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July 31, 2002

The Daily Prospectus

Fraud

by Joe Sheehan

I'm back in California after an enjoyable month spent on the East Coast seeing friends and family, doing some BP-related work, and generally reminding myself which side of the continent I prefer.

I didn't get to write every day while I was gone, so there were some things that were never mentioned in this column, including the Expos' run at relevance. GM Omar Minaya traded for Cliff Floyd and Bartolo Colon in what appeared to be a rare show of integrity by Major League Baseball and Bud Selig. Yes, Minaya had to jump through hoops to make the trades, as MLB refused to allow him to add salary, but he got the deals done. They improved the Expos and gave the team a real chance to win the NL wild card.

Now, I don't feel so bad about not writing that column. Less than a month later, Floyd is no longer an Expo, having been dealt to the Boston Red Sox for two B- prospects and a player to be named, this with the Expos just six games out in a crowded wild-card chase.

This is a terrible trade. Sun-Woo Kim has a career ERA of 5.33. In Triple-A. He's 24 years old with a nasty gopher-ball habit, and while he'd shown improvement this year with Pawtucket--in his third season there--he hasn't been as effective for the Sox. Song is the Sox' best prospect--which is an indictment of a player-development system if I ever saw one--but underwent an MRI a month ago after complaining of a sore elbow. He was impressive in the Futures Game, has excellent peripherals (116 strikeouts, 37 walks in 108 2/3 innings) and is a better than even-money bet to have more DL days than major-league innings pitched come 2005.

Solving for X, the Expos traded some salary, Justin Wayne and Don Levinski to get Kim, Song and 53 at-bats from Floyd. That's a net loss, and I say that conceding that Wayne's Double-A performance (2.30 ERA) has significant holes (62 strikeouts in 121 1/3 innings). Health is a huge issue, and I'd rather have the two guys the Expos don't have anymore than the two they're left with.

What's frustrating is that the Expos have no business acquiring prospects given that Bud Selig's public stance remains that there will be contraction next year, with the Expos the only realistic candidate at this point. The two notions--acquiring prospects and contracting a team--are mutually exclusive, so perhaps Selig would like to explain the thought process here?

I'd add that even if the Expos can justify this type of trade, Kim and Song don't fit their needs. The Expos have a dearth of good position players in their system, and would be best served to add prospects who can play the field and put runs on the board. Kim and Song don't do anything for the organization but add depth and risk.

It's as if Selig didn't realize what might happen if he allowed Minaya to make the deals. Since the acquisitions of Floyd and Colon, the Expos had broken 10,000 in attendance in 11 of 13 home games, something they'd done just eight times all season before the trades. Oh, hell, let's run a chart:

                     Average Att.      Median Att.
Expos, Not Trying        8,429            6,091
Expos, Trying           14,064           13,402

The trades seemed to prove what we've been saying all along, that fans will come see a team--in any market, in any stadium--that has success, and more importantly, that shows a commitment to winning. On a typical July night, twice as many people came to see the Expos as did before the team made a significant move that signaled that the team was trying to win.

It's like Selig said, "OK, you can do this so I can say that Montreal is a dead issue," and when it wasn't a dead issue, made sure that he stopped the momentum.

The John Henry connection is the real sticker here. We already know that Henry bought a Marlins team that was doomed by a terrible stadium lease, and in doing so signed on to the "we need a taxpayer-funded ballpark" mantra. For his trouble, he was rewarded with a share of the Boston Red Sox in a Selig-rigged deal. Now, with his team as far from first place as it's been all year, and even slipping in the wild-card race, Selig's team sends his team the left-handed power hitter it desperately needs, a player the Sox weren't going to be able to get because of the disastrous condition of their farm system.

Finally, there's the money angle. MLB refused to allow Minaya to add salary to pick up Floyd or Colon, even though it was clear that doing so would raise revenues. Now the team gets the benefit of higher revenues--assuming some advance tickets have been sold, and that Colon's presence keeps some of the new fans--with lowered costs. If this isn't a bait-and-switch on Montreal baseball fans, I don't know what to call it.

No integrity. None. The Yankees and the three AL West teams potentially affected by this, should scream long, hard and loud about this move. It's a fix, it's the game's administrators stepping in and favoring one team in a pennant race, a team that already owes the central office at least one huge favor in a time when Bud Selig needs as many friends as possible.

The acquisitions of Colon and Floyd confirmed what we knew: that attendance and revenue are driven by success and a commitment to it, no matter what other conditions exist.

The trade of Floyd also tells us something we already knew: MLB's top management is not to be trusted, and needs to be overhauled.

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

Related Content:  Bud Selig,  Montreal Expos

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<< Previous Article
Prospectus Q&A: Travis... (07/30)
<< Previous Column
The Daily Prospectus: ... (07/29)
Next Column >>
The Daily Prospectus: ... (08/01)
Next Article >>
Transaction Analysis: ... (07/31)

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