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November 22, 2002

Prospectus Feature

The Forty Million Dollar Question: Building the 2003 Expos (Part One)

by Scot Hughes

One of the biggest questions this off-season has been what Major League Baseball will do with the Montreal Expos. With owner/saboteur Jeff Loria jumping ship to take over the Marlins in last winter's game of musical chairs, the Expos became wards of MLB, with the other 29 teams taking over control of the Expos franchise in the expectation that the franchise would die as part of Bud Selig's ill-conceived contraction scheme.

Omar Minaya was named GM of the Expos, and to MLB's credit he was allowed to make moves as he saw fit to try to improve the Expos, with one restriction: payroll could not be increased. Minaya managed to add a couple of significant players (and salaries) by insisting that salaries balance in the deals that he made (which is why Lee Stevens was part of the package going to Cleveland for Bartolo Colon and why Carl Pavano and Graeme Lloyd went to Florida in the trade to acquire Cliff Floyd). The Expos fell short in 2002, but at the very least it was an interesting summer in Montreal where the team was trying to win.

The 2002 season is over, and now MLB has to figure out what to do with the Expos in 2003. Minaya is back as GM, and the team is slated to play a significant number of "home" games in Puerto Rico. But the big question is how much will the Expos payroll be in 2003? Rumors have the brain trust of MLB, in its infinite wisdom, pegging the Expos' payroll in 2003 at $40M, pretty much the same as it was in 2002. To determine what kind of position that puts Minaya in, lets take a look at what the payroll for the Expos roster projects to be in 2003.

Guys guaranteed money in 2003:

Minaya was allowed to pick up the $6M option on Colon for the 2003 season. Both Colon and Guerrero are free agents after 2003. Tatis is pretty much untradeable at $6M for 2003 after two years of injuries, terrible defense and mediocre offense, and barring a major comeback his 2004 option won't be picked up and he'll be a free agent after 2003 as well. In any case, that's $27M right there for 4 guys.

Guys who are arbitration eligible in 2003, and their expected salaries:

Vazquez is eligible for arbitration for the third time this off-season, but won't be eligible for free agency until after the 2004 season - he was demoted to Triple-A for a month during the 1999 season, so he'll be a month short of six full years of service time at the end of the 2003 season. Arbitration figures are tough to peg, but Vazquez's agent can use Eric Milton (who gets $6M in 2003 and has the same amount of service time) to define the low end of what Vazquez will get. Vazquez and Milton have the same amount of service time, but Vazquez has been more durable and better than Milton in their careers to date. I think Vazquez will come in around $7M, but the MLBPA has been trying to push up the salaries awarded in arbitration in recent years, so he could get a little more.

Cabrera is eligible for arbitration for the second time. He's coming off a disappointing season, but his agent can bring up Neifi Perez as a comp. Perez made $4M in 2002 with the same amount of service time that Cabrera has now, but Cabrera has been better offensively and has a Gold Glove to his credit. He should be good for ~$4M or more in 2003.

Barrett is also arbitration eligible for the second time this winter, and he's coming off his best season since his rookie year (you can make a case for Barrett being arguably the second best catcher in the NL offensively in 2002).

Armas is eligible for arbitration for the first time. He's been a durable league-average or better pitcher during his time in the majors

Yoshii was non-tendered and re-signed by the Expos last winter rather than going through the arbitration process, but he had a decent season in 2002, and if the expos non-tender him he'll probably sign elsewhere. Herges is arbitration-eligible for the first time but isn't a Proven Closer™, so he won't get mega-money. Eischen is probably in the same boat.

That comes to ~$22M for the seven arbitration-eligible guys, bringing the total to ~$49M for the guys already signed for 2003, plus the arbitration cases.

Next week: in Part Two, Scot checks out the rest of the roster and makes his recommendations.

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Premium Article Aim For The Head: Are ... (11/21)
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