MLB Takes Over Dodgers, Expos Fan Nods Sadly

Not again. Good Lord, not again.

It’s impossible to see Bud Selig’s announcement that Major League Baseball will assume operating control of the Los Angeles Dodgers and not remember the last time MLB made this move.

On Valentine’s Day 2002, the league did the same with the teetering Montreal Expos. By the end of the 2004 season, MLB had presided over a trade that set the Expos’ successors back several years, helped short-circuit a last-gasp playoff run, ended baseball for good in Montreal, and reminded us why a sports franchise in league hands is a catastrophe waiting to happen.

On February 14, 2002, MLB bought the Expos for $120 million. From the beginning, this wasn’t some benevolent stewardship, meant to steer the team through choppy waters. Rather, the stated goal was to assassinate (“contract” was the slightly less repugnant term the league used) the Expos, as well as the Minnesota Twins.

There have been many theories as to whether or not the threat was real, and what MLB hoped to achieve. It may have been a way for owners to gain leverage with a new collective bargaining agreement drawing nigh. Or a last-ditch effort to bully the twin cities into building a publicly funded ballpark for the Twins’ outrageously wealthy owner. Or all of the above, and more. Luckily for Twins fans (but unluckily for taxpayers), Target Field eventually got built, and Joe Mauer got a $184 million contract. Ummm…well, the stadium’s nice anyway.

Expos fans weren’t as lucky. A new CBA prohibited contraction through 2006. But the three seasons between MLB’s purchase and the last Expos game remain one of the blackest marks on Selig’s checkered resume.

MLB named Frank Robinson as the Expos’ new manager, a nice gesture for one of baseball’s all-time greats, and a man who’d prove to be a half-decent skipper, actually (though the guy freaking loved to bunt, gah!).

The league also named Omar Minaya as vice-president and general manager. That move was…not so special.

Minaya inherited a horrific situation, that much is true. The Expos’ entire administrative staff consisted of two administrative assistants, a media relations director, the head trainer, a minor league pitching coach, and the assistant farm system director. Just to staff up to reasonable levels in the six weeks before Opening Day took plenty of hard work and creativity.

But Minaya also saw his big break as first-time and GM, and especially MLB’s (very possibly hollow) threat of contraction as carte blanche to do reckless things with the talent he inherited.

As threadbare as his front office may have looked, Minaya actually had a promising major league roster for the 2002 season. The Expos had lost 94 games the previous season. Still, Javier Vazquez was maturing into an ace, Jose Vidro and Orlando Cabrera formed one of the better double-play combinations in the game, and Vladimir Guerrero’s talent was so breathtaking that Roberto Clemente comparisons seemed perfectly reasonable. A few breaks and the 2002 Expos could become a fringe contender.

And they did. By June 26, Montreal’s record stood at a respectable 40-36. The Expos were still seven games out of first place behind yet another loaded Braves squad. But it was a nice little underdog story, and the team could feel proud to have a shot at 85 wins.

Ah, but Minaya had to make his bones as a new GM, prove to the world that he was a fearless deal-maker who deserved employment after this Expos gambit ended. On June 27, 2002, he made a deal hailed as one of the ballsiest moves in recent MLB memory. Minaya sent three top prospects — Brandon Phillips, Grady Sizemore and Cliff Lee — along with veteran first baseman and salary-balancer Lee Stevens, to Cleveland. In return, he snagged Bartolo Colon, and the least talented Drew brother, Tim.

In truth, this trade wasn’t ballsy so much as it was stupefyingly selfish. There was plenty of debate about which of the Expos’ prospects had the best upside. Phillips was perceived by many as the biggest get, a five-tool middle infielder who could become a major league star in the near future. Sizemore appeared to be furthest from making the majors, but he was a multi-sport high school star dripping with athleticism and upside. Being a stats-obsessed fan, I liked Lee, the lefty starter with 297 strikeouts in 241 minor league innings to that point, best of all. Whatever your preference, the bigger takeaway was unanimous: Minaya had given away more premium young talent than any trade in years (maybe decades), for a pitcher who could pitch like vintage Koufax and still not get the Expos to the playoffs.

Mind you, as a selfish Expos fan who didn’t expect the team to last long in Montreal, my emotional side was fine with this. If Phillips, Sizemore and Lee became stars, it wouldn’t be in la belle province, that was for sure. Washington Nationals fans should still curse Minaya’s name today, though. Imagine what that team would look like if the Nats had the prime years of those three players, or even the fruits of later Phillips, Sizemore and Lee trades, populating the roster.

Of course the deal didn’t work out for the Expos either, and Minaya only made it worse that off-season. If Phillips, Sizemore and Lee represented full value for Colon’s services, Orlando Hernandez, Rocky Biddle and Jeff Liefer were 22 cents on the dollar. Walking around the IBD newsroom one day the next spring, I spotted a copy of Inc. magazine. On the cover was a very suave, very self-satisfied Omar Minaya. I made a mental note never to buy a copy of Inc. magazine.

If the Colon deal was the most famous result of MLB’s stewardship, the most tragic one came in 2003. A five-game winning streak in late August launched the Expos to within striking distance of the Wild Card lead. Even after dropping the next three games, Montreal still had an outside shot at a miracle playoff run, trailing multiple teams in the Wild Card chase but still just three games off the pace. Infuriated by Minaya adding payroll the year before (he’d also picked up Cliff Floyd soon after the Colon deal the previous summer, before quickly shipping Floyd back out of town) and perhaps generally annoyed at funding the playoff run of a rival team, the Expos’ owners (the 29 other teams) vetoed the club’s request to call up a bunch of minor leaguers to fortify the roster for a September run. This even though such a move would have cost a few hundred thousand bucks, tops.

A year later, the team was off to DC, leaving both Expos and Nats fans to feel the effects of the Montreal Screwjob for years to come.

(I’m not even going to touch the travesty that was games played in Puerto Rico, because I like to pretend that didn’t happen.)

It won’t be that bad for Dodgers fans. Selig will undoubtedly hand the case over to some lawyer friends, thus ensuring new summer homes for all involved. Frank McCourt and his leveraged-to-the-hilt ownership will be gone, replaced by what can’t help but be a better replacement. And the Dodgers will regain their reputation as a first-class organization soon enough.

Still, if Clayton Kershaw shows Cy Young stuff all year, the Dodgers find help for Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier, and a few other things fall into place, this team could be a contender down the stretch. If the Dodgers aren’t sold by the summer, MLB could face another political hot potato as the league decides whether or not to greenlight new deals and new spending for a contending team.

At least Ned Colletti won’t trade three top prospects for Bartolo Colon. Probably.

We hoped you liked reading MLB Takes Over Dodgers, Expos Fan Nods Sadly by Jonah Keri!

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Jonah Keri is the author of The Extra 2%: How Wall Street Strategies Took a Major League Baseball Team from Worst to First -- now a National Bestseller! Follow Jonah on Twitter @JonahKeri, and check out his awesome podcast.

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cs3
Member
cs3

Not sure where the appropriate place to put this is (which, ironically, is part of the reason i have to make this post in the first place) but the layout of this website’s main page is really really poor.

1) you cant even read the full titles of most articles because the space allotted to the “recent article” heading is way too small.

2a) there is no place where you can easily see all articles sorted by day. if you click on “recent articles” you get a page full of previews. which is completely useless because you have to scroll around looking for what you want.and anyone who starts reading the preview of an article must then click on the link for the full writeup anyway – makes no sense.

2b) there should be a page where ALL articles (for a given day, or week or whatever) are listed in the same place. No previews. Just titles, dates, and author listed so we can see all of them without having to scroll around and wed through the dumb previews.

3) maybe its just a compatibility issue with Firefox, but when after posting a comment, you are sent to a blank page and you cant do anything from there. you cant even refresh the page – you get an error message. So to see your comment you have to post it, wait for the blank page to load, go back a couple times, refresh the page then scroll back down to see if you post went through.
Why???

4) Comments section is not user friendly at all.
there needs to either be threaded replies that are easier to use/read, or a quote function. Its almost impossible to follow the comments in high traffic articles because nobody can tell which comment another comment is replying to.

5) Again sorry to post this here, but there is no place i can find where it will be seen by the people who run the site.

jaywrong
Member
jaywrong

this is probably the most ridiculous comment i have ever seen.

WillClark
Guest
WillClark

points 1 and 2(a)(b) arent bad

Greg
Guest
Greg

Points 1 and 2 are valid; however, I count them as among the least of the Dodgers’ problems.

Jamie
Guest
Jamie

Omar?

fredsbank
Guest
fredsbank

so posting it everywhere is the right thing to do?

pretty sure there’s a link labeled ‘contact us’ on the bottom of the page, or maybe you’re illiterate in addition to not being acquainted with web-page navigation?

cs3
Member
cs3

Obviously i already tried the “contact us” approach. More than once in fact. Never once got any feedback from anyone at the site, not that i was surprised by that.
of course i couldn’t tell if my submission even went through (see point #3) but i’m assuming my questions were just ignored.

regardless, points (1) and (2) need to be addressed.

and your illiterate reference was cute. good job.

gtfo
Guest
gtfo

The entitlement on display here is amazing.

potent potables
Member
potent potables

I have to agree with cs3’s first point. About 1/3 of the homepage (or any other page for that matter) is just wasted blank space. What purpose does this serve?

http://i51.tinypic.com/2n9cj7a.jpg

If I may bring up a comment of my own, I have always had problems with slow page loading on this site. I know it’s not my connection because all other sites I visit work almost instantly (I’m at a university and our service is blazing fast). Yet for some reason, fangraphs takes ~5 seconds loading time per page, and the homepage takes even longer.

potent potables
Member
potent potables

Though I forgot to mention- great article.

Cody
Guest
Cody

I believe that the designers of FanGraphs and many other websites do that to ensure that people with a lower resolution screen can view the entire page at once without side scrolling. I believe the standard is usually a solid 800px in width.

My echo and bunnymen
Guest
My echo and bunnymen

You know what’s funny. Click Blog on the links up top, and your 2s go away.

My echo and bunnymen
Guest
My echo and bunnymen

#3 – Firefox sucks, get Chrome. Or IE if you’re a college student who’s educational institution’s website requires it.

#4 – Reading is a dying art.