PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- New York Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said Tuesday a cloud has lifted from above the organization with Monday's settlement of a lawsuit against the team's owners.
Principal owner Fred Wilpon, brother-in-law Saul Katz and family agreed to pay trustee Irving Picard $162 million in profits they earned from Bernard Madoff's Ponzi scheme in the six years before the convicted swindler's arrest. The Wilpons, however, will only have to pay a fraction -- if any -- of that amount. That is because the settlement allows them to try to reclaim $178 million in other Ponzi scheme investment losses from a fund set up for victims who invested with Madoff.
The organization also confirmed Tuesday the sale of 12 minority shares of the team that raised $240 million. That allowed the Mets to repay a $25 million emergency loan from Major League Baseball and a $40 million bridge loan from Bank of America.
"From just an overall organizational standpoint, the landscape today is a lot brighter than it was two or three days ago, going into a potential three-week trial," Alderson said Tuesday afternoon, before the Mets played a Grapefruit League game against the Washington Nationals. "Obviously we're very happy for Fred and Saul. And putting something behind us that has been an overhang for the franchise for well over a year -- just about from the time I arrived -- I think is a real plus."
The Mets slashed their payroll by $52 million during the offseason, to roughly $91 million.
Alderson said the recent positive financial developments does not mean an immediate return to the organization's previously free-spending ways. Still, the GM said, it should offer more ability to pursue free agents in future offseasons if the front office determines that is warranted.
The focus, though, will remain on the farm system. The Mets have a wave of promising pitchers on the horizon within a couple of years, highlighted by right-handers Zack Wheeler, Matt Harvey, Jeurys Familia and Jenrry Mejia.
"I think what we've been looking for is flexibility -- the flexibility to adopt the kind of (spending) strategy you described, at least having it as an option," Alderson said. "I certainly believe what has transpired makes that more possible. But, at the same time, as I've said, we're going through a process of redirection and sort of reinvigoration, if you will. That takes a little bit of time and a little bit of patience. But I do believe having put this behind us and the likelihood of this major investment in the team allows us a greater array of options going forward."
The Mets still have massive debt borrowed against the team, including $50 million annual bond interest payments on their three-year-old stadium, Citi Field.
"There are so many different variables that I think it's unwise, and to a certain extent unfair, to focus only on, 'Let's talk about the debt,' " Alderson said. "Well, let's talk about the fact that the team may be worth $2 billion. And could that affect how the team is operated? Sure. Could a stronger real-estate market in the city of New York (the Wilpons' primary business) affect how the team is operated? Yeah. There are all kinds of things that could happen. Among them, the resolution of the Madoff case and the probable investment in the team, those are good things."