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Money was on the Mets‘ minds this winter, and not only in the usual how-much-for-this-free-agent way. As the team prepared to move into brand-new Citi Field, headlines from the current financial crisis spilled off of the business page and onto the sports page, leaving the Mets red-faced if not awash in red ink.

First came the controversy about the ballpark’s naming rights, owned by Citigroup via a record-setting, 20-year, $400 million deal. Last fall, the troubled bank received $45 billion of taxpayer funds via a pair of bailout efforts, prompting legislators to call for the stadium deal to be broken, or for the new park to be renamed “Citi/Taxpayer Field.” As that drama unfolded, reports surfaced that Mets owner Fred Wilpon may have lost hundreds of millions of dollars in Bernie Madoff’s $50 billion Ponzi scheme. While the Mets spent more money in the winter free-agent market than all but four other teams and opened the season with the game’s second-highest payroll, their refusals to upgrade their rotation or corner outfielders suggest the scandal may have caused them to skimp regarding the on-field product.

Citi Field may not provide as much instant relief as expected, at least in the short term. The new park contains over 15,000 fewer seats than Shea Stadium, and while the average non-premium ticket price rose 8.6 percent to $36.99 (fourth highest in the majors) according to Team Marketing Report, the Mets are scrambling to find buyers for its more expensive seats, just as their cross-town rivals are, and the team resorted to auctioning off unsold seats for its April 13 home opener. Although they’re projected to exceed three million in attendance, that would represent a drop of over 25 percent from last year.

All of which may mean rough sledding in the NL East race. Despite the down economy, the World Champion Phillies are enjoying a typical post-title effect of increased ticket sales and revenue the following year. Though their average ticket price rose 10 percent to the game’s sixth highest, season ticket sales are up 17 percent, and their payroll rose 15 percent. A continued halo effect may translate into more latitude than the Mets have to add salary mid-season to further a playoff push. As for the Braves, their PECOTA forecast suggests they’ll be the league’s most improved team, which could create buzz to counter slumping season-ticket sales. The Braves are much more budget-conscious than either rival, and while the memory of empty Turner Field seats during their epic playoff run counters that notion, even they could profit from the Mets’ spending limitations.-Jay Jaffe

Citi Field’s dimensions are a dramatic shift from those of the Mets’ former home, Shea Stadium. While there are a few spots in the park that are going to be better for hitters than in their old park, most of the fences have been moved back in a way that is going to significantly decrease home runs for the Mets and their opponents. Unlike the new Yankee Stadium, Citi Field is meant to be more old-school in its presentation, so besides the change in distances from home plate, the heights of the fences have also been altered.

Shea Stadium’s fences were eight feet high all the way around the park, whereas Citi Field’s go anywhere from eight to 18 feet, with plenty of changes in height in between. The right-field wall retains the eight-foot-high fences, while also bringing them closer to home plate anywhere from eight to 13 feet. After that, though, it’s not pretty for fans of the home run. As you move from right to right-center, the fences increase by two increments of two feet, all the way up to 18 feet, and when they begin to head back toward eight feet, the distance from home plate is nearly 27 feet further than it was at Shea.

While the change in fence distance on its own is enough to suppress home runs, the fact that the fences are so drastically different will also alter offense. Greg Rybarczyk of Hit Tracker says that one foot of height added to a fence is equivalent to 0.84 feet of distance. That means that a spot in right center at Citi Field that is 25 feet deeper than it was at Shea (383 feet) with an 18-foot-high fence is equivalent to a fence that is actually 33 feet further than it was at Shea. It isn’t just right field that sees changes this drastic either, as heading from center to left field gives you fences that are roughly 8-10 feet further back than at Shea with fences twice as high, so it’s as if they’re 15-17 feet further back due to the change in height. The fences down the left-field line are a smidge closer to home than at Shea, but with fences 4-6 feet higher, negating that difference and making Citi the more difficult park for long balls once again.

Consider this: the category of “Just Enough” homers at Hit Tracker encompasses all balls that cleared the fence by 0-10 feet. There were 1,490 of these homers last year in the majors (or 31 percent of all home runs). Chances are good that if Citi Field hosted all of the major league games, you would lose a significant number of those 1,490 homers, as well as a large chunk of the league’s home-run production.

For someone like Carlos Delgado, who averaged over 411 feet on his homers last year, this isn’t going to be an issue, though his bombs now won’t look like they’re going quite as far. For David Wright, though, who hits many of his home runs between the 350- and 400-foot range to left, we may see a spike in doubles production with fewer homers to that side, and maybe just a handful of shots to right. Carlos Beltran is another player who may suffer, as he averaged just under 400 feet on his homers last year, a number that isn’t high enough to clear most of right-center field, even without taking the higher fences into account. All of this open space could boost other extra-base hits, but it should be a lackluster year for home runs for the Mets.-Marc Normandin

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

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roughcarrigan
4/14
Beltran flied out to the Padres centerfield just to the right of the 408 indicator early in tonight's game. That ball was gone in Shea. A couple innings later Wright flied out just short of the track in center. Maybe Wright's wouldn't have been a homer in Shea. But he had a little bit of a wide eyed look as he turned around to head back for the dugout, perhaps recalibrating his expectations for what he'll get for a pretty good wallop.
beitvash
4/14
Yeah, I saw that David Wright fly and thought to myself, "He's gotta be frustrated at that." He hit that ball pretty good.
yankeehater32
4/14
Even that ball that Wright crushed to left didn't make it over the wall by much. It wasn't a cheapie, even if it looked like it.
Ophidian
4/14
Marc, so I take it this will likely downgrade Wright's fantasy value (both Keeper and Re-draft) in future years? Just like how Padres hitters and Rockies pitchers get downgraded for their respective home parks.
yankeehater32
4/14
That's my initial thought, based on how the park looks like it will play. He's probably still the top third baseman, given the overall power (doubles will probably jump) and his stolen base ability, plus the R and RBI, but you may want to knock him out of the conversation for top overall that some people have.
ScottBehson
4/14
How is the fan experience there? I'm going on Sunday and would love your impressions.
apbadogs
4/14
It looks like a beautiful place. I work with a guy who has Mets season tix, drives from Hampton Roads VA to New York for certain games, have to ask him how it was.
jonramz
4/14
I love the bigger ballparks... the most exciting play in baseball is the triple
thehotcorner
4/14
that would be second to the inside the park home run...
gregorybfoley
4/14
Here is a link to a diagram that compares the dimensions of the two fields: http://www.amazinavenue.com/2009/1/7/711009/citi-field-where-homeruns
yankeehater32
4/14
Thanks for posting that.
TheBigStapler
4/14
The dimensions are clearly more difficult for hitters but what remains to be seen is the wind effect. Shea was known for having swirling winds coming in from an open center field. Citi Field may have an entirely different wind pattern that could make the power hitting easier (or even worse).
ScottBehson
4/14
If I recall correctly, Coors Field has deep fences but is still a really good hitters park: 1. because of the altitude, you can still hit HR over the far fences, and 2. the outfield is very spacious, making it easier to get extra-base hits My guess, based on watching 3 games on tv is that #1 will not be true for Citifield, but #2 will be. Look for Beltran/Wright, etc. to hit a ton of doubles but lose a bunch of HR
yankeehater32
4/14
Exactly! The pitching staff is going to love having fewer balls clear the wall, and having Beltran's glove out there should help as well. I would *love* to see an outfield like Seattle's or the Orioles in a park like Citi Field for a full season.