11:20 am Nov. 12, 2012
Around 6 p.m. on Sunday night, Michael Salfino, a freelancer for the Wall Street Journal, SNY and Yahoo! Sports, tweeted the following:
"Source who would DEF know tells me Wilpon/Mets are broke, can't extend R.A. or Wright and have maybe two years left before they lose team."
He followed shortly thereafter with:
"And Mets lack of cash, I'm told, is the reason they deferred Bay. More than a baseball decision, they just pass that along to the next owner."
It is worth breaking down exactly what would and wouldn't have been news in what Salfino wrote.
In his first tweet, the idea that the Mets are on financially uncertain terrain is pretty clear, even acknowledged by the team itself, though in a comically understated manner. As general manager Sandy Alderson put it last month, "we will not in the near-future have unlimited funds."
But Alderson also made it clear that, even after the team cited the Bernie Madoff stuff as the reason they had to cut payroll from over $140 million in 2011 to just over $90 million in 2012, the settlement of that lawsuit last month hasn't changed much, and payroll is to remain the same in 2013.
Alderson is still busy pushing the line that this is simply a function of money remaining on the contracts of unproductive players, such as Jason Bay and Johan Santana. (If that sounds familiar, it should.)
The idea that the financial problems still facing Mets' ownership goes well beyond what Johan Santana will make in 2013 isn't a controversial one anymore. After all, the settlement with Picard only happened because Picard determined that Wilpon and his partners were out of money. And those long-touted minority shares, which totaled $240 million, raised money that has all been spent already.
The parts of Salfino's tweets that would qualify as news if they're taken as anything more than musings of an anonymous source, can be broken down into three components, all objectively measurable within the medium term:
1. The Mets cannot afford to extend David Wright or R.A. Dickey beyond their current contracts, which end after 2013.
2. The Mets won't be spending any additional money this offseason, with the remaining $21 million owed Jason Bay now deferred.
3. The Mets will have new ownership in "maybe two years".
Regarding Wright and Dickey, there's certainly been a disconnect between the urgency to sign them both put forward by Alderson last month, and reiterated in several early-October leaks, and the current state of negotiations.
According to Ken Rosenthal, the talks with Dickey had been nothing more than for show. And Alderson himself keeps invoking the team's non-negotiation with Jose Reyes last year to differentiate his interest in David Wright, even though Alderson claimed that signing Reyes was "a top priority" last winter.
The Mets can prove Salfino's source wrong on this count by signing Dickey or Wright. So we'll find out whether this is accurate soon enough.
The same is true of the claim about Bay's deferred money; we'll know if this improved flexibility by whether the 2013 payroll goes up or remains static.
And the final part of Salfino's source's claim, that the Mets will have new ownership in "maybe two years," will take the longest to prove or disprove. Till "maybe" November 2014.
The idea that the Mets are in dire straits financially isn't in dispute. Joel Sherman wrote in this piece on the Dickey negotiations last week: "The Mets are still not on firm financial footing."
The reason why is clear: that money they got from selling minority shares in the team is gone, and the effort to further leverage ownership's stake in SNY has yet to be completed. And without a refinancing, the Mets have a hefty, $320 million bill coming due against the team in June of 2014, along with $450 million due against SNY in June of 2015, not to mention ample interest payments on that debt, and debt payments on Citi Field, in the interim.
Nothing particularly controversial to see here. Just rare to hear all the pieces put together. As Salfino tweeted himself, "Didn't think it was that newsy, even. I mean, we all sorta knew it, right?"
Somebody thought it was newsy, though, or at least that the tweets needed addressing.
Exactly what happened to Salfino in next two hours is unclear. Salfino did not have futher comment, nor did Wall Street Journal sports editor Bill Eichenberger respond to a request seeking comment. But beginning around 11 p.m. last night, Salfino issued no fewer than eighteen tweets either apologizing to the New York Mets or disavowing any relationship with the Wall Street Journal.
Ten still remain on his feed; his earlier tweets about Mets' finances are gone.
One of the apology tweets, also now deleted, said: "And I apologize to the New York Mets because my tweets did not meet a journalistic standard for print and thus for Tweets, too."
For what it's worth, the Wall Street Journal this summer ran a report (citing "a baseball official briefed on the Mets' thinking") that made it sound like the Mets were just fine, financially, and ready to make David Wright an offer to stay in New York long-term.
The Journal's national baseball reporter, Brian Costa, distanced the paper from Salfino as well. Costa has previously written that "the Wilpon family is no longer in danger of losing its grip on the Mets," in a piece whose main point was that the team's real financial state, as it relates to payroll, is still a mystery.
Costa wrote on Twitter, in terms of the assertion about the Wilpons' "grip," that "I think it's fairly obvious based on events of spring that the immediate danger has passed."
We'll find out who was right soon enough.
Elsewhere in New York sports:
The Nets may not have gotten Dwight Howard from the Orlando Magic, but a Howard-less Magic has certainly been good for the Nets.
The Lakers, who just fired coach Mike Brown, appeared ready to bring Phil Jackson back. Instead, they hired former Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni when talks with Jackson faltered.
The Giants got demolished by the Bengals, 31-13.
Not to be outdone, the Jets fell to the Seahawks, 28-7.