You know that commercial for Capital One, the “What’s in your wallet” ad? It’s a good thing no one looks at my wallet, it’s stuffed with everything except money. It’s like a small leather file cabinet. Reminds me of the Seinfeld episode where George starts having sciatica problems because of the imbalance caused from carrying his massively stuffed wallet in his right back pocket. The episode culminates with the wallet exploding as he crosses the street in a virtual ticker tape parade of receipts and post-it notes.
It doesn’t look like the Mets are going to be having any ticker tape parades of their own any time soon, mostly on account of what’s in Fred Wilpon’s wallet, which is not a lot unless you include a couple of massive IOU’s coming due very soon.
For the past three seasons Met fans have partaken in a blame game. They’ve argued up and down web-pages, comment sections, and blogs, about who is most responsible for the current suffocating stretch of mediocrity. It mostly goes back and forth between Sandy Alderson and the Wilpons. Oddly enough we may be missing the real culprit in this fiasco … the banks. The same banks that wouldn’t finance your home improvement loan because you lost whatever equity you thought you had during the housing crisis, and for remarkably similar reasons. It baffles me how so many Met fans fell for the myth that the Mets would somehow spend big this winter. Anyone who has been reading Joe D. or Howard Megdal should have known better. Last June, Megdal wrote the following:
Getting their creditors to sign off on major new outlays of money isn’t easy. JP Morgan Chase objected to the proposed deal with David Einhorn back in the summer of 2011 at first, because the original Einhorn-Mets deal put Einhorn in line among Wilpon creditors ahead of the team loan. And the same need to keep J.P. Morgan Chase happy led to the heavily deferred contract with David Wright, signed last winter, actually reducing the amount the Mets owed Wright between the date it was signed and the June 2014 due date for the team loan. It is unlikely the Wilpon and his partners would have been allowed to make the offer otherwise.
Even more recently Joe D. wrote in September:
Although we haven’t heard anything official yet, it’s presumed that the Mets will likely announce that the team had estimated losses of nearly $20 million dollars this season. It’s not bad after two straight seasons of $50 million losses, but it’s still an indication that the hemorrhaging hasn’t stopped. So why would the banks and lenders whom the Mets owners owe so much to, allow the team to take that approximate $45 million dollar windfall from the Bay/Santana contracts and reinvest it back into the team? Why do you think the money from Beltran, Rodriguez, Reyes, Castillo and Perez was never reinvested?
When you’re in debt up to your knees like the Wilpons are, those lenders don’t care about the product on the field only that the team stops losing money. You also have all those investors and owners they brought on when they sold all those shares in the team. They haven’t seen a dime yet on their huge outlays and they too will have a say.
The Wilpons woke up one day in December of 2008 without the Madoff money machine they thought would always be there for them like a giant piggy bank under their bed, so the debts coming due in 2015 and 2017 are problematic in that the Banks are not simply gong to continue to allow the Wilpons to refinance indefinitely while eating away at their equity, at least not without a reasonable plan towards solvency.
The Mets owe $320 million in a loan against the team, due in June 2014, while their debt against SNY, including the new loans last winter, is up to over $600 million, and due in 2015. They are already leveraged to the hilt having sold off a portion of the team (albeit partially to themselves). So they’re tapped out on the equity front unless they decide to liquidate whatever real estate assets they may have to keep their dream of ownership afloat. As much as the Wilpons may cherish their status as MLB Owners, I doubt they’d actually jeopardize what’s left of their fortune to hold on to the Mets.
It’s the banks however, that are behind the continued tightening of the purse-strings. I would very much like to convert my spacious unfinished upstairs attic space into a master bedroom with an adjacent marble tile bathroom, (much like the WIlpons would love to have Robinson Cano playing second base) but the banks won’t let me borrow because I don’t have enough equity. I argue that the conversion would add more to the value of the house than what it would cost (much like Cano would pay for himself in added revenue), but the banks won’t hear any of it. Sunken cost is a liability.
The Wilpons have a hard sell ahead of them in refinancing their looming debts, one that would be made even more difficult if they were to increase payroll beyond the limits of whatever cash-flow apparatus they manage to cobble together. If the Mets were to boost payroll substantially, then somehow fail to draw sufficient gate proceeds to cover the added payroll, it would be another crippling notch in the debt-assessors notebook against any chance they may have of refinancing in June.
Unless the Mets pull off a miracle and somehow bring the fans back in droves without purchasing any big ticket free agents, the Wilpons will continue to operate under the auspices of their creditors and may very well end up having to sell due to a debt of almost a billion dollars due over the next two years. So, for those of us who dream of having competent owners some day, the dream is really still alive.
For those of us who dream of big money acquisitions and a big market budget … well, keep dreaming.