In 2009, it was revealed that the Wilpons, the family that owns the New York Mets, were firmly embroiled in the Bernie Madoff scandal. Some claim the Wilpons benefitted from Madoff’s scheme, while the Wilpons themselves said they were victimized like everyone else who had been caught up in the Ponzi scheme. Regardless of whom you believe, one thing is clear: five years later, the Mets franchise and its fans are still feeling the effects.
After several years of being in the MLB top five in team payroll, the Mets’ payroll has dropped drastically since the Madoff scandal. As of now, New York is 22nd in the league, an amazing feat considering the Mets have a brand new stadium, their own network and play in one of the largest cities in America.
While payroll doesn’t necessarily equate to success as many teams will tell you, there’s a difference between spending recklessly and possessing the ability to augment the roster as you see fit.
Despite repeated promises from both ownership and the front office alike, the payroll has continued to plummet. The Mets were third in the league with a $138-plus million payroll in 2008, the season before their finances went into disarray. Today, that payroll stands at a relatively small $89 million. The team has used every excuse in the book to justify the $50 million drop, including an extensive rebuilding effort which, to be fair, has yielded perhaps the organization’s best minor league system it has seen in years.
However, while the Mets seem to be well stocked for the future with prospects, fans of the team that has missed the playoffs for seven consecutive seasons and counting want answers, not empty promises. Entering this past offseason, general manager Sandy Alderson said that the Mets’ payroll would be higher in 2014 than it was in 2013 (it’s not), which came on the heels of Fred and Jeff Wilpon telling anyone who would listen that the family and team were financially solvent (the evidence would suggest otherwise).
In fact, the Mets engaged in quite a bit of “fuzzy math” this offseason. They had $56 million come off the payroll from last season, and despite comments to the contrary, only reinvested $29 million of that into the team via the signings of Curtis Granderson, Bartolo Colon and Chris Young. The rest of the payroll differential consisted of raises garnered by players on the current roster, which makes the end number look slightly more palatable, even if it is lower than last year’s number.
Through this all, commissioner Bud Selig, a longtime friend of the Wilpons, continues to resemble Kevin Bacon at the end of Animal House, shouting “remain calm, all is well!” while the masses run amok around him. Selig had no problem ousting erstwhile Los Angeles Dodgers owner Frank McCourt after he used the team as his personal piggy bank, but he’s merely turned a blind eye to the Mets’ plight.
The Dodgers, thanks to new ownership, now boast the highest payroll in baseball and are considered by many to be the favorites to win the World Series this season.
In contrast, the Mets are considered by many to be lucky to reach .500 this season. This once-proud franchise, which was one of the better teams in baseball from 2006-2008, has now been reduced to a laughingstock, frequently the subject of back page fodder that’s anything but positive. The Wilpons still swear that they can authorize a payroll raise whenever they so choose, even though Met fans stopped believing anything they say long ago.
As the old adage goes, the proof is in the pudding. Until the owners put their money where their mouths are, the seats at beautiful Citi Field will continue to remain half full and the fanbase will continue to be disenchanted. The fans, rightfully so, have adopted a “don’t tell me, show me” attitude and, until these owners show them, they stand a small chance of winning back the hearts of long-suffering Met fans.