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Remembering how badly the Expos got boned

Apr 13, 2012, 8:47 AM EDT

Omar Minaya profile

Ken Rosenthal has a column up today looking back at the big crazy trade made by Omar Minaya after he took over as Expos GM:  Grady Sizemore, Brandom Phillips and Cliff Lee to the Indians for Bartolo Colon.

Underlying that deal, Minaya tells Rosenthal, was the threat of contraction:

“The No. 1 priority was not long-term. Long-term, we were going to be contracted. And if you were going to be contracted, the No. 1 priority was to be as competitive as you can.  Every team in baseball was pretty much looking at drafting those players (in a dispersal draft). Before I left the Mets (in early 2002), every team had an exercise, (trying to figure out) what players they were going to get.”

Which was totally baloney. Contraction, while talked about a whole hell of a lot at the time, was not thought likely by anyone who was paying attention.  As Rosenthal notes, there was a court order in place requiring the other contraction candidate — the Twins — to continue playing, and no one could identify a clear path to contracting anyone.

People forget it now because we’ve had labor peace for nearly ten years, but the negotiations in the runup to the new Collective Bargaining Agreement were extremely contentious, and it was thought inevitable that another strike or lockout would occur.  Contraction was a negotiation tactic in all of that, with the league essentially threatening to eliminate 50 major league jobs unless the union agreed to a salary cap.  It didn’t work.

Maybe Minaya just didn’t get this. Maybe he had different orders. Maybe, in his first GM job — given to him by Major League Baseball, not an independent team owner — he felt obligated to act like a wheeler-dealer so that he could eventually land another GM job.  I have no idea.

But I do know this: the Expos weren’t going to be contracted, and no one ever truly thought they would be.

  1. js20011041 - Apr 13, 2012 at 9:18 AM

    Well, if you’re going to bomb, at least bomb spectacularly.

    • Old Gator - Apr 13, 2012 at 1:15 PM

      Tell us about it here in Macondo. Scrooge McLoria fled the bunker as soon as the dust had settled at the crosshairs and wound up here. We speak Spanish instead of French (though Kreyol isn’t too far off – assuming you can understand Parisian cab drivers), but out natural sympathy with the sufferings of Montreal fans should be pretty obvious.

  2. AlohaMrHand - Apr 13, 2012 at 9:20 AM

    I think the. org of Montreal got boned the way baseball handled the whole Expo situation.Yes Montreal is a hockey town first but had baseball at to east tried to allow them to field a decent team and get them a better ballpark than that monstrosity they played in the Expos might still be around.Granted the Nats are finally showing some life but it took many years for that to happen.

    • kopy - Apr 13, 2012 at 9:42 AM

      MLB likes to claim that the Expos were moved because fan support sucked, but fan support for the Expos largely dropped because it was very obvious MLB didn’t want them around anymore. Why would you buy tickets to watch your team when their offices have been moved to Miami, they aren’t allowed to make September call ups during a pennant race, and a lot of their home games are being moved to Puerto Rico?

      I can’t wait for Jonah Keri’s book to come out.

  3. embee68 - Apr 13, 2012 at 9:22 AM

    Two things about that trade–

    1. Sizemore was not that highly regarded at the time.

    2. Besides contraction, MLB was trying to sell the Expos. This put an emphasis on success at the Major-League level. It would make no sense for MLB to invest in developing a farm system for an organization it was trying to sell off so that the future owners could profit from that investment. Minaya was under orders to sell off as much of the minor-league talent as he could to improve the big league club for short-term success.

    • Lukehart80 - Apr 13, 2012 at 9:42 AM

      Not that he was Mike Trout, but two years before the trade, Sizemore was seen as a 1st round talent, but he was seen as a risk to play college football instead, and dropped to the 3rd round. He hadn’t been great in Montreal’s system, but he was still pretty well regarded.

  4. stoutfiles - Apr 13, 2012 at 9:41 AM

    Please.

    -Lee broke out with the Indians while fighting for the last spot in the rotation.
    -Sizemore was still too young, and has shown to not be worth an expensive contract.
    -Phillips was horrible in Cleveland for four years! Only after going to Cincy did he become good.

    This is just a guy lamenting that all three prospects became household names when the majority of prospects don’t.

  5. nbphillyb - Apr 13, 2012 at 9:53 AM

    Long time, first time.

    I was born and raised in Montreal and lived there until i was 25 (I’m 32 now). I played and coached baseball, and on my days off I’d go see Expos home games. Sizemore was quite highly regarded, but he was in high-A at the time. Lee and Phillips were highly-regarded as well, but Sizemore was the most talented player in the deal, and also the furthest from being MLB-ready. The trade was gutting the farm ofr a chance to win now and compete in 2002. Stevens was a solid contributor, and Colon pitched quite well that whole year (I must have gone to half his home starts that year, at least!). In hindsight, with the situation being what it was, and the Expos having no chance of sticking around, I think it still makes sense. Lee and Phillips took a long time to become established MLB players, and time was something Montreal definitely didn’t have.

    I still think they would have survived had they built a downtown stadium. When I hear Bell and Rogers purchasing the Habs and Leafs, part of me gets angry and wonders why they couldn’t purchase and save the Expos… SIGH.

    • gatherspeed - Apr 13, 2012 at 10:28 AM

      Agree 100%. The Big O was dragging attendance down. A new stadium and the team would still be there. I’m from upstate NY and Montreal has the best fans.

      Also, if Minaya ‘boned’ the Expos, Selig held them down while it happened.

      The whole deal stunk. MLB bought the team from Loria, so he could buy the Marlins, so Henry could buy the Red Sox.

      I wish someone would give me $60,000 for my Ford Pinto so I can buy a Mercedes.

      I’ve since moved to Florida and adopted the Rays, but still have a spot in my heart for the Expos. In ways, the Rays are a lot like the Expos. If MLB kills/moves the Rays, I might not watch another baseball game-ever.

      I root against the Nationals (and Bud Selig’s scam) everyday.

  6. bigtrav425 - Apr 13, 2012 at 10:00 AM

    actually contraction was a possibility unlike what you think and say in the article.i remember reading and hearing about it ALL the time…. the guy above me is correct about the players.S

  7. nbphillyb - Apr 13, 2012 at 10:17 AM

    I looked it up, and we got rid of Stevens in that trade too. I thought we picked him up in that trade. I guess getting old and having kids has ruined my memory.

  8. plmathfoto - Apr 13, 2012 at 10:20 AM

    Ok, the Expos got boned, but look at Minaya’s track record, he always traded for latin players, and always over valued them. This could be another case of that, I wouldn’t be surprised.

  9. cup0pizza - Apr 13, 2012 at 10:44 AM

    Nice headline for this article. No wonder you aren’t a communist for a reputable/actual news organization and are nothing more than a dime-a-dozen internet blogger.

    • Utley's Hair - Apr 13, 2012 at 12:06 PM

      And it seems the vacation is over folks, ’cause cup0pizza is back. But communist?

  10. randygnyc - Apr 13, 2012 at 11:24 AM

    Thank God he’s not a communist. They should be shot on sight.

    • Old Gator - Apr 13, 2012 at 1:12 PM

      Yes, in the interests of protecting our beloved democracy, so that all can go on enjoying the benefits of freedom of speech and opinion. So how was your career in the thought police? You get a gold watch?

  11. kevinbnyc - Apr 13, 2012 at 1:25 PM

    It kills me that people are trying to defend Omar. Somewhere, Steve Phillips is banging an intern and smiling for having his reputation shoved under a rug by Omar’s demolition of the Mets.

    • royalsfaninfargo - Apr 13, 2012 at 5:21 PM

      That is awesome! Bravo kevinbnyc!

  12. simon94022 - Apr 13, 2012 at 1:28 PM

    Montreal got hosed because it was not a financially viable place to put a baseball team, and its economy and demographics have been in long term free-fall since the emergence of Toronto as Canada’s business center in the 1970s.

    Nobody in Quebec ever stepped forward with a plan to buy and operate the Expos in Montreal, with or without a new stadium. That’s the bottom line reason why MLB left. It wasn’t greed, or some bizarre plot against Quebec. It was a simple decline and failure of the market.

    • koufaxmitzvah - Apr 13, 2012 at 1:55 PM

      Montreal has a long, storied history in professional baseball. It was the first city Jackie Robinson played ball for, and they have a statue of him in front of Olympic Stadium. It is a city of over 3 million, and the market had sustained the team before the team imploded.

      And why did the team implode? They had the best record when the strike wiped out the 1994 season. The strike then led to thoughts of contraction. If I’m in Montreal, never having seen a World Series, and some American socioeconomic brouhaha cost me my chance at watching my team go far, AND THEN MLB rubbed salt in my wounds by saying that they’re going to take my team away anyway, then no way do I waste my money and support MLB. I’ve got other things to worry about rather than burn my dollars.

      This reminds me of the constant whining on PFT about any news and rumor surrounding brining football back to L.A. It’s not that L.A. didn’t support pro football. They did, enough for 2 teams to be compensated by interest and attendance. Pro football left L.A. because the people of L.A. (and CA) had no interest whatsoever in paying for a shiny new stadium. A basic tax revolt, which is far from the idea that “L.A. doesn’t support the NFL.”

      I miss you, Montreal. Still have my elb cap.

  13. blantoncollier - Apr 13, 2012 at 3:23 PM

    After fleecing the Expos–the Larry Dolan lead Cleveland Indians then gave up on Phillips because their brillaint manager Eric Wedge couldnt figure out how to get along with him and the Tribe didnt want to pay him. Then they got fleeced in the Cliff Lee trade. And then they got fleeced in the re-signing Sizemore. Must be a pattern with these players…

  14. scatterbrian - Apr 13, 2012 at 3:50 PM

    Phillips was traded for a player to be named later before his 25th birthday, so there was a bit more to it than just a personality conflict. His minor league numbers didn’t exactly scream that he should be playing everyday.

    We’re also forgetting the Expos got Tim Drew, a first-round draft pick who simply did not pan out. (Man, those Drew brothers are brittle…)

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