On the 28th of January, the national sports media was hit with a press release regarding the fact that the Wilbons, the current owners of the Mets, would intend to sell "20-25%" of the team due to the Bernie Madoff Scandal. Amazin' Avenue's Eric Simon speculated that there wouldn't be hysteria if it were only a few million dollars that were being discussed, but went on to say that it could be in the neighborhood of $100MM.
Turns out it could be as much as $300M.
As the Wilpons look for additional partners, one question that comes to mind is whether a team has ever dealt with this before. While there really isn't a perfect comparison, the Mets could be looking at a situation like the Royals faced in the early 90s if the Wilpons aren't able to recover. Remember, the departure of GM John Schuerholz in '90 and the passing of Ewing Kauffman in '93 was a double whammy that triggered what would be ownership problems that would last for almost an entire decade -- problems that only now are being fully cleansed out of the Royals' system, almost two decades later.
If the Wilpons aren't able to recover, could the Mets face a similar fate?
Prior to his death in 1993, Ewing Kauffman set up a plan to keep the Royals in Kansas City for years to come. Ironically, the Royals haven't done much to support that decision ever since. After Kauffman's death, the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation were given the rights of the team. By then, the Royals were given only six years to find a local owner. If they hadn't, bidding would then open up to outsiders. In 1999, after Miles Prentice, a New York City lawyer and businessman bid a "weak" $75MM on the team, David Glass stepped up and offered $96MM and won control of the team.
Sure, the Royals were trying to find full ownership of the team while the Wilpons are scavenging for a buyer to secure "only" 20-25 percent. That is obviously a massive difference, but still something that could affect the Mets for years to come if not addressed properly and with a long-term focus that the Kauffman succession lacked.
Further complicating matters, the Mets may be facing significant financial restrictions until ownership issues are resolved. In 1994, a year after Ewing Kauffman passed away, the Royals traded David Cone and Brian McRae, among others. Within the next two years, the payroll would decline from $40.5MM to $18.5MM, and the Royals reputation as a well-run club declined with it.
There were bright spots, but only briefly. In 2003, a team highlighted by Carlos Beltran and rookie of the year Angel Berroa were one of the best teams in the American League. Until September, when they collapsed and finish in 3rd. They only won 83 games that year.
Despite the collapse, expectations rose and many expected the Royals to surge out of the gate in 2004. That didn't happen. In fact, they were just at or near rock bottom the entire season. Even after introducing prospects such as David DeJesus and Zack Greinke, 2004 would end with another fire sale on the horizon. In July of '05, Carlos Beltran and others were shipped off and the Royals finished with the worst record in the league, giving them the first overall pick in the 2006 draft -- Luke Hochevar.
Can you imagine if that happened to the Mets? Can Mets Fan possibly stomach another two decades of heartbreak?
With ownership potentially in turmoil, can you imagine if all of the potentially sound organizational changes turn out to impact the team very little? What ever happened to the Roger Jongewaard days? Well, that's a bit of an exaggeration. But necessary moves can get the Mets closer to where they want to be financially and systematically. The Mets have had a nice off-season, and until this shakeup occurred, Mets fans had every right to believe they were in as good of a situation as they've been in a long time.
Now, if things do not get better, are the Mets really going to be able to spend money in the near future, let alone contend?