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December 4, 2002

Prospectus Feature

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

by Scot Hughes

Part One

The rest of the roster will probably be filled with players who are not yet arbitration-eligible. Taking into account the increase in minimum salary and the players available to the Expos, the other 14 spots will be filled with guys like Tomo Ohka, Scott Stewart, T.J. Tucker, Brad Wilkerson, Jose Macias, Brian Schneider, Endy Chavez, Jim Brower and possibly an inexpensive veteran or two (like Andres Galarraga, Troy O'Leary and Wil Cordero in 2002). Figure an average salary of $0.5M or so for each of the remaining 14 roster spots, and that's $7M more, for a total of $56M.

So Minaya has a likely budget of $40M, and a projected payroll of $56M or so. What does he do?

Minaya has to cut about $16M in payroll. There are some salaries on the roster that could be cut without hurting the on-field product all that much. Unfortunately, Fernando Tatis is the biggest albatross on the Expos payroll, but I think his $6M is basically untradeable, at least not without the Expos paying a big chunk of his salary or accepting an equally bad contract in return. But we'll give Minaya the benefit of the doubt, and assume he can unload Tatis and half of his contract (but doesn't acquire anything of value in return). $3M in savings.

The Expos also have reasonably good depth in terms of candidates for the back end of the rotation and the bullpen (Sun Woo Kim, Zach Day, Matt Blank, Dickey Gonzalez, Dan Smith, Britt Reames, etc). Given that, it makes sense that they showed Masato Yoshii the door, and they'll probably do the same with Matt Herges. $4M more in savings.

At this point, the easy, relatively painless cuts are gone, and Minaya still has to clear $9M in payroll. He's got 2 options at this point:

  1. Realize that the Expos are unlikely to contend in 2003 since they'll have to trade some of their key plays to come in under payroll. Bite the bullet, and trade the Expos' two most valuable trade commodities, Vlad Guerrero and Bartolo Colon, both of whom are eligible for free agency after 2003 anyway.
  2. Try to field the best possible team for 2003, which probably means holding onto Guerrero and Colon, and clearing the payroll room by trading some combination of Javier Vazquez, Jose Vidro, Michael Barrett, Tony Armas and Orlando Cabrera for young, major league-ready players who can fill holes on the Expos roster (3B, 1B, LF for the most part) in 2003 and beyond.

The Expos system is relatively strong in pitching in the majors and high minors, and extremely weak in position players. So it'd probably make sense to trade mostly pitching, and look for position players in return.

I don't think Minaya will go for option A. His trades last year were of the splashy "Damn the future, Win NOW!" variety, and I don't see him radically changing his tune, which means that Guerrero is probably not going anywhere. I think Minaya would also prefer to hold onto Proven Ace™ Colon. The Expos system is extremely shallow in the infield, and there are no real viable replacements for Vidro and Cabrera around, so I think that they won't get moved unless the Expos can get a good young 2B or SS in return.

That leaves Javier Vazquez, Tony Armas, and Michael Barrett--two good young pitchers and a good young catcher. The Expos' depth in young pitching allows them to move Vazquez and/or Armas. Brian Schneider is probably capable of taking on a more prominent role at catcher. He hit just as well as Barrett in 2002, and Schneider is considered the better defensive catcher (Schneider's minor league numbers suggest he was over his head a bit in 2002, though).

What should the Expos be looking for? Offensive help at 1B, 3B and LF. Taking a quick look around the majors, it looks to me like Montreal and Texas make a pretty good match. Texas needs pitching, and a number one catcher to replace Ivan Rodriguez. They've got a lot of depth at third (Herb Perry, Hank Blalock, Mark Teixeira) and 1B/LF (Rafael Palmeiro, Frank Catalanotto, Kevin Mench, Travis Hafner, Jason Hart, Ryan Ludwick). The teams could reach a mutually beneficial deal that looks something like:

To Texas: Vazquez, Barrett

To Montreal: Blalock, Mench, Hafner

Minaya might have to sweeten to pot with another pitcher (preferably Herges, or a pitcher like Tim Drew, Dickey Gonzalez or Zach Day.) That trade saves the Expos about $9M, and brings them in at $40M with the following roster:

C: Brian Schneider, minor league FA (Bill Haselman?)
1B: Hafner
2B: Vidro
3B: Blalock
SS: Cabrera
UI: Macias, Carroll
LF: Mench
CF: Wilkerson
RF: Guerrero
UO: Chavez; Cepicky; Sledge

SP: Colon, Armas, Ohka, Kim, Blank or Gonzalez or Day or Drew
RP: Stewart, Tucker, Eischen, Smith, Brower, one of the guys who doesn't get the 5th SP spot.

That's not a roster guaranteed to succeed in the NL East, but it is an extremely young squad, with first or second year players starting at five positions and taking up two spots in the rotation. There's a good chance that some or all of those players will struggle to adjust to the majors. And there's not a whole lot of depth - there's a significant drop-off in talent once you get past the starters, especially among the position players. But there is talent there, and the team should at least be respectable in 2003, and could even contend with a few lucky breaks. It might not be the best team that $40M could buy, but it'd be a good team.

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Prospectus Feature: 20... (11/26)
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