Mets owners agree to sell minority interest

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NEW YORK (AP) - The cash-strapped owners of the New York Mets agreed to sell a minority share of the team to hedge fund manager David Einhorn for $200 million, with the new partner predicting the club’s financial situation will improve.

The announcement Thursday would allow owners Fred and Jeff Wilpon and Saul Katz to retain control of the team, which has been damaged by the Bernard Madoff scandal. The influx of money would help pay debts and cover operating expenses.

It was not clear how much of the team Einhorn will own. He emphasized his stake was a minority one and that he wouldn’t oversee the team’s payroll or budget.

“I don’t expect to have control over any of those topics,” he said in a conference call. As for the Mets, he added: “I do expect the financial fortunes to improve over time.”

Wilpon told Sports Illustrated this week his team is “bleeding cash” and could lose up to $70 million this year.

Enter Einhorn, the president of the private investment firm Greenlight Capital, Inc.

“I’m very comfortable with the financial arrangement,” said Einhorn, who grew up in New Jersey as a Mets fan and recalled wearing a Mets costume for Halloween when he was about 7 years old. “I expect to be involved with this a very long time.”

“I can’t really say I have any particular concerns,” he said.

Einhorn didn’t speculate whether he would eventually put more of his money into the Mets.

“This is the transaction,” he said. “What happens beyond that we’ll have to take care of down the line.”

The Mets said Einhorn will be a “preferred partner” and have a “nonoperating investment” in the team. The club said the deal is subject to the “negotiation of a mutually acceptable definitive agreement” and is expected to be completed next month. Major League Baseball must give its approval.

Einhorn said he first met Fred Wilpon during this sale process. Einhorn has long known Bud Selig, having moved to the baseball commissioner’s hometown of Milwaukee when he was a boy.

Einhorn said his best childhood friend lived next door to the Selig family. When he played ball at his pal’s house, Einhorn recalled, “if we hit it very, very far it went into the Seligs’ yard.”

Fred Wilpon told SI the club might slash payroll next year. In addition, the current owners are being sued by the court trustee in the Madoff Ponzi scheme case, who wants them to repay $1 billion to Madoff’s victims.

“Having an opportunity to become part of the Mets franchise is exciting beyond my wildest childhood dreams,” he said in a statement released by the Mets. “I look forward to partnering with the Wilpon and Katz families through the good seasons, the tough seasons and especially the championship seasons.”

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