Remembering how badly the Expos got boned

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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.

The Pirates are, not surprisingly, leaning against trading Andrew McCutchen

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Over the winter there was serious talk about the Pirates trading Andrew McCutchen to the Washington Nationals. His move to left field to allow Starling Marte to take over center further served to make McCutchen a less important part of the Pirates long term plans.

Then the season began, Marte got suspended for PEDs and, after a bumpy start, McCutchen caught fire. He hit .411/.505/.689 in June he has a .333/.444/.561 line in the month of July. For the year he’s now at .292/.384/.507 with 17 homers and 57 RBI. Even with Marte back on the roster, McCutchen is the Pirates’ center fielder. What’s more, the Pirates, after beginning the season slowly have righted the ship somewhat and are now only three games back in the NL Central.

All of which makes this, from Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, unsurprising:

That option is a quite reasonable $14.5 million, so it seems sorta crazy that they wouldn’t pick it up. Of course if they remain coy enough about it for now perhaps someone will bowl them over with an offer. Letting McCutchen walk seems insane. Unloading him for a hefty haul would, well, still be kinda crazy given how popular McCutchen is with the fan base, but not truly insane.

The Brewers are talking to the Tigers about Ian Kinsler, Justin Wilson

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The Brewers were rumored last week to have been “aggressive” in talks for Tigers reliever Justin Wilson. ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reports, however, that the talks are a bit more wide-ranging than that.

Crasnick says that the two clubs are also discussing Tigers second baseman Ian Kinsler, potentially in a package deal with Wilson. Crasnick says that the Brewers “would love to have Kinsler,” but their main focus at the moment is pitching help. Of course, the Brewers current second baseman — Jonathan Villar — is hitting a meager .223/.285/.348 in 334 plate appearances.

Kinsler is having a down season for him — .237/.331/.400 — but he’s better than that and, of course, would represent an improvement. He’s under contract through the end of this year but he has a very affordable, $10 million club option for 2018. Wilson will be arbitration-eligible this offseason, so he’s still under team control as well. As such a Kinsler/Wilson package would likely cost the Brewers a high price, so you have to think they’d try to exhaust cheaper options before making such a deal.

The Brewers had been in first place in the NL Central since June 7, but the Cubs caught them yesterday. They’re in a virtual tie, with Chicago percentage points ahead. This should prove to be a very interesting week for the Brewers’ front office.