New York Mets general manager Sandy Alderson acknowledged Monday that he did not know the extent of the financial distress of Mets ownership when he accepted the job in October. Still, Alderson insisted, the insight likely would not have affected his decision to join the organization.
Principal owner Fred Wilpon and son Jeff Wilpon, the organization's chief operating officer, announced Friday their likely intent to sell 20 to 25 percent of the team in order to pay off a settlement or judgment in a lawsuit by the trustee trying to recover funds for victims of convicted swindler Bernard Madoff's Ponzi scheme.
"You are right to say some circumstances have changed," Alderson said on a conference call initially intended to discuss the signing of right-hander R.A. Dickey to a two-year contract. "Would it have changed my position? I don't think so."
Alderson said his frugality this winter is the result of inheriting bad contracts from predecessor Omar Minaya, not Madoff-related issues. Despite minimal spending this offseason, Alderson still projects the Mets' payroll to be between $140 million to $150 million this upcoming season.
Asked if he had any concern going forward that ownership's financial issues might prompt a pullback in spending in future offseasons that was not foreseen when he accepted the job, potentially affecting the re-signing of shortshop Jose Reyes, Alderson said he was unconcerned.
"Perhaps naively, I don't expect that this situation will be a hindrance in that regard," Alderson said. "I fully expect that decision will be made as it would have been, in the best interest of the team on the field, and the best interest of the overall sort of financial health as well as baseball future of the Mets -- as it would be with any other team.
"... I mean, obviously there's a certain level of ambiguity surrounding this news. But from my standpoint, the facts are as they currently exist. And to some extent the decision to find a minority partner or some other source of recapitalizing the franchise is positive news from my standpoint. If there was an initial problem before, that can only be positive from my standpoint."
Regardless, fans will be watching closely to see if Alderson's actions with regard to Reyes, who is poised to be a free agent next offseason after earning $11 million in 2011, will be affected by the team's financial issues.
"I go back to the notion that if a potential financial issue exists, ownership is proactively addressing it," Alderson replied. "And at this point I don't expect that any financial situation will inhibit negotiations with Jose."
The Madoff-related lawsuit, which is currently sealed, is reportedly seeking hundreds of millions of dollars from Fred Wilpon and brother-in-law Saul Katz. It was filed in December, two months after Alderson was hired.
Alderson acknowledged he did not know the depth of the issue or the possibility of a portion of the team being sold while he interviewed for the GM job.
Commissioner Bud Selig, who reportedly plans to meet this week with Fred Wilpon, had recommended Alderson to Mets' ownership because of issues surrounding the team, but those issues were mostly limited to dysfunction and high payroll.
"First of all, I want to emphasize that the plan that we have pursued the last couple of months was limited by only one fact, and that was the level of the existing payroll," Alderson said. "Our payroll going into the season will be somewhere between $140 million and $150 million. I think that is significantly higher than we'd like to be on an annual basis -- a product of adding some additional players that we felt the roster needed as well as some existing [obligations]. The plan and the approach that I've taken over the last two months has not been affected at all by any other outside factors.
"From my standpoint, when I took this position, when I interviewed and took this position, I was of course aware of the pre-existing involvement of the Wilpons and the Mets with Bernie Madoff. I wasn't privy to all of the detail, nor am I or most of us at this point privy to all that detail. And I wouldn't expect to be. At the same time, none of that has affected what I have done over the last two months."