Mets morning briefing 8.20.11

In the latest Mets game to start in New York since May 16, 2007, the Mets lost to the Miwaukee Brewers, 6-1, on Friday night. The benches cleared in the eighth inning after Prince Fielder and Tim Byrdak exchanged words. Meanwhile, the Mets dropped into fourth place in the National League East, because Washington got a Ryan Zimmerman walkoff grand slam in a six-run ninth and beat the Phillies to pass the Amazin's in the standings. Friday's Mets-Brewers first pitch was at 9:56 p.m. The '07 game against the Cubs at Shea Stadium began at 10:17 p.m., according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Saturday's news reports:

Fred Wilpon and family's attorneys were in federal court in lower Manhattan late Friday afternoon, arguing the Mets owners had no idea they invested in a Ponzi scheme and trying to get the case tossed. Judge Jed S. Rakoff said he would rule on that request by late September, but set a March 5 trial date. Trustee Irving Picard is suing Wilpon, brother-in-law Saul Katz and other relatives and their businesses and charities, trying to recover $300 million in alleged profits from the Ponzi scheme and $700 million in principal. The latter request is based on a claim Wilpon ought to have known what was going on with the Ponzi scheme because of warning signs.

The consensus among experts is the Wilpons probably will escape being responsible for the $700 million portion, although Rakoff did inquire in court about Ponzi scheme fraud insurance the Wilpons are alleged to have discussed purchasing. The judge also freed Picard's team to seek more discovery evidence.

With respect to the $700 million amount, which is based on the "should-have-known" principle, Richard Sandomir and Ken Belson in The Times write:

A lawyer for the team’s owners argued to Rakoff that Picard’s evidence fell far short of proving that the men were willfully blind to any possible evidence or warnings about Madoff. “There is no material, admissible evidence to support any standard here -- certainly not a willful blindness standard or any standard,” said the lawyer, Karen Wagner. Rakoff sounded as if he were inclined to agree. He defined the legal meaning of being willfully blind as this: “You purposely turn away from learning something because you knew there was a high probability that you would learn something bad.”

The judge also quipped to the lawyers in the case: “Fortunately you gave me so much paper. Otherwise, I would have had to watch a Mets game, which would have been a very painful process.” Read more courtroom coverage in Newsday.

• Byrdak and Fielder labeled the eighth-inning incident a miscommunication. Byrdak said he thought Fielder was yelling at him, whereas Fielder subsequently explained to Byrdak he was muttering to himself in frustration after the inning-ending groundout. Byrdak had jawed back at Fielder, but thought the incident was over when he noticed the benches clearing. Read game/confrontation reports in the Post, Star-Ledger, Record, Newsday, Times and Daily News.

Jose Reyes indicated he is making progress from a strained left hamstring, but the shortstop has yet to run the bases, and may not do so for a few more days. Terry Collins called it a "stretch" to assume Reyes would be ready to be activated Tuesday when he is eligible. Reyes is running straight ahead and took grounders during batting practice Friday with teammates. Read more in the Star-Ledger, Post, Newsday and Record.

• Baseball America tabulates the Mets' draft spending at $6,782,500, which ranked 14th in baseball. (A lot of that is tied to when a team drafts in the first round, so the figure is not overly relevant in isolation.) First-round pick Brandon Nimmo, who made his professional debut Friday in the Gulf Coast League with a 1-for-6 performance as DH, signed for $2.1 million. That was above the $1.656 million recommended for the 13th overall slot in the draft by Major League Baseball.

Baseball America calculated that the Mets spent $5.07 million to sign their picks from the top 10 rounds (11 selections). That was 16 percent over what MLB recommended the Mets ought to have paid for those picks. Nineteen teams paid a higher percentage over the MLB recommended amount for their picks from the top 10 rounds.

Francisco Rodriguez returned to Citi Field with the Brewers and said he would welcome coming back to New York as a free agent. "I'm not the type of person that is going to burn bridges and say, 'No, I'm not coming this place because they traded me' or whatever," Rodriguez said. "I'm open-minded and open to come here to New York once again in the future."

K-Rod also analyzed Bobby Parnell's candidacy as a closer with the Mets. K-Rod essentially said Parnell needs to pitch with a chip on his shoulder. Informed of the remark, Parnell said: "He always told me I'm too nice."

Read more on Rodriguez in Newsday, the Post, Record, Daily News and Star-Ledger.

• Post columnist Joel Sherman compares the Yankees' A.J. Burnett with Mike Pelfrey, labeling both No. 4 starters whose primary strength is innings contributed. The expectations are higher than that for Burnett among Yankees fans because he is being paid like a frontline starter. The expectations are higher with Pelfrey because he was the No. 9 overall pick in the draft in 2005. Collins even anointed him Opening Day starter. Pelfrey allowed four runs (three earned) in five innings Friday night and fell to 6-10 with a 4.61 ERA. Still, his 154 1/3 innings logged are only shy of knuckleballer R.A. Dickey's 160 for the team lead. Coincidentally, Pelfrey and Burnett actually have logged the identical innings total so far this year.

Sherman predicts Pelfrey will remain with the Mets at least until next season's July 31 trade deadline. Writes Sherman:

This is the conundrum for the Mets: They probably missed their best window to trade Pelfrey, coming off his 15-win 2010 and still three seasons removed from free agency. The Mets certainly will weigh trades this offseason. But Pelfrey's value is diminished because his salary will rise to about $6 million, his 2011 is underwhelming and with Scott Boras as his representative it all but guarantees Pelfrey will test free agency after the 2013 season. Still, to the group of teams that cannot play for the top free-agent starters such as Yu Darvish (he is expected to be posted this offseason), C.J. Wilson and perhaps CC Sabathia, Pelfrey is affordable. He feels like the type that St. Louis pitching coach Dave Duncan has been resuscitating for years.

• Daily News columnist Tim Smith discusses Collins keeping his composure as the Mets fade far from contention. Said Collins: "The minute I see them giving up is the minute I will explode."

BIRTHDAYS: Outfielder Cory Sullivan and right-hander Lance Broadway, who both had small contributions to the 2009 Mets, celebrate birthdays. Sullivan turns 32. Broadway turns 28.