By Rich Coutinho
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The Bernie Madoff saga has come to a conclusion — at least for Mets fans. This story was a long and boring chore to cover, and I am just glad that we can now talk about what I love: baseball. But before we get to that, let’s take one last look at the settlement and what it means for the Mets.
Financial litigation is often confusing, and this case was particularly hard to discern because of its many moving parts. But once a settlement was reached, a couple of things became crystal clear. The Wilpons and their other partners acted in good faith here and they are now viewed as victims in this Madoff mess — not defendants. Secondly, the Madoff case severely hamstrung the Mets from spending money on their baseball team. Clearly, their payroll has been significantly diminished in the past 12 months because of it. Sandy Alderson’s desire for payroll flexibility contributed to some of the budgeting, but most had to do with what the Wilpons stood to lose with this case going to trial.
I have covered the Mets since 1984, and I have always viewed Fred Wilpon as a straight shooter who treats everyone around him with the utmost of respect. He also felt hurt and betrayed by the Madoff mess, which is totally understandable. But understand this about Fred Wilpon — he loves owning the Mets and wants to win. And it hurt him deeply that he could not spend the way he might have wanted to spend. History shows that the Wilpons spend money on their payroll, even if the detractors say otherwise. Their payrolls have consistently been near the top in the National League, and this year’s budget is the exception — not the rule.
This settlement will allow the Wilpons to restructure their debt and possibly attract minority ownership because the cloud of the Madoff case has been clarified. Most investors I have spoken with tell me that people who were resistant before today may look at the situation differently now because the financial landscape has changed. Of course, these things do not fit well with the narrative that the media has constructed, which says that the Mets won’t be good until 2016. Never let the facts get in the way of a good story.
The simple truth is that the media was wrong about this from the start. First they told us that the Mets would lose $1 billion , then it was $330 million, and now the irony is that the Wilpons and the trustee are now on the same side of the fight — reclaiming monies for parties wronged by the Ponzi scheme. My take on this was always “wait and see,” because I believed that both sides had much to lose here and settling made all the sense in the world.
The best part about today is we can now focus on baseball — the game I respect and love. Sure, the Mets are in an uphill battle in the tough National League East, but it has never been my way to surrender when times get a little tough. The Phils, Braves, Nats and Marlins are all quality teams, but not devoid of issues. If the Phils lose Ryan Howard and Chase Utley for a prolonged period of time, things could get interesting. The Braves have to deal with the year after a collapse, and the Nats have had their share of injury-related nonsense this spring. Not to mention the Marlins, who are vastly improved but need Josh Johnson to recover much in the way the Mets need Johan Santana to do the same.
Clearly, the Mets have lots of issues as well, but this organization has less issues than it had yesterday because the financial picture is clearer. The farm system is far better than it was 24 months ago and quite frankly, Omar Minaya deserves as much credit for that as Alderson does. But that is another story for another day.
Today, Mets fans should be happy no matter what the naysayers would have you believe. I’ve said it all winter and will say it again — this team will be fun to watch, will play hard and will surprise some people. Whether you believe or not is your choice. To me, belief is in the DNA of the Mets fan. And this is certainly the time of the year to do just that. Play ball!
Mets fans, do you feel refreshed and somewhat hopeful now that the Madoff saga is over? Sound off below…