- Associated Press - Thursday, May 26, 2011

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.

The announcement Thursday would allow owners Fred and Jeff Wilpon and Saul Katz to retain control of the team. The influx of money would help pay debts and cover operating expenses. It is not clear how much of the team Einhorn will own.

Wilpon told Sports Illustrated this week his team is “bleeding cash” and could lose up to $70 million this year. He also told the magazine the club might slash payroll next year. In addition, the current owners are being sued by the trustee in the Bernard Madoff case.

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

“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.”

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.

Recently, Forbes magazine estimated the value of the Mets had dropped 13 percent in one year to $747 million _ and that was before the team’s projected losses this season. The Mets also received a reported $25 million loan from MLB in November to help cover expenses.

The current owners are facing a multimillion dollar lawsuit filed by a court trustee seeking to recover money for victims of the Madoff Ponzi scheme.

“I hope this is a good sign,” Mets manager Terry Collins said before the Mets’ road game against the Chicago Cubs. “And certainly I’m very happy that this helps Fred and makes things run smoother. I’m excited for him.”

Wilpon has spoken out lately about his star players, criticizing David Wright, Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran in a profile of the owner in The New Yorker.

After a loss in April to the Houston Astros dropped his club to 5-13, Wilpon disparaged the Mets’ play, called the franchise “snakebitten,” and went off on three of his top players.

_On the oft-injured Reyes, Wilpon said: “He thinks he’s going to get Carl Crawford money. He’s had everything wrong with him. He won’t get it.” Crawford signed a $142 million, seven-year deal with the Boston Red Sox last winter.

_On Beltran: “He’s 65 to 70 percent of what he was.”

_On Wright, a five-time All-Star third baseman and the face of the franchise: “A really good kid. A very good player. Not a superstar.”

The players’ reaction was low-key, with outfielder Jason Bay summing it up best.

“Obviously, there’s a lot more factors going on here than just an owner of a baseball team,” he said. “There’s a lot of things that we don’t even know about, so I can’t pretend to know and then pretend to speculate on what’s going to happen.”

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