully weak.

There is no smoking gun, no e-mail from Wilpon or Katz suggesting they knew a thing about what Madoff was up to. That Picard found one or two or even three employees who suggested they thought (but don't know) Madoff might not be on the up-and-up isn't nearly enough. The former employee Noreen Harrington, who said she warned Katz, appears to have been prescient. But even she said she admitted to Katz she couldn't prove what Madoff was up to. (Katz claims not to recall the conversation.)

Picard may think Wilpon and Katz were knowledgeable investors, but there is no evidence they were. Real estate (and baseball) is their game. They obviously know real estate. (As for baseball, I'll leave that up to you).

There is not a scintilla of evidence they knew more about securities than all the 4,000-plus folks who foolishly invested their money with an epic scam artist. Madoff was obviously a very good con man. He fooled all this people plus the banks plus the SEC. Obviously a few folks knew. The crook who wound up dead in his pool in Palm Beach obviously knew; he got a 900-percent return from Madoff one year. His widow fairly turned over several billion dollars to Picard.

The Wilpon-Katz gains were generally in the 10-to-15 percent range per year, which is exactly what the rest of the rubes got. There is no evidence Madoff was paying them extra to be silent partners. And just because they saw each other at the country club or on the Long Island Railroad doesn't mean anything. Neither does it if the Wilpon and Madoff families vacationed togethers. As Rakoff said, where's the bombshell?

There is nothing to prove Wilpon and Katz were any different from the rest of the 4,000-plus dupes who knew nothing about stocks, bonds or investing. As many people should know, there is ZERO chance a securities investor can make 10-15 percent every year for decades without a single down year or even very much variation. It just isn't possible, as Harrington told them. Even Warren Buffett has down years. Even if he averages a whopping 20-percent a year for decades, that includes significant variation and some down years.

To say Wilpon and Katz should have known is silly, and a waste of breath. They ALL should have known. The SEC should have known. They are paid to know such things. But they, too, were duped by Madoff, who was seen as a pillar of the community.

Wilpon and Katz made their money by being aggressive and tough. Katz has big stones. (In his famous quote in the New Yorker article by Jeffrey Toobin, he boasted of having "big balls," something he didn't dispute when I questioned him about that quote earlier this spring. Though he did say that this is why he doesn't talk much to the media, and the smoother Wilpon does). I have known these guys for years, and I find it easy to believe that they knew next to nothing about investing in stocks. Like the others, they were fools (though perhaps fools with bigger balls in one case). They probably got a bit greedy, like when they gave Bobby Bonilla deferred payments for decades because they saw Madoff as a sure thing. But being greedy and crooked are two different things.

There is nothing to suggest Wilpon and Katz are crooks. But unfortunately for them, a jury of Mets fans may not see it exactly that way.

Posted on: February 27, 2012 3:29 pm
Edited on: February 27, 2012 4:42 pm

Fred Wilpon shoots high, predicts survival

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Every year, kindly Mets owner Fred Wilpon gives his state-of-the-Mets address at about this time in spring training, and of course his predictions in recent years have, for the most part, overshot reality. This year, he offered predictions for both the team and himself, giving himself a chance for the first time to go 0-for-2.

First, about the team, Wilpon said, "I'm very optimistic that this team will be far better than you guys have reported. We're going to surprise some people.'' A snappy comeback might suggest that they'd surprise folks merely by winning a third of their games or even beating the '62 Mets.

As for the bigger question about franchise ownership, Wilpon said of himself and brother-in-law Saul Katz, "We plan to own the franchise for a very long time.'' Then, Wilpon, an eminently pleasant man, added his own punchline, saying something along the lines of "whether people or happy about that or not.''

The Mets arrived in camp with their first sub-$100-million team in a long time, the result of an unprecedented $50-million cut from their $140 million paryoll of a year ago. Their spin on it is they didn't finish the year with the big payroll and that their previous year's payroll was bloated with non-productive players, including the two now unmentionables, the perenially-picked on Oliver Perez plus Luis Castillo.

The reality is that no New York team should have a payroll as puny as $90 something million dollars, unless they've done such a terrific job of picking talent that they've gathered many underpaid players. That obviously isn't the case here. Their players are generally paid handsomely for what they bring.

Obviously, the biggest name hanging over camp continues to be Madoff. Some of the more inquisitive players are continuing to ask about what's going on with the case regarding the all-time crook, as everyone here knows it affects everything. Wilpon explained that his prediction when the scandal broke that Madoff would not affect the team came when "we weren't being sued.'' Wilpon's contention is they would have been fine had Madoff trustee Irving Picard not sued them for clawback monies and more. But now it's still uncertain whether they'll be fine.

Now they definitely can't say Madoff hasn't affected things. Sure, they have been losing and having trouble drawing. But does one respond to that by returning with a payroll that's $50 million lower? Of course not. Madoff hangs in the air.

Wilpon, pressed a bit, did admitt Madoff had some effect on the greatly lowered payroll, which included the loss of superstar Jose Reyes to the rival Marlins. Speaking specifically about Reyes and Madoff, Wilpon said, "It has had some effect, but that was not the deciding factor.''

Wilpon maintained, though, that the Mets made an offer to Reyes that would have allowed him to make close to $100 million (with many incentives), in opposition to Reyes' contention 40 miles down the road in Jupiter, where he repeated again just Sunday that there was never an offer for him. (It's possible that the Mets suggested that that's where they might go, which in Wilpon's mind must count as an offer, though in reality it technically is not an offer to Reyes, not when there's a concrete $106 million waiting in Miami.)

Madoff isn't only hanging over the team, it is hanging over the ownership team of Wilpon and Saul Katz. Wilpon can speak optimistically about his chances for ownership survival, and he might end up being right about it, but it's too early to know for sure.  Picard is still looking for $300-million more from them at a time when they are in debt to a lot of folks already. "We'll see,'' Wilpon said. "Things will be a lot clearer in the next few months.''

Wilpon's future with the team is going to come down to the court cases that will likely be played out soon. One person familiar with the issues said he believes Wilpon and Katz "need a lot of things to go right'' to survive as owners. But one thing you have to say about Wilpon and Katz, they are nothing if not survivors.

It's not sure the same could be said for their diminishing team. 

Category: MLB
Tags: Fred Wilpon, Mets
Posted on: February 23, 2012 3:31 pm
Edited on: February 23, 2012 3:44 pm

The Winter Standings, from 1 through 30

The Angels and Marlins spent plenty, the Astros stood pat, and the Mets did worse than that. Here they, one through 30, from most improved team to least improved.

1. Angels. Anytime you add Albert Pujols when you don't really need a first baseman, that's quite a luxury buy. Maybe 10 years are too many, but he'll obviously make a major impact in the first years of that deal. C.J. Wilson gives them as good a first four as just about anyone. Plus, he comes directly from the main competitor.

2. Marlins. Jose Reyes is a monster get, when healthy, Mark Buehrle fits as the perfect veteran lefthander to pitch behind Josh Johnson and Heath Bell is a very good closer. Ozzie Guillen spices things up. Much more interesting team as they move to their new park.

3. Diamondbacks. Loved that they didn't rest on their laurels. Trevor Cahill bolsters their rotation and Jason Kubel their lineup. Also tried hard for Hiroki Kuroda, offering him $13 million, $3 million more than he got from the Yankees. Terrific effort by a team in an area hit hard by the economic downturn.

4. Nationals. I don't love Gio Gonzalez's 1.48 lifetime road WHIP, but he's a talented, young lefthanded starter who's exactly what they needed. Of course, they still could use a center fielder.

5. Yankees. Hiroki Kuroda is the solid starter they needed, and Michael Pineda has a chance to be better than that, especially if he masters his changeup. Jesus Montero will be a mega star but they needed the pitching, so it was a worthwhile gamble. A.J. Burnett is addition by subtraction.

6. Rockies. Michael Cuddyer is a huge get, even if he did cost $31.5 million over three years. Jeremy Guthrie steps in as the Opening Day starter and Tyler Chatwood has a chance, though rotation questions still remain. Casey Blake might not have a lot left at third base, but super prospect Nolan Arenado looks to be close.

7. Rangers. Yu Darvish is going to be better than Wilson. They flirted with Prince Fielder, but came up a few years short. Had they pulled that one off, too, they would have easily topped this list. A lefthander in the pen wouldn't have hurt, either.

8. Rays. Carlos Pena will bring a lot more punch than Casey Kotchman, and if healthy, Luke Scott brings more still. Somehow, they find a way.

9. Blue Jays. Sergio Santos, Francisco Cordero and Darren Oliver represent a nice bullpen upgrade over Frank Francisco and Jon Rauch. Never made the huge deal folks were expecting, though.

10. Reds. They gave up a lot for Matt Latos, a talented pitcher who'll have to adjust going from pitching-firendly PETCO Park to Great American Ballpark. The pen is better with Ryan Madson in as the closer and strong lefty Sean Marshall over from Chicago. Looks like a contender.

11. Tigers. Owner Mike Ilitch gets props for the $214-million, nine-year band-aid he bought in Fielder after Victor Martinez's brutal knee injury.

12. Phillies. They imported Jonathan Papelbon, who has a longer track record, to replace Ryan Madson. Jim Thome fills the resident nice guy role left vacated by Brad Lidge's departure (and Juan Pierre won't hurt in that dept. either, assuming he makes the team). They have more versatility with Ty Wigginton adding to their bench strength.

13. Pirates. The new killer B's are here -- Rod Barajas, Erik Bedard, Clint Barmes and A.J. Burnett. The Bucs certainly should be better.

14. Mariners. Hong-Chih Kuo, Shawn Camp and Hisashi Iwakuma have a chance to help. But their offseason will turn on whether Montero becomes a bigger star than Pineda. The guess here is, he does.

15. Padres. They maximized the Latos trade. Yonder Alonso and Yasmani Grandal could become stars, and Brad Boxberger may be the closer of the future. Huston Street ably replaces Bell. And Carlos Quentin may thrive back in his hometown.

16. Cubs. David DeJesus is a solid outfielder, and Paul Maholm will help. But their winter will turn on whether slugging first baseman Anthony Rizzo is the player they think he is. The real loss for them was the new rule limiting bonus pools for drafted players.

17. Royals. Jonathan Sanchez is just the type of high-ceiling pitcher who fits, Bruce Chen was needed back and Jonathan Broxton is worth a flyer.

18. Dodgers. They managed to cut to below $90 million as cash-strapped Frank McCourt sells the team, but they pieced it together pretty well. Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang are solid starters but most of the other imports are extras. They also made an exciting secret grab at Fielder but were outbid by the Tigers. Their best move, though, was signing Matt Kemp for eight years at $160 million,

19. Indians. Given the restrictions of the budget, not terrible. Casey Kotchman looks to be on the upswing, and Derek Lowe is a veteran presence needed especially now that Fausto Carmona is better known as Limbo Carmona.

20. Giants. Melky Cabrera and Angel Pagan are late bloomers, and they might do as well as the combo of Caros Beltran, Andres Torres and Cody Ross. The comeback of Buster Posey is probably the biggest key. Also like the smaller pickups of Clay Hensley and Ryan Theriot.

21. Cardinals. It's hard to lose Pujols (not to mention Tony La Russa and Dave Duncan) and not feel it. But somehow, the Cardinals seem to find a way. Beltran replaces some of Pujols' lost offense, if not his presence. Adam Wainwright's return is the biggest addition, though.

22. Orioles. Nobody did more different things, but it's tough to evaluate or guess what Wei-Yin Chen or Tsuyoshi Wada will become. Wilson Betemit was an odd signing in that no one saw a two-year deal coming.

23. White Sox. Love the Robin Ventura move (though I suspect they should have made him take a more-experienced staff). The team will be a lot younger, too, with all the kids acquired for Santos and Quentin. Buehrle is tough to replace, though.

24. Braves. Their big deal was for utlityman Jack Wilson, which says a lot. Never found the right deal for Jair Jurrjens or Martin Prado.

25. Twins. Josh Willingham has a lot of pressure on him to make up for the loss of Cuddyer and Kubel. Joe Nathan preferred to go to a contender. Not sure how much Jason Marquis has left.

26. Red Sox. I like the way they recovered from the loss of Papelbon by adding Mark Melancon and Andrew Bailey. Cody Ross and Nick Punto are nice complementary pieces. But I think they'll miss Jason Varitek more than think. And they still don't have a No. 4 or 5 starter or starting shortstop after trading Marco Scutaro in exchange for "flexibility.'' Bobby Valentine was a great call for manager, and he does his best work when there are issues, so maybe he pulls it all together.

27. A's. They did a nice job collecting prospects (Jarrod Parker, Brad Peacock and A.J. Cole could be stars) but will be hard-pressed to avoid 90 defeats this year after trading Cahill, Gonzalez and Bailey. Big Talent Yoenis Cespedes and Mannyball spice things up. Interesting offseason.

28. Brewers. Tough to make up for the loss of Fielder. Aramis Ramirez is a nice middle-of-the-order bat, Alex Gonzalez is an upgrade at shortstop and Nori Aoki may work. Also lost some bullpen depth with Takashi Saito and Hawkins gone.

29. Astros. They took a flyer on the oft-injured Fernando Martinez but after failing to unload Wandy Rodriguez, Carlos Lee or Brett Myers, they basically return the same team. Which is not necessarily good news when you lost 106 games.

30. Mets. They lost the heart of the team (though an of-injured one), and Andres Torres wouldn't be my first choice to replace the dynamic Reyes. Actually, Pagan would have been better. But that's nitpicky. Let's face it, no one that cuts an unprecedented $50 million can do well.
Posted on: February 18, 2012 7:42 pm
Edited on: February 18, 2012 8:57 pm

Best deals from team, player perspectives

As with every year, there were the deals. And then there were the steals. With camps opening it is time to assess the best and worst of the winter's free-agent signings. With just a few dozen players remaining, here are my lists of the best signings for the team and the best ones for the player ...

Best signings (for team)

1. Francisco Cordero. Blue Jays RP, $4.5M, 1 yr. In a closer market filled with talent, he was the last good one to sign, and he seemed to have gotten squeezed. The Reds turned down a $12-million option for him, but based on 194 saves over the past five years, that seems closer to his true value.
 2. Brad Lidge. Nationals RP, $1M, 1 yr. Worries of injury probably kept him down. A great signing for a young team if he has anything left.

3. Carlos Beltran. Cardinals OF, $26M, 2 yrs. Concerns about his knee probably hurt him. But he did not have one knee issue all last year, when he was one of the more productive hitting outfielders in the league. Won't replicate Albert Pujols, but gives them a chance.

4. Ryan Madson. Reds RP, $8.5M, 1 yr. The biggest money spent early on closers when Madson thought he had a $44-million, four-year deal with his old team, the Phillies, before they pulled the offer. The Reds are the beneficiaries when the Angels and Red Sox didn't make their move. Only one year as a closer, but dynamic changeup gives him a chance to be excellent for years.

 5. Alex Gonzalez. Brewers SS, $4.25M, 1 yr. He's had a much better shortstop career than Clint Barmes or Jamey Carroll. Chronically low on-base percentage finally catching up with him.

  6. Joel Pineiro. Phillies SP, $1.5M, 1 yr. The $1.5-million salary on his minor-league deal wasn't even on Cot's Baseball Contracts (the usual reference spot for salaries), but the hunch is the switch back to the National League will make the difference for him. Despite their ballpark, the Phillies seem to do well with pitchers. Has never allowed a run in Citizens Bank Ballpark.

 7. Chris Capuano. Dodgers SP, $10M, 2 yrs. Some might look at this as a fair figure (or perhaps even a little high), but he showed last year he knows how to pitch and win with what he has left. Solid NL starter.

 8. Paul Maholm, Cubs, SP, $4.5M, 1 yr. Nice starter has been adversely affected by Pirates offensive woes.

 9. Lyle Overbay. Diamondbacks, $1M, 1 yr. Usually a member of the overpays, he went to the other list this year. Very good defender.

 10. Jon Garland. Indians SP, 1 yr. undisclosed contract. Whatever he got, the Indians got a solid pitcher who's been an innings eater throughout his career.

 11. Ryan Spilborghs. Indians OF, $1M, 1 yr. He got $1 million base for one year on a minor-league deal, and should see a lot ot action with the Indians considering their all lefty starting outfield and the injury history of Grady Sizemore. Solid, good team man.

 12. Mike MacDougal. Dodgers RP, $1M, 1 yr. Very talented pitcher. One of these years someone's going to get a steal.

 13. Kosuke Fukudome. White Sox OF, $1M, 1 yr. Smart insurance for a team that has a starting trio with some questions, even from the well-paid Alex Rios.

 14. Micah Owings. Padres RP, $1M, 1 yr. Multitalented player went 8-0 with the rival Diamondbacks last year. Can also hit.

 15. Jonny Gomes. A's OF-DH. $1M, 1 yr. A plus for any team or clubhouse.

 16. Francisco Rodriguez. Brewers RP. $8M, 1 yr. That's pretty steep for a set-up man, but K-Rod is really a second closer, a nice luxury for Milwaukee to have.

Best Signings (for player)

   1. C.J. Wilson. Angels SP, $77.5M, 5 yrs. Yes, I realize he could have gotten another $22 million from the Marlins. But he's had only two years as a starter, is surprisingly wild and bombed in the playoffs.

   2. Laynce Nix. Phillies OF, $2.5M, 2 yrs. Two years? Don't get it.

   3. Wilson Betemit. Orioles INF, $3.25M, 2 yrs. And I use the word "infielder'' loosely. The guy can hit a bit. but again, what's the reason for two years?

   4. Coco Crisp. A's OF, $14M, 2 yrs. He had the option of going to the Rays after saying he most wanted to play for a winner. So what does he do, but sign for two years (likely two dead years) with the A's. Can't really blame him considering.

   5. Rod Barajas. Pirates C, $4M, 1 yr. Pull hitter will yank a few out, even in Pittsburgh. But the market for the so-so catchers generally wasn't this good.

   6. Heath Bell. Marlins RP, $27M, 3 yrs. That's what folks figured he'd get. But it was quite good in this closer market for a pitcher in his mid 30s who's been thriving at PETCO. One advantage for the Marlins: He really is Heath Bell, and he's a good guy.

   7. Frank Francisco. Mets RP, $12M, 2 yrs. He did well by signing early, getting a multiyear in a rough market for closers.

   8. Yoenis Cespedes. A's OF, $36M, 4 yrs. Looked like superman on his video. but can he hit the major-league curveball? Curious choice in that Oakland isn't going to win at least this year, and maybe next. But it's understandable in that they'd missed out on Adrian Beltre and Lance Berkman, two guys who had monster years elsewhere after spurning Oakland's offers. Another plus for the player: if he can hit the curve, he's a free agent again at 30.

   9. Prince Fielder. Tigers 1B, $214M, 9 yrs. He could have gotten at least eight years elsewhere (surely from the Orioles and maybe the Dodgers, who had offered seven), but Victor Martinez's injury helped him join the $200-million club with a great team. Credit owner Mike Ilitch for doing whatever it took, but it took a lot.

   10. Mark Ellis. Dodgers 2B, $8.75M, 2 yrs. Very nice addition to any team, but he looked like he was on the verge of a release at one point early last year. The whole middle infield market did very well early, including Clint Barmes, Jamey Carroll and others. Dodgers appear a lot on these list, but that's because they signed more free agents than anyone.

   11. Mark Buehrle. Marlins, $58M, 4 yrs. Very good, consistent pitcher who may thrive in the NL. Steep price, though, so he better.

   12. Willie Bloomquist. Diamondbacks $3.8M, 2 yrs. Another one of the journeyman middle infielders who cashed in big. Funny thing is, he turned down close to $5 million with the Giants.

   13. Jerry Hairston, Jr. Dodgers INF, $6M, 2 yrs. Spunky, versatile player cashed in after mostly helping the Brewers late last year.

   14. Luke Scott. Rays DH, $5M, 1 yr. Hard to criticize the Rays, but the price seems steep considering the DH glut. He's younger and has more power than those left, however.

   15. Greg Dobbs. Marlins INF, $3M, 2 yrs. Again, not sure why a utilityman gets a multiyear deal. But good for him.

   16. Casey Blake. Rockies 3B. $2M, 2 yrs. Good guy who's an injury risk at this point. Time to start the Nolan Arenado era.

One more that will be good for the team: Roy Oswalt. His geographic desires have hurt him as he turned down close to $10 million with the Tigers and has let a Red Sox offer sit forever. Still waiting for the Rangers or Cardinals (we think).

One that will be better than you think: Albert Pujols. The $240 million over 10 years the Angels gave Pujols may seem a bit high toward the end of that deal, but the excitement and marketability the alltime great brings is immeasurable, though their new TV partner which dished out $2 billion probably has a pretty good idea of his value.

One that wasn;t a free-agent deal but was still great for the team: Matt Kemp. Can't blame the player for taking $160 million) over eight years), but you have to know the new owner loves the fact that the awesomely great Kemp is locked up through his prime years.

Posted on: January 7, 2012 3:48 pm
Edited on: January 24, 2012 8:48 pm

Retiring Posada is solid Cooperstown candidate

Jorge Posada, who plans to announce his retirement from baseball as a career Yankee, has better Hall of Fame credentials than you think.

Of the 15 catchers already in Cooperstown, nine have a higher batting average than Posada's .273.

But of those 15 catchers, only six have more RBI than Posada's 1,065. Only four have more home runs than Posada's 275. And only two (Yogi Berra and Bill Dickey) have more than Posada's five winning World Series rings.

Berra is the only one of the 15 who tops Posada in all four categories. Berra is actually the only one who bests Posada in all three individual categories, as well, as Johnny Bench, Gary Carter and Carlton Fisk all had lower career batting averages (Fisk was .269, Bench .267 and Carter .262).

Posada was a better hitter than you remember. His .374 on-base percentage is excellent, and so is his .474 slugging percentage. Those figures are especially excellent for a catcher. The value of an offensive catcher is huge. Posada is one of the best-hitting catchers ever. The numbers show that.

And as far as is decision to retire, that's a good one, too. CBSSports.com has confirmed the report of Sweeny Murti of WFAN that Posada's retirement plans are in the works. Murti suggested the official word would be coming down within two weeks.

Posada could have probably hung on as a lefty DH for some team, but that's a pretty limited role. No matter what his agents may say now, they did mention the possibility of Posada playing for the Mets to Mets people (maybe they agents don't want to admit it, but they did). In any case, this is the best result. Posada, 40, leaves almost all good memories with the Yankees. Hanging on for another year wouldn't have been worth it. Beyond that, his batting average might have fallen below Fisk's.

Category: MLB
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