New York Mets chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon visited manager Terry Collins on Thursday afternoon at Citi Field and delivered this message:
"Look, I want you to know we're moving forward, and it's business as usual as far as you're concerned," Wilpon said.
Of course, it is not that simple.
More than three months after confirming they had entered into an exclusive negotiating agreement with David Einhorn to come on board as minority partner -- and infuse the organization with $200 million -- principal owner Fred Wilpon and family announced Thursday that the prospective deal was off.
Earlier in the day, the Wilpons had met with Einhorn in midtown Manhattan and offered the same message.
Organization insiders portray the announcement as no big deal -- that Einhorn, an experienced poker player, thought he had prey in the Wilpons, interpreting their willingness to make modest amendments to the agreement this summer as a sign of weakness that could be exploited. Einhorn countered by alleging the Wilpons unilaterally changed terms on him and that he was "surprised" a week ago when he received a modified deal with provisions that had not been discussed.
Insiders familiar with the Mets' Plan B said the Wilpons now will seek to come up with the $200 million Einhorn was to provide, or some other amount in that ballpark, by getting family and friends to invest in smaller pieces -- $15 million here, $20 million there. They portrayed that as a smooth alternative. There will be no path for any investor to become majority owner.
Still, if that were such an ideal alternative, it stands to reason it would have been Plan A.
The bottom line Mets fans want to know is this: How will nixing the Einhorn deal affect any Jose Reyes negotiations and how the team conducts business more generally this winter?
Whether related to the Einhorn deal or otherwise, general manager Sandy Alderson offered the clearest recent comments on that subject while speaking with reporters Wednesday in Buffalo, the home of the Mets' Triple-A affiliate. Alderson seemed to float a 2012 payroll in the $100 million to $110 million range -- down $30 million to $40 million from the current level.
Responding to a question about the Mets' payroll relative to the Yankees' spending, Alderson said: "We can't spend at will the same way they can spend. And we're not going to attempt to try to do that, at least not over the next several years. Basically, we've got to get people back in the ballpark to generate the kind of revenues that would be needed to have an even larger payroll. But the fact is, even at $100 million or $110 million, we're still in the upper echelon of payrolls. That ought to allow us plenty of latitude."
Alderson then noted it is difficult to operate at that payroll level with a handful of massive salaries already on the books. So the Mets might have to wait for those to clear off the books before really delving back into free agency on the high end.
The GM did not name names, but Johan Santana is owed $24 million in 2012, while Jason Bay is owed $16 million and David Wright is owed $15 million. That's $55 million -- potentially half or more of the payroll -- going to three players even before Reyes is re-signed.
Add in Reyes, hypothetically, at even a conservative $15 million in the first year of the deal, and that's $70 million for four players. The other players would have to average less than $2 million a man under the best-case scenario given that payroll outline.
"It's very difficult, unless you're one of a couple of teams, to have three, four guys making $15 million-plus," Alderson said. "I don't care who you are -- again, with the exception maybe of a couple of teams. So I would expect we'll be looking actively in the free-agent market, but we've got to get it to a position where we can be active every year and not be hamstrung by existing contracts.
"Part of that is making good decisions in the first place. I mean, if you invest $15 million, you hope you're going to get $15 million worth of performance. We haven't always gotten that."