Courting Mark Cuban

By now you’ve heard the story of the Wilpon Family Circus ad nauseum. If not, it goes a little something like this. The Wilpons are being sued! They need money! They’re looking for a business partner to buy up to 25% of the Mets!

But while numerous investors have stepped up expressing interest in buying a share of the franchise, including one that would include Martin Luther King III, there is one billionaire whose name has not surfaced as a potential minority owner. This person has experience with ownership of a professional sports franchise and has also attempted to buy two other major league baseball teams in the recent past.

Tell me, my friends. How would you feel about Mark Cuban throwing his money around Citi Field?

In today’s Daily News, Tim Smith reveals that all the Mets have to do to get Cuban’s attention is to make the first phone call. The always accessible entrepreneur was in New York last night to watch the team he currently owns, the Dallas Mavericks, play the Knicks at Madison Square Garden. Cuban had this to say about the Mets’ search for a business partner:

“If someone sees me as a potential owner, I’ll take their call and discuss a deal.”

Cuban has already expressed his desire to own a major league baseball franchise. In 2008, he tried to purchase the Chicago Cubs from Sam Zell, but was unsuccessful in his attempt. Last year, after the Texas Rangers declared bankruptcy, Cuban was one of a number of investors who put in a bid for the financially troubled team. In August, he was narrowly beaten out by a group led by Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan, who bought the eventual American League champions for over half a billion dollars.

So what are the pros and cons of Cuban potentially owning a share of the Mets?

For one thing, Cuban certainly wouldn’t have allowed players such as Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo to remain on the team for as long as they have. Although the Wilpons have never publicly stated that they’re unwilling to eat their contracts, it is not unreasonable to believe that their current financial problems have a lot to do with it. If the Mets decided to release Perez and Castillo, they’d still be responsible for their salaries (approximately $18 million in 2011 between the two players). They’d also have to pay the players who would fill their vacated roster spots, increasing the team’s payroll in the process. By keeping Perez and Castillo on the team, they’d in essence be saving money, although it would come at the expense of fielding the best possible team.

Mark Cuban would not only rid the team of Perez and Castillo, he’d personally drive them to the airport and would make sure the door hit them on the way out. He would not let a few bucks or perhaps $18 million get in the way of fielding a contending team day in and day out. The Dallas Mavericks have been in the playoffs each of the last ten years, reaching the NBA Finals in 2006. They’ve put together a talented team despite there being a salary cap in basketball. Imagine what Cuban could do in baseball, where the commissioner’s office doesn’t restrict him from spending whatever he needs to acquire the best possible players.

Now there is the question of how hands-on you’d want Cuban to be. At times he has become the main story, rather than the man who sits quietly in the background, letting his players’ performance do the talking. Cuban has been fined more than any other owner in NBA history. If he were to become a part of the Mets organization, would this behavior continue? The players have already had to deal with numerous off-the-field controversies. (Frankie Knuckles, Madoff’s Millions, etc.) Would they have to answer for their new co-owner as well?

The Dallas Mavericks have never won a championship since Mark Cuban bought the team in January of 2000. However, they have registered ten consecutive 50-win seasons (the all-time NBA record is 12) and have won three division titles, reached the Western Conference Finals twice and made one trip to the NBA Finals. That’s a lot more than the Mets can claim since Fred Wilpon bought Nelson Doubleday’s share of the Mets in 2002. Since then, the Mets have only made one playoff appearance (2006) and have finished with a losing record five times.

In a perfect world, Cuban would become an owner of the Mets, allowing the Wilpons to deal with their problems, while coming up with the capital needed for Sandy Alderson to bring in the talent necessary to compete in the National League. Of course, we live in a less-than-perfect world, one where a certain player remains on the team to pick up that ever-elusive fourth victory in the third year of a $36 million contract.

Eventually the Wilpons will find a buyer that will dole out approximately $200 million for a share of the Mets. Should Mark Cuban be that buyer? Judging by how he brought the Dallas Mavericks back from Moribund Central (ten consecutive losing seasons in the ’90s) to the rarefied air of the NBA’s elite, perhaps a maverick owner is just what the Mets need.

 

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