The Madoff/Wilpon Mess: A Simple Guide

Maybe you're wondering: why do I need to follow the lawsuit by Irving Picard, trustee for Bernie Madoff victims, against Fred Wilpon and his business partners, who own the New York Mets? Regardless of the outcome, will Luis Castillo hit any better? Will Oliver Perez pitch any better? Will Johan Santana heal any better?

The answer to all three questions is, sadly, no. But the ramifications of the suit, unsealed last Friday, will impact the way the Mets are run for years to come, whether Fred Wilpon is forced to take on a minority owner, sell the entire team, or spend the upcoming months (and possibly years) in litigation.

The Mets' ownership group is being sued for $300MM in fictitious profits, along with another $700MM in damages, for their connection to the Ponzi scheme operated by Bernie Madoff. The impact on the franchise is likely to be immense. Here's what you need to know about the current circumstances:

  • Fred and Jeff Wilpon said late last month that they would sell 20-25% of the team to guard against any potential Madoff settlement. Since then, settlement talks have broken down, leading to the unsealing of the lawsuit last week.
  • Picard is seeking $300MM in fictitious profits from Wilpon and his business partners. In addition, Picard seeks an unspecificied amount beyond that (the New York Times reports it "could reach beyond $1 billion") alleging that Wilpon should have known or suspected Madoff's scheme. 
  • The standard by which Picard arrived at the $300MM is pretty common in these cases- fictitious profits are distributed to those who lost money in Ponzi schemes, scams where new backers are consistently recruited to pay off old investors. For the Wilpons to incur losses above $300MM, Picard's standard will be to prove that a "reasonable man" would have suspected something was amiss regarding Madoff's scheme, and alleges numerous instances of the Fred Wilpon and his partner/brother-in-law Saul Katz receiving warnings from both business partners and Katz's own son.
  • It isn't clear how Wilpon would raise anything approaching even the initial $300MM from a minority sale of the Mets. Forbes valued the team at $845MM in April 2010, but Wilpon has borrowed heavily against the team. Forbes reported this week that the combined book value of the Mets and Citi Field, including debt, is negative $225MM, though Adam Rubin of ESPN New York has cast doubt on that figure. That was before the Mets were named specifically in Picard's suit, giving the team even more potential liability.
  • Even if someone would pay a premium to own the Mets outright, it is far less clear that someone will pay that same premium for a minority stake and no authority. In other words, a 25 percent stake in the Mets is worth $211.25MM as per April 2010, absent any of the debt or other mitigating factors, and assuming that a 25 percent stake (minority) is actually worth one quarter of 100 percent stake (majority). (It isn't.) Obviously, with all the mitigating factors, 25 percent of the Mets isn't worth close to $211.25MM – which is, itself, far less than the $300MM Picard is likeliest to recover.
  • SNY is enormously profitable, and would earn a decent amount in a straight sale. However, Wilpon and his partners have borrowed against SNY as well, diluting the value. And far more ominously, the New York Post reported this week that any proceeds from a sale of SNY would be distributed to those lenders. In other words, when Jeff Wilpon described SNY as wholly separate from any sale of the Mets last Friday, he may not have been making a choice.
  • At the end of the day, no one knows what the maximum amount of money Fred Wilpon and his partners can raise without selling a majority stake in the New York Mets. But there is a number, X, and as long as Picard's settlement would be higher than X, Wilpon will face the choice between fighting in court and losing his team.
  • It may well be that there is a certain amount of money Wilpon needs to raise to avoid bankruptcy, even including a full sale of the team. If we call that Y, and Picard's settlement would be higher than Y, Wilpon has even greater reason to fight this in court, hoping a judge sees things his way.
  • Either way, the longer Wilpon doesn't settle, the likelier it is that one of these two scenarios has come to pass. The results would be disastrous for the New York Mets. With cases such as these often taking a year or more, Mets ownership could be in the midst of this battle next November, just as Albert Pujols and Jose Reyes are scheduled to hit free agency.


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94 Comments on "The Madoff/Wilpon Mess: A Simple Guide"


The_Silver_Stacker
4 years 6 months ago

It’s hard to picture a Post-Wilpon runs Mets.

Infield Fly
4 years 6 months ago

If that’s hard for you buddy, you’re not trying hard enough. I dream of it on a daily basis!!!

4 years 6 months ago

I share your current nightmares, and dream as well about a WILPON FREE NY MET franchise, with a new owner who’s number one priority is winning percentage and not maximum profits percentage.

4 years 6 months ago

Its hard to picture an above .500 Mets

bjsguess
4 years 6 months ago

Very nice write-up of a complicated situation.

bas_in_denmark
4 years 6 months ago

I concur very nice write-up. Thanks, Howard.

Lunchbox45
4 years 6 months ago

Howie! Howie! Howie!

YaGottaBelieve11
4 years 6 months ago

Agreed, seeing all the factors in one place is quite helpful

disgustedcubfan
4 years 6 months ago

This is a good time for the Twins to offer some prospects to the Mets for Reyes and his contract.

4 years 6 months ago

Hurry call M. Cuban. I bet he would buy the team.

myname_989
4 years 6 months ago

There was actually a mention of him the other day. He won’t buy the team unless he gets the majority stake. At this point… That seems realistic, but it wasn’t about a week ago.

Muggi
4 years 6 months ago

Yep if it goes to a majority stake for sale he’ll be in it for sure…but it’s doubtful the other owners would allow it. MLB has about the best old-boy’s club amongst ownership possible…if the other owners don’t like you, take your money and go home. They can veto any new owner.

Ian Cohen
4 years 6 months ago

The sale of the New York Mets is inevitable. I wish it would be sooner rather than later, but this will probably take a long while to play out.

4 years 6 months ago

Thanks for breaking things down a bit for us Howard. I admittedly wasn’t a little sure how to decipher the whole situation, not having an understanding of the legal system and their lingo.

East Coast Bias
4 years 6 months ago

This is exactly what most of us needed. Thanks!

Jeff Weissbuch
4 years 6 months ago

This could also make signing draft picks harder too, so this could hurt the Mets for years to come.

barroomhero
4 years 6 months ago

Disaster may be a better term. Yikes.

I am Urban Legend
4 years 6 months ago

half of their top prospects were signed for the cost of 2001 used Honda Civic..

hawkny1
4 years 6 months ago

For Mets fans who, like myself, are of the opinion that the Mets need to be overhauled from ownership, through the front office, onto the playing field, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Clearly the Wilpons have used the finances of the organization as a cash cow for a variety of reasons other than baseball and/or improving the performance of the Mets on the field. Sandy Alderson, etal., may perhaps provide some clubhouse solutions, only time will tell. There will however be a dark cloud hanging over Citi Field and Queens for the remainder of the time the Wilpons are accociated with the team. Thus, for the sake of Mets fans everywhere the sooner someone with $$$ steps up to buy out the club from its current owners the better.

Infield Fly
4 years 6 months ago

Absolutely! To be honest I’ve been dreaming of the Wilpons selling since at least 2008 – probably earlier (Jeffy-boy’s constant meddling being one major reason). All the while, the Wilpons have always professed a deep love for the team (Fred Wilpon called himself the number one Mets fan last spring”). Now that they’re in the position to screw their team good for years on end because of this mess, let’s see how deep that love goes….and if they love the team, enough to SET THEM FREE!!!

Chuck345
4 years 6 months ago

And just when you thought the Met’s off-season couldn’t get any worse…

I am Urban Legend
4 years 6 months ago

Worse?
this is GOOD NEWS

hawkny1
4 years 6 months ago

hawkny1 0 minutes ago

For Mets fans who, like myself, are of the opinion that the Mets need to be overhauled from ownership, through the front office, onto the playing field, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Clearly the Wilpons have used the finances of the organization as a cash cow for a variety of reasons other than baseball and/or improving the performance of the Mets on the field. Sandy Alderson, etal., may perhaps provide some clubhouse solutions, only time will tell. There will however be a dark cloud hanging over Citi Field and Queens for the remainder of the time the Wilpons are associated with the team. Therefore, for the sake of Mets fans everywhere in particular, and MLB baseball in general, the sooner someone with $$$ steps up to buy out the club from its current ownership the better.

Blue387
4 years 6 months ago

Could the Wilpons declare bankruptcy?

Bob George
4 years 6 months ago

They could, but the NY Times says they are $1.5 billion in debt BEFORE the Madoff lawsuit, figuring in SNY. They’d still have to sell the team, even if they declared bankruptcy, and anything they got from selling off the team would go to pay off lenders.

Unless they get a sympathetic judge, they’re going to lose the team, period. It’s important to understand that even without the Madoff lawsuit, they have run the team into the ground financially. I’d encourage everyone to go read the NY Times article that describes how Wilpon and Katz were in big money troubles the moment Madoff was arrested – Madoff was their source of funding for daily operations of the team. It’s insane.

YaGottaBelieve11
4 years 6 months ago

Could you give us the title of this article? Believe it or not a google search of “ny times wilpon madoff” yields an awful lot of results

timmytwoshoezzz
4 years 6 months ago

If the first question is not a “yes” or “no” question, how can the answer to all three be “no”?

DCCorey
4 years 6 months ago

Ummm, there are four questions – He asks “Why do I need to follow the lawsuit?” Will following it:
Make Luis Castillo hit any better?
Make Oliver Perez pitch any better?
Make Johan Santana heal any better (or faster)?

The answer to those three (“3″) questions, regardless of whether you pay attention to the lawsuit, is no.

Then he goes on to explain why the lawsuit is still important for the short and long term, regardless of any perception of a lack of immediate on-field consequences.

/Explained.

East Coast Bias
4 years 6 months ago

Thanks for explaining what his post meant. I had no idea which questions he was talking about..

4 years 6 months ago

Make it so. Engage.

BJ Fledgling
4 years 6 months ago

Coincidence? J.P. Ricciardi was hired by the Blue Jays to cut their payroll down.

Lunchbox45
4 years 6 months ago

He was hired to cut down payroll by offering outlandish undeserving long term contracts?

Smrtbusnisman04
4 years 6 months ago

J.P. Ricciardi is gonna be in charge of scouting and player development, not the team’s finances.

gunsnascar
4 years 6 months ago

God what a mess.
The mets and citi field need to be sold asafp.
The new owners then need to clean house and start from scratch, emphasizing the development and drafting true talent to a entire new front office and the on the field players.
Fire sale from now on until they completely liquidate their payroll pay what you have to to sell them super stars and get true major league ready talent if possible in return mid leval prospects or what ever they can get and rebuild around.

AND

the pirates may or may not be in a better situation than the mets but the pirates ownership is not going to be run outta baseball for shady dealings
and this you cant deny the royals have a better franchise than the mets now, and they are a small market team.

bjsguess
4 years 6 months ago

This problem won’t be solved by reducing payroll. The issues outlined above go far beyond slashing $50m from the books in 2011. That would be a drop in the virtual bucket.

It would be very interesting though to see what Wright + Santana + Reyes would net you. I’m guessing a ton for Wright, not much for Johan, and a pretty good haul for Reyes (assuming he plays well). That would be a start. Beltran comes off the books after the season wraps up. Bay would remain your one bad contract and if he bounces back it may be possible to move him without having to eat a ton of cash.

East Coast Bias
4 years 6 months ago

Ugh… it hurts to see the Mets function as a small market team.

4 years 6 months ago

Curious still how this affects this year or next year’s Mets. If the Wilpons need 1 billion (LOL) then they are going to sell. No one on earth could just come up with a Billion without selling their most profitable assets. If they just need 300M (that’s all again LOL) then what exactly would taking the payroll from 140 to 100M do? Give them an extra 40M when they need 300M? The payroll this off-season is the highest it’s ever been, it will be lower by default next year. That does not mean talent will decrease unless you call Castillo and Perez talent. I see no reason the Mets can’t be competitive and much better than this year with just a 115-120M payroll. But, but no they will slash more than that. Sure that’s what they want to do, make the Mets product worth even less in case they do have to sell. Again until I see it impact the actual decisions made, it really does not matter to me.

4 years 6 months ago

It’s a slippery slope, a very slippery slope. For probably over a year I’ve used the late 90s Orioles analogy – attendance and payroll were both VERY high after the new stadium was built. However, as performance decreased, attendance decreased, then payroll decreased. Attendance decreased more, followed by payroll, and back and forth back and forth. Now they’re perennially one of the worst teams in the league.

It’s easy to say and believe that a $115M 2012 Mets team can be competitive, but a large number of fans will be pissed that payroll was significantly dropped and will believe that money is more important to the Wilpons than wins. They’ll stop attending games and overall attendance will drop (unless the $115M team wins), then payroll may have to drop again. Do you see where this is going? It’s a slippery slope to significantly drop a team’s payroll.

4 years 6 months ago

Additionally, to say that dropping the payroll doesn’t affect the team in 2012 doesn’t make sense to me.

If a $120M Mets team is competitive (I’ll let you have that one), then wouldn’t spending an additional $10-20M on a top notch bench and/or bullpen make that competitive team even better? So that’s the difference.

4 years 6 months ago

Not necessarily. Again money does not always buy wins especially if not spent correctly. It can also impact the future depending on how many years that “help” demands and how much more significant that help is in relation to what they have.

If Fielder comes up, would he make the Mets better? Yeah. Should they then trade Ike and raise payroll to get Fielder or would they be better off keeping the much cheaper Ike and using some of that money on something else?

If Niese does well but there is a SP that is better should they trade Niese and then sign the new SP to a 5 year big money deal?

Again to me it’s about value in the right spots, not payroll. 145M has done the Mets nothing. They would have won the same if not more in the last 2 years if they had a 120M payroll that did not have Ollie and Castillo on it.

The Mets have tried the spend big win big method and it’s not really produced. I have no desire to spend on big name FA just to say our payroll is high.

4 years 6 months ago

Also, again, If the Wilpons need 1Billion then what will 15M do for them?

YanksFanSince78
4 years 6 months ago

It’s already happened. If Wilpon is borrowing against the team then they probably don’t have the money to take on huge amounts of additional payroll so don’t expect them to sign any multi million dollar deals. No Pujols!

I am Urban Legend
4 years 6 months ago

Pujols would be the wrong move for them…
I love Pujols’s game, but I think with Ike Davis at 1B…the mets need as many pre-arb/arb players to off-set the rising costs of reyes/wright ( assuming they resign )

jb226
4 years 6 months ago

However this mess plays out, I think the Wilpons are screwed. They won’t be the Mets owners much longer.

But you seem to think that a civil judgment is like a restaurant bill, where the judge bangs his gavel and a bailiff walks over and you open your wallet and pay your fine. It’s not. They’ll let you finance it. If that extra $40MM a year was profit, ie, something that the Wilpons could actually take and give away to help settle their debt, that’s pretty significant depending on the debt. 40/300 is 13%. They would be done in eight years at that rate, assuming they didn’t have a dime to contribute any other way.

But as I said, they’re done for even if they win this lawsuit. It’s just a matter of time.

MaineluvstheSox
4 years 6 months ago

Stunning!!! How do you sell 25% of nothing. Oh, I forgot, this is America.
Seriously, if the commish has any nuts he needs to force the Wilpons out. It would seem the Mets are noncompettitve. How do opperate under these conditions? If you are Albert Pujols you don’t even talk to these charlatans. A sad situation.

bjsguess
4 years 6 months ago

How would baseball force an owner out? Is there an example of that?

MaineluvstheSox
4 years 6 months ago

The NBA forced the Knicks to straighten things out a few years ago or they would step in and do it themsleves. MLB “owned” the Nationals for a while. Different situations, I know. I’m not saying the league could do anything, but it is a very bad situation with possible bankruptcy, recievership, and the obvious black eye. Do the Wilpons have the right to own and mismanage the Mets? Yup. What happens if they can’t meet payroll because the courts put an order against them?

I am Urban Legend
4 years 6 months ago

imagine if their checks to david wright started bouncing lol

david: ugghh..yeah jeff…i havent gotten paid in 2 months…whats up…
jeff: the check is in the mail
david: but i have direct deposit
jeff: listen, do u need some cash? i’ll lend u some money at a good intere…
david: mofo, how u gonna lend me money when u owe me money..i swear i’m gonna strike out with the bases loaded in a critical spot every time til u pay me what u owe

4 years 6 months ago

I think they’ll end up selling a minority stake while finally settling. Picard can ask for $100 billion if he wants to, that’s how it works. He asks for $1B and then the Wilpons decide to settle.

Either way it blows. I know this offseason hasn’t been exciting for some fans, but it’s been exciting for me because hiring Alderson and Co. was a breath of fresh air. I was excited to see how Collins managed the team, if Reyes and Beltran returned to All-Stars and how Ike, Niese and Thole developed.

Now this black cloud is hanging over the Mets yet again. I support the hell out of those guys that bust it out there all season, but the Wilpons can go screw themselves. I’m really over this BS.

jb226
4 years 6 months ago

How much he asks for is actually quite important, however. It’s going to influence a jury if the case is not settled.

Further, in civil cases, juries can apportion blame. Let’s say they agreed that the damages were $1B, and that the Wilpons should have known something was wrong so they deserve some blame, but so should the investors under them in the scheme. A jury can come out and say “the Wilpons are liable for 50% of this judgment and the other victims are responsible for 50%.” It means the Wilpons are stuck with 50% of the damages — or $500MM in this hypothetical.

4 years 6 months ago

I am just hoping that the Wilpons are forced to sell the team. Then we could get a Mark Cuban, who will spend the money that Boston and Philly spends!

4 years 6 months ago

The Wilpons have spent plenty of money, it’s just been completely misallocated, so now they’re hamstrung with contracts that are preventing them from making big moves like Boston and Philadelphia has.

Sandy is the perfect guy to spend your money wisely, but now with these recent developments there’s a good chance we won’t get to see him do so. Only time will tell.

4 years 6 months ago

Mets payroll this year is the highest it’s ever been. Bunch of cheapskates. LOL
The Wilpons problem is that they have shown the problem of allowing the wrong people to control their money…. Omar and Madoff.

4 years 6 months ago

I’m not saying the Wilpons have been cheapskates, just that a New York team should be willing and able to match Boston and Philly in spending.

I am Urban Legend
4 years 6 months ago

I dont think Philly is making the best decisions long term…

most of their success has come from low-key moves and farm

howard = farm
utley = farm
rollins = farm
ruiz = farm
victorino = rule 5
werth = low key trade
ibanez = free-agent bust
doc signed a very team friendly deal considering he’s the best SP in the league

Muggi
4 years 6 months ago

I wouldn’t say Ibanez has been a BUST, I mean even in his down year last season he was a 1.9 WAR guy; not quite up to his $11.5m salary, but close. The 3.9 WAR he put up in 2009 blows away the $6.5m they paid him that season.

The Howard extension was moronic, the Lee contract will probably work out (everyone points to his age, but he’ll only be 36 by the time it’s expired). Doc’s deal is as good as it gets. Utley’s is a bargain at $15m.

I am Urban Legend
4 years 6 months ago

Yeah I was referring more to Howards extension…
also Lee will be 38 or 39 when that contract finishes…

Muggi
4 years 6 months ago

That’s a common misconception. Lee’s deal is for 5 yrs; the first season he will be 32.

32
33
34
35
36

(his birthday is in August, so technically he’ll be 37 for a couple months of the last yr)

Now if he pitches well the final two season and the Option kicks in, then he could be 37 (at the start of the season) by the end. In all likelihood the Phils will exercise the Option on way or the other, as there’s a $10m buyout on his $25m salary…if he’s pitching at all well, he’s easily worth $15m.

4 years 6 months ago

I agree that the decisions that Philly has made haven’t always been the best ones (especially Howard’s contract), but my point is to spend what they spend (of course, wisely). And that includes spending on international signings and on draftees—going over slot.

I am Urban Legend
4 years 6 months ago

their problem was NOT allowing Omar to spend their money wisely…

Omar went after Manny, Lowe and Eckstein before settling on Shawne Green, Perez and Castillo..

Muggi
4 years 6 months ago

The problem with Cuban is the other MLB owners may not want a hothead like him in the league, and the other owners can nix any sale they don’t like.

If the Mets went up for outright sale, it’s not like Cuban would be the only suitor.