- 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, 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.”

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.

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

The Mets were under .500 going into the series finale in Chicago. Collins said he hoped the latest financial development could stabilize things.

“Any time you can eliminate questions that you have nothing to do with, it always helps,” he said. “All that stuff is outside the lines and we have no control over it, we have no say in it, we have nothing to do with it.”

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.”


AP freelance writer Brad Doolittle in Chicago contributed to this report.

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