Jeff Wilpon Is Trying To Outfox A Wolf and It Won’t Work

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Fred and Jeff Wilpon attend a news conference in November to announce the hiring of former manager Carlos Beltran. (Seth Wenig/AP)

Is the Steve Cohen deal to buy 80% of the New York Mets dead? Is it on life support? Is Cohen walking away from the table a negotiating tactic? Or is it a last-ditch effort on the part of Jeff Wilpon to maintain control of the team out of sheer desperation and a grifter’s skill at survival?

No one seems to know with any certainty, so anything is possible.

The idea of a Twitter poll was floated to use in conjunction with an assessment of the latest embarrassing moment in the history of the Mets since they have been under the stewardship of the Wilpons. The poll, had it been used, would have asked whether the fans want Wilpon to stay on as owner. Even with the inherent lunacy of Twitter in general and #MetsTwitter in particular, there was no point. The results would look similar to a poll held by Pravda under Josef Stalin in the Soviet Union with the sole difference being that said results of any Mets poll are an accurate gauge as to Jeff’s standing among Mets fans.

Miraculously, as a byproduct of the Mets having had some success over the Wilpon’s tenure and the failures of other franchise ownerships in New York, it could be argued that Jim Dolan has been worse at running the New York Knicks and Woody Johnson has been worse at running the New York Jets. The New York Giants have been in such disarray that John Mara and Robert Tisch are working their way up the ladder as well.

Still, the epitome of perception of ownership ineptitude in New York has been the Wilpons. Some of it is unfair. It’s not as if the Mets do not spend money at all – they currently have the eighth highest payroll in Major League Baseball; they do try to please the fans and run the team the “right” way, whatever that means. The combination of off-field scandal and allegations of multiple financial misdeeds cast a shadow over anything they have done correctly.

Now, just when the fans and media thought they would be done with the Wilpons, the snag came about. As understandable as it is for the skeptics who were just waiting for the deal to come undone and who expect the Wilpons to have control of the organization forever (and ever, and ever, and ever) the reality of them moving forward with a sale at all indicates that there is no going back.

They must sell.

This is just another example of not knowing when it’s time to leave and that the final, desperate attempt to attach themselves to the business like a barnacle will ultimately fail. They will be scraped off and dragged out, eventually. That could be – and presumably will be – by Cohen. If not, it will be done by another billionaire.

Since co-owner Saul Katz wants the money from the sale; Fred Wilpon went along with the sale; the heirs all seem to want out to avoid an extended battle over their cut; and Jeff being the only one who is holding out, the sale is inevitable.

The problem is that Jeff is returning to his playbook to change the terms, remain in charge and use Cohen’s money to do it. It’s a familiar trick and one that the seasoned financial professional Cohen is wise to. If Jeff thinks he’ll bully Cohen, he’s wrong.

Regarding the five-year window in which Jeff will stay on as chief operating officer, who in their right mind thought a financial titan like Cohen would sit quietly by and allow Jeff to use his massive cash infusion as finance? Add in that when an embattled individual in any area of life requests a finite amount of time and wants to “stay just until…” they have no intention of abiding by the agreement and leaving. They’re staying. It’s a method of kicking the relevant issues down the road; trying to find another source of cash; figuring out later, later.

To their grudging credit, the Wilpons have managed it for more than a decade after Bernie Madoff and scores of other scandals. This time, however, Jeff is standing alone and trying to outfox a wolf. It won’t work.