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Mets' Wilpon is upbeat about season

PORT ST LUCIE, Fla. -- Pending litigation related to the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme, a huge payroll drop and uncertainly about his team's ability to secure free agents, New York Mets owner Fred Wilpon is still excited about the upcoming season.

The Mets are just weeks shy of Opening Day, but Wilpon still finds optimism about the state of his franchise and the ability to be relevant in the near future.

Wilpon said Monday in spite of the obvious handicaps management has in fielding a relevant team, he has full trust in the people around him to do it.

Whatever happens, he said, he's sticking in for the foreseeable future. Ownership has been forced to tighten its belt, clearly, but Wilpon doesn't think the situation is exactly as dire as it appears.

"Well, you shouldn't be concerned about us owning the franchise, because we intend to own the franchise for a very long time. Whether they're happy about that or not, I don't know," Wilpon said. "Don't forget we cut a lot of payroll that wasn't producing. If you look at the payroll right now, it's fluid. I don't know what's gonna happen or what (general manager) Sandy (Alderson) is gonna do."

The Mets are entangled in what was originally a $1 billion lawsuit brought by a former trustee of Madoff who is claiming that the team should have known millions they collected from Madoff represented phony profits.

A ruling has since limited the ownership's exposure to $386 million and made it possible the team's payoff won't be more than around $83 million. They are facing a March 19 trial date.

"That's been a motion picture," Wilpon said. "When it started, there was a really big number out there and now -- I'm not minimizing -- but it's a different number. So, the next couple of weeks will tell whether there's a trial or not a trial."

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Around the Camps

*Boston Red Sox catcher and captain Jason Varitek reportedly has decided to retire. Varitek spent all 15 of his big league seasons with the Red Sox. But GM Ben Cherington signed Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Kelly Shoppach to one-year deals this winter to do the catching. Varitek was a three-time All-Star and helped the Sox win two World Series titles.

*Eric Chavez and the New York Yankees have finalized a $900,000, one-year contract that allows the backup infielder to earn $3.05 million in performance bonuses based on plate appearances. The 34-year-old, a six-time Gold Glove winner, hit .263 with two homers and 26 RBIs last year.

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