Q&A with Fred Wilpon
Mets owner talks about offseason, medical staff, future
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Mets owner Fred Wilpon answered reporters' questions Saturday at the club's Spring Training complex. Wilpon addressed several issues, including any speculation of his family selling the franchise.
Excerpts from the questions and answers follow:
Q: An author said you were selling the team because of the Madoff scandal (Bernie Madoff pleaded guilty to 11 felonies involving a Ponzi scheme). Were those claims off-base?
Wilpon: I've always said, if it's up to me, my family will be involved for the next generations. That's all I can tell you. I can't say that about any other asset we own.
Q: But are there external factors that would compel you to sell?
Q: What was the offseason like for you?
Wilpon: Torture. Very, very difficult.
So, look, you've heard the theme, we have to stay healthy. I'm very optimistic that they will. And I think that when you have very good and, in some cases, great players, it doesn't necessarily translate into a great team. So I think that if they stay healthy, they have some great players and now our people have to translate that into a great team, and that's what my optimism is about and what my hope is about.
Q: What about the offseason was torture?
Wilpon: When you have all those injuries and a bad season and the fans were disappointed, but not any more disappointed than I was, and I'm probably the biggest fan. But now, that's last year. Now it's 2010, and it's 70 degrees in Florida and the sun is shining, so I have a great feeling of optimism.
The players, by the way -- to a man that I've spoken to, and I've spoken to 20, 25 of them -- I sense a difference in their goals and their attitude. Listen, those are the only guys that can do it.
Q: Are you happy about the early arrivals? Jerry Manuel estimated that about 70 percent of the players showed up early.
Wilpon: Well, of course, that's a good sign. When you see Ollie Perez looking the way he looks, Mike Pelfrey looking the way he looks, and others, you don't see a guy over here that's out of shape. They're in baseball shape. They're ready to perform. So I'm very optimistic and very hopeful.
Q: The fan base is angry and disappointed, especially after what they believe was a negligent offseason by the Mets. Do you understand why?
Wilpon: I understand from the fan's point of view, because I am one myself, and I'm very, very sensitive to what their feelings are, and I understand some of it. I think that we have to be guided by our baseball people, and our baseball people evaluated, for example, some of our pitchers as good or better than what was on the market. Our baseball people evaluated other positions and we went by what they did. Jeff [Wilpon] followed them. Jeff and I don't pick the baseball players. So that's what they wanted to do.
They think that the guys we have will prove to be better guys than some of the guys we would have gotten. Obviously we're thrilled to have Jason Bay, because he was one of two premier [free-agent] people, and we needed that bat -- at least they thought we needed that bat in left field -- and so we got that bat. And to see some of the other places, we succeeded or didn't succeed in getting it, but it wasn't a matter of money in the sense that's what their recommendations were.
I can tell you they said to us, "We do not want to go two years on this one," or, "We don't want to go five years on this one," whatever it might have been, and we said, "That's your call. You got to call that." We followed it.
Q: Are jobs on the line at the start of the season?
Wilpon: "I don't want to ... we're going to get off to a good start."
Q: Is there a sense that the team needs to get off to a good start for other reasons, like ticket sales?
Wilpon: I think it's always important. Yes it is important. But it's 162 games. Just getting off to a good start and not a good finish is not a good thing. We've got to sustain a winning attitude and a winning team throughout the season.
Q: Have you seen the ticket sales and are you worried about them?
Wilpon: I'm always concerned when the fans are hurting the way we're hurting. They want to love the Mets. I don't think there's any doubt there are millions of fans out there; they want to love the Mets. They don't want to be disappointed. They want to see better production on the field, and I respect that. It's our responsibility to do that.
Q: With all of the injuries, what's your evaluation of the medical staff?
Wilpon: The medical staff, in my opinion, is the best medical staff that there is in all of sports. [Team doctor] David Altchek is renowned all over. [Doctor] Struan Coleman ... there are people who come from all over the world to get their expertise. I can't explain it. We've spent months in the offseason thinking about it, led by Jeff. Jeff really dug into this area of what could we do to improve, to prevent injuries. Injuries are going to occur. You know that. In any sport, they're going to occur. But what could we do to prevent injuries? I challenge you to tell me one team of any sport that could lose 10 or 12 of its key people and succeed. You can't. And I'm not using that as an excuse. I'm just saying you can't.
Q: When you looked into the injuries, did you find a solution?
Wilpon: I think they have some changes and some nuances, some differences, and talking to each of the players and monitoring them all during the winter. Many of the players we're seeing at least once a month, by senior people.
Q: Is the Mets' organization at a crossroads heading into this season?
Wilpon: I don't want to address that. I mean, those are things in the future. We stand by what I said. I think we've got very good players and I think they'll be molded into a very good team.
Q: There was a perception during the offseason that the Mets were limited by financial constraints. Does the club still have the resources to improve this team midseason? And do you still see yourself as a big-market, big-spending team?
Wilpon: The answer is yes. And the answer to that is, I think we have the third-highest payroll in baseball? Second or third. That answers that.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.