There but for the grace of Selig go the New York Mets
LOS ANGELES—Mets fans could be forgiven for watching the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Championship Series, and thinking that the Dodgers' story could easily be unfolding at Citi Field.
After all, Major League Baseball managed to force out Dodgers owner Frank McCourt, while extending a loan to Fred Wilpon and his partners that kept them afloat financially.
The two were very different, insisted Bud Selig, commissioner of baseball, back in 2011. He never explicitly said why, of course, suggesting distinctions that largely boiled down to intent.
McCourt looted the Dodgers for his own financial gain, lowered payroll drastically, and his only way out of his own financial mess was to use the equity in rapidly expanding television value, something Selig rejected.
By contrast, according to this thinking:
"In New York, the Wilpons -- Fred and his son Jeff -- generally have tried to act in the best interests of their team for 30 years," Jon Heyman wrote back in April 2011. "They certainly haven't used the club as their personal piggy bank, which is what Frank McCourt appears to have done in his seven years in Los Angeles."
Yes, well, about that. In March 2012, Wilpon and his partners sold minority shares in the team, not for any gain for the Mets, but simply to stay afloat. $110 million of that $240 million went to pay down some principal on a massive loan against the team, the rest to pay back loans from Major League Baseball and Bank of America that kept them from insolvency, along with debt service.
And even that minority sale, largely to S.N.Y., came in exchange for the Mets extended their way below market television deal with S.N.Y. Put another way, the Mets monetized their local television deal like so many other teams, but used it to hold onto the team.
You know, like Frank McCourt tried to do.
As for that payroll, which was over $140 million in 2011: it was in 2013, functionally, lower than McCourt's $83 million that was so untenable for Major League Baseball back in 2011. That's a bigger gap than it even seems, with salaries climbing in the intervening years. This, despite Mets ownership borrowing another $160 million against their stake in S.N.Y., something only worth as much as it is thanks to the below-market television rights deal the network enjoys with the Mets. And payroll, incidentally, looks to be dropping this winter, even more, as Mets ownership figures out how to navigate that large loan against the team.
“I keep reading they’re similar but they’re clearly not similar,” Selig said in April 2011. “Anyone who portrays that as similar is wrong.”
They're sure not similar anymore. In the 2011 offseason, while the Dodgers could offer Matt Kemp eight years, $160 million as part of the course of normal business operations during a bankruptcy, Jose Reyes headed elsewhere as the Mets lined up a bridge loan to stay afloat until March.
Dodger Stadium gave thunderous cheers to Adrian Gonzalez Tuesday night when he lined an R.B.I. single down the right field line. Gonzalez, acquired from the Red Sox, is due another $106 million over the next five years. Kemp is injured. Doesn't matter: the new Dodgers ownership is willing, and able, to spend whatever it takes to get to the playoffs. The team's best hitter, Hanley Ramirez, was acquired as a salary dump from the Miami Marlins, earning $15.5 million this year, and $16 million next year. The team's Game 5 pitcher, Zack Greinke, signed last winter for six years, $159 million. The most exciting player they have is Yasiel Puig, purchased by new Dodgers ownership as, essentially, a seven-year, $42 million lottery ticket.
And if he hadn't paid off, they'd just go out and get somebody else. They can afford to, and you can argue, given the link between payroll and attendance (certainly reflected at Dodger Stadium), they can't afford not to.
Mets ownership, meanwhile, can't afford much of anything these days.
Bud Selig is right, finally. The situations sure are different. Why'd that happen again?