And you thought losing Jose Reyes was bad.
A short time ago, U.S. District Court Judge Jed S. Rakoff ruled that Mets principal owners Fred Wilpon, the Wilpon family, and their businesses and charities must pay at least $83.3 million to the trustee — that’s Irving Picard, in case you haven’t been following this for the past year and a half — who has been trying to recover funds in the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme scandal.
That’s just part of it — and what may eventually prove to be a small part. Judge Rakoff also ruled that the two sides will go to trail March 19 over an additional $303 million that Picard is seeking, turning down a request from the Wilpons’ attorneys to limit their liability to the $83 million and thus remove the need for a trial.
Maybe Wilpon was anticipating a decision something like this last week. When in Port St. Lucie, he told the press: “When it started, there was a really big number out there and now — I’m not minimizing — but it’s a different number.” The “really big number” was a reference to the one billion Picard was suing for, which Rakoff reduced to $386 million.
And while it is a different number, the Mets now start the season with a slashed payroll, diminished expectations, and $83 million in the hole no matter how you slice it. This on top of the announcement over the weekend that revenues at Citifield– i.e.. concessions and parking — are down 30% and premium ticket sales have slipped 50% since the park opened in 2009. Overall attendance has declined a whopping 26%.
The good news for the Wilpons, if you want to call it that, is that the judge thinks it is unlikely that Picard is going to get all of that remaining $303 million. As reported by the Associated Press, he stated he “remains skeptical that the trustee can ultimately rebut the defendants’ showing of good faith.”
Yeah, great. So Mets fans won’t get stuck for all the remaining $303 billion — just a huge chunk of it. What does this mean in practical terms? Well, don’t worry about signing an ace reliever or big name slugger as we come the stretch in a hot pennant race. In fact, don’t sweat the idea of a hot pennant race at all. What’s likely is that the Wilpons will try to raise some cash to pay some of that debt with a late summer fire sale. Well, that is, if you call what the Mets have left a fire sale.
The only prime beef left on the hook is Johan Santana and David Wright. And Johan has yet to prove that he isn’t damaged goods. So what do Mets fans root for? That Wright’s rib cage heals? Why? So he’ll bring more in a deal with the Angels, Rangers, or Red Sox? About the only suspense this year is whether or not the Mets can break that 40-120 mark from their first season 50 years ago.