The Mets’ owners, who were financially hobbled by Bernard L. Madoff’s immense fraud scheme, now have about $160 million in new money to spend.
The cash infusion, as refreshing to the co-owners Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz as a World Series-ending home run, comes thanks to their majority ownership of the SNY regional sports network. One benefit of owning a network like SNY is the ability to borrow money against it. SNY’s annual revenue is in the hundreds of millions of dollars because of monthly subscriber fees that keep increasing regardless of team performance.
The resulting stability and financial muscularity of SNY and similar networks make them low risks to banks. Late last month, SNY refinanced $450 million in existing bank loans at lower interest rates and borrowed at least $250 million more. With their 65 percent ownership of SNY, Wilpon and Katz should have walked away with about $162.5 million. The refinancing was first reported Friday by Bloomberg.
So what will the Mets, so restrained about spending on talent the last few years, do with this extra money?
They could repay the still-substantial bank debt on the team, sock away money in anticipation of future financial losses or use it for working capital.
Or, perhaps, they could even dabble in a free-agent market they have studiously avoided this off-season, emerging as the only team not to acquire a single major league free agent since the World Series ended.
In particular, the Mets need legitimate outfielders — even part-time ones — who could bolster what now stands as an unimpressive starting threesome of Lucas Duda, Mike Baxter and Kirk Nieuwenhuis, all left-handed hitters. Two recent pickups — Collin Cowgill and Andrew Brown — hit right-handed and can add some balance to the current outfield options, but both are fringe major leaguers who might not help much at all.
The best free-agent outfielder still available, by far, is Michael Bourn, the 30-year-old, left-handed-hitting center fielder who hit .274 for the Atlanta Braves last season with 42 stolen bases. But Bourn is looking for big money, perhaps as much as $100 million in a multiyear deal, and is represented by the uncompromising Scott Boras, so rule the Mets out.
Then again, Vince Gennaro, a consultant to several major league teams, suggested the Mets should at least think about Bourn, particularly if he remains unsigned as spring training draws closer and his price drops.
“They should give serious consideration to investing in the near-term competitiveness of the team,” Gennaro said of the Mets’ owners.
He added: “The Mets have two issues. One, the prospects for the team, and two, perceptions about the owners’ commitment to winning. They could make a dent in both of those issues by parting with some of this money.”
A more realistic option for the Mets would be to re-sign Scott Hairston, the right-handed-hitting outfielder who slugged 20 home runs for them last season in a platoon role. Hairston was a bargain for the Mets in 2012, making just $1.1 million, and it is believed he is now seeking a two-year deal worth upward of $8 million. That’s not a huge amount of money by major league standards, but it certainly seems to be for the Mets.
Because R. A. Dickey, the 2012 National League Cy Young Award winner, has departed for Toronto, the Mets also need to add some depth to a starting rotation that has talent in Johan Santana, Jon Niese and the rookie Matt Harvey.
The most inexpensive move might be to re-sign Chris Young, the 33-year-old, 6-foot-10-inch right-hander who went 4-9 for the Mets last season with a 4.15 earned run average in his latest comeback from an arm injury.
More enticing options would be two remaining free agents — Kyle Lohse and Joe Saunders — but they, of course, would cost more money.
For now, the Mets have made one significant off-season financial move — signing David Wright to an eight-year, $138-million extension. The refinancing is perhaps equally important, bringing new money to a club that lost $70 million in 2011 and $51 million in 2010. The Mets have not said how much they lost in 2012.