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July 10, 2002

The Daily Prospectus

Dealin' Omar

by Jonah Keri

I promised myself I wouldn't become that guy. You know, the fan who can only discuss one topic, who keeps bringing the conversation back to his favorite team, as if the rest of the world doesn't exist. Yup, my recent plea to Expos' GM Omar Minaya to damn the torpedoes and aggressively trade prospects for top talent to fuel a playoff run would be my last bit of homerism (homeriosity?) for a while. From then on, I told myself, I'd focus on topics that interest a broader audience, like solving the Who Wants Donnie Sadler mystery.

But just three days after my rant, Dealin' Omar went and spoiled my plan. First he chucked the Expos' top three prospects to Cleveland in a deal for Bartolo Colon.

Now, he's trying to outdo himself. The latest rumor has the Expos trading as many as six pitching prospects to the Marlins for Cliff Floyd, Ryan Dempster, and various trinkets. Whether or not this deal goes down, you almost get a sense that something's not quite right here.

It's not that other teams haven't dealt prospects in an effort to win now. Starting in mid-1999, the Diamondbacks decided to flip the old axiom on its head and not trust anyone under 30. First they flipped Brad Penny, Abraham Nunez and Vladimir Nunez to Florida for Matt Mantei. Then they dealt a package of four young players, headed by Travis Lee and Vicente Padilla, to the Phillies for Curt Schilling. Last July they swapped Nick Bierbrodt for Albie Lopez; last winter, Jack Cust and J.D. Closser for Mike Myers. Lyle Overbay and Chad Tracy for Brian Boehringer and a churro to be named later can't be far behind.

But this is different. From day one, Minaya told anyone who'd listen he didn't give a damn about the future. "I'd like to think long-haul," Minaya told ESPN in March. "But the reality is, I don't know the future. I don't know what's going to happen beyond the end of the season. So I don't think you'll see us thinking beyond this year. If we start trading our better players for prospects, that wouldn't make a lot of sense. I'm not trading players for prospects if I don't know if, in a year, the team will exist. So I tell the other clubs, 'Don't talk to me about your A-ball guys I don't know. I don't want to talk about trades that will help me in five years. I only want to talk about trades that will help me now.'" Aside from laughably pleading ignorance toward "A-ball guys I don't know," Minaya made it clear the future was now.

No GM has ever pillaged the farm system the way Minaya intends to, knowing, or at least strongly suspecting that neither he nor the team will be around next year. Minaya's only mandate is to show he can make filet mignon out of aardvark meat, the hell with the consequences. If it works out, he gets a more stable GM job elsewhere and hey, maybe the Expos sniff the playoffs too.

Oddly, this stance gives the Expos something they haven't had - maybe ever: a decided competitive advantage over 29 other teams. What other team would be crazy enough to trade nine of their best prospects, even for players like Colon and Floyd? None, since everyone else has to worry about next year.

The situation gets more and more sordid the closer you look. The owners' representative likely never imagined the Expos would compete this late into the season. Now that it's happened, all the worst-case conflict of interest scenarios have come home to roost. The Floyd deal rests in the hands of Expos' ownership. Will they or won't they approve a payroll hike of about $2.5 million over the last half a season? Since Major League Baseball owns the Spos, the decision falls to MLB's 29 other owners. Think AOL/Time Warner, whose stock now trades about 85% off its high (thanks, buy and hold!), will ante up the dough to drop Cliff Floyd into their closest rivals' laps?

Conspiracy theorists even go a step further: MLB is just fattening up the Expos for a sale to Washington investors (never mind Wayne Huzienga feverishly sold off Marlin vets after the '97 World Series to make the team more attractive to buyers). MLB is fattening up the roster for a contraction-prompted dispersal draft (never mind a contraction partner remains unfound). Masochistic Expo fans even claim the entire season is all a ploy by 29 other teams to get Expos' fans hopes up, only to dash them with a strike, the same way a work stoppage screwed the league-leading Spos in '94 (OK, that one I buy).

Add it all up, and those who'd hope for a viable Expos team in Montreal or elsewhere beyond this season can hardly be blamed for crying foul. When Darwin Cubillan becomes the best prospect in your organization, hope becomes a four-letter word.

Yet just when you think all is lost, objective analysis comes and saves the day. Throw out contraction, relocation, conspiracy theories and maple syrup-related doomsday scenarios. Bottom line, the Expos' four best players, Vlad Guerrero, Jose Vidro, Fernando Tatis and now Colon, all become free agents after next season. Co-ace Javier Vazquez gets his freedom a year later. If ever the Expos needed to take their shot at post-season glory, it's right now, with the best group of core talent assembled in Montreal since '94.

Until then, I'll try to stop being that annoying, one-trick guy, promise. Geez, that can get as boring as Home Run Derby. Well, almost anyway.

Jonah Keri is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jonah's other articles. You can contact Jonah by clicking here

Related Content:  Montreal Expos,  Omar Minaya

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