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.