Losing leading hitter Jose Reyes to the division-rival Miami Marlins is the latest setback to a New York Mets club that has struggled on and off the field since moving to Citi Field in 2009.
The Mets have had losing records and declining attendance for the past three seasons, and cut about 15 front-office jobs two months ago while trying to repay a $25 million emergency loan from Major League Baseball.
Mets manager Terry Collins said he got a text message early yesterday morning confirming that Reyes was moving to the Marlins after nine seasons in New York.
“I’m a little disappointed that we didn’t get him back,” Collins told reporters at the Baseball Winter Meetings in Dallas. “He’s one of my best players.”
Owner Fred Wilpon, who said the Mets lost $51 million in 2010 and faced losses of $70 million in 2011, remains in a legal battle with the trustee in charge of recovering money for investors in Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi scheme.
Wilpon offered to sell a minority stake in the team due to the Madoff lawsuit. David Einhorn, the manager of New York’s $7.8 billion Greenlight Capital Inc. hedge fund, offered $200 million for a 33 percent interest before he withdrew because he said the deal had become too complicated.
Mets General Manager Sandy Alderson said at the Winter Meetings that Reyes’s departure was not due to ownership’s legal problems. Alderson said that, while the Mets talked with the shortstop’s agents, they never made a formal offer. ESPN said Reyes’s deal with the Marlins is worth at least $111 million over six years.
Losing $70 Million
“I really don’t think that Madoff has that much to do with this,” Alderson told reporters. “When a team loses $70 million, irrespective of Bernie Madoff or anyone else, that’s probably a bigger factor in our approach to this season and the next couple than anything else.”
Wayne McDonnell, an associate professor of Sports Management at New York University, said letting Reyes go is a financially prudent move for the Mets.
“Sandy Alderson is in the process of revitalizing the front office of the Mets and he’s rebuilding it to where it operates like a small- to mid-market franchise,” McDonnell, who created the school’s “Business of Baseball” program, said from the Winter Meetings. “It’s going to take some time, but I think it’s going to be done and this is a major step in that direction whether fans wanted to see it or not.”
Dropping Ticket Prices
The Mets have cut ticket prices for 2012, the third straight season they have done that at $850 million Citi Field. Overall attendance has fallen from 3.2 million in 2009 to 2.6 million in 2010 and 2.4 million this past season.
The per-game average has fallen from almost 39,000 in the stadium’s debut season to little more than 30,000 in 2011 and the Mets have dropped from seventh among the 30 MLB clubs in attendance in 2009 to 14th this past season.
“The Mets have finally taken a stand and drawn a line in the sand,” McDonnell said. “They’ve said, ‘This is what we need to do. We’re operating under a different set of financial circumstances that are directly or indirectly affected by the Madoff scandal, team attendance and team debt.’”
Asked by reporters whether the loss of Reyes would hurt ticket sales, Alderson responded: “What do you think?”
The Mets went 77-85 this year to finish fourth in the five-team National League East division, 25 games behind the Philadelphia Phillies. The Mets haven’t reached the postseason since 2006. The Marlins finished last in the NL East at 72-90 this past season.
Marlins’ New Home
The Marlins, who are moving into a new retractable-roof 37,000-seat stadium next season and just changed their name from the Florida Marlins, have had a busy few months that included the hiring of Ozzie Guillen as manager.
Reyes, 28, who hit .337 last season to become the first Mets player to win the National League batting title, will be moving to a Marlins team that also has a new reliever -- free agent Heath Bell, 34, a three-time All-Star who saved 132 games for the San Diego Padres the past three seasons.
Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria said the shortstop chose to leave the Mets and sign with Miami because of his club’s new direction.
“I think he looked at the roster, and I think he looked at the new ballpark, and I think he looked at the city and I think he looked at opportunity,” Loria told reporters at the Winter Meetings.
Reyes, a four-time All-Star who has led the National League in stolen bases three times, batted .292 in nine seasons in New York with 735 runs scored and 370 stolen bases. He’s missed 191 games because of injuries the past three years.
Reyes declined to negotiate a new deal with the Mets during the season, saying he didn’t want any distractions. He was in the option season of a four-year, $23.3 million contract. The Marlins offered Reyes a contract worth $106 million for six years, with an option for a seventh year at $22 million, ESPN reported, citing people familiar with the negotiations it didn’t name. If the Marlins decide against exercising the final-year option, they’d have to pay Reyes $5 million, ESPN said.
“You have to draw a line somewhere, and based on our experience -- not just with Jose, but with multiyear contracts generally -- we decided that there were some conceptual limitations to where we would go,” Alderson said.