With the New York Mets under pressure because of a lawsuit and searching for investors, Jeff Wilpon insisted on the eve of spring training that his family won't give up control of the team.
Owner Fred Wilpon and son Jeff, the team's chief operating officer, said Jan. 28 they were exploring selling up to 25 percent of the franchise because of "uncertainty" caused by the lawsuit filed by Irving H. Picard, the trustee trying to recover money for victims of the Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme. Picard is seeking at least $300 million from the Wilpons, team president and brother-in-law Saul Katz and related Sterling Equities entities.
"We're not selling controlling interest in the team," Jeff Wilpon said Wednesday at the Mets spring training complex. "It's not on the table."
While Picard claims the Wilpons and Katz were net winners from their Madoff investments and ignored warnings that Madoff's high returns might be false, the Mets owners have said they are victims in the scheme and Jeff Wilpon said they will be "victorious in the end."
Jeff Wilpon said there is "good interest from a lot of people you haven't read about in the papers" about an ownership stake.
"This is all obviously a little bit of a distraction, and I feel really bad for our family, bad for my dad and my uncle because this is just unfounded criticism on us," Wilpon said. "They've had years and years that they've been good citizens, good businessmen, and to attack them they way they've been attacked is really very unfair, unfounded and that's all I really want to say on that."
With Mets pitchers and catchers starting workouts Thursday, Wilpon said he told new manager Terry Collins not to worry about ownership issues.
Wilpon said players have been supportive, some of them offering words of encouragement during phone calls. He said the focus for the team remains on preparing for the season.
"This is an ownership issue," Wilpon said. "This is a Sterling Equities issue. It has nothing to do with what goes on here. As you know, our payroll is going to be — what? — $145-150 million. That's tops in baseball, or right up there. We're going to be committed to make sure all the resources are here to continue to run this team the way it's been run. We're going to continue to make it work and move forward."
Wilpon also supported general manager Sandy Alderson's assertion Tuesday that the lawsuit will not prevent the team from pursuing a new contract for Jose Reyes during the season, if Alderson decides he wants to.
"Sandy has the ability to run the team," Wilpon said. "He did that this offseason. He will do it. We're looking at budgets. We're looking at numbers for out years. There's some with Jose in it. There's some with Jose not in it. And that's just prudent planning."