I doubt that the Los Angeles Dodgers are going to moving to a foreign country anytime soon, but the abrupt MLB takeover over the storied franchise still brings up memories of the financial disaster that brought Les Expos to Washington, DC. The outcome of the ordeal will certainly be different, but the current Dodgers’ decision-makers can look back to the 2002-2003 Montreal Expos to learn some important lessons.
When Jeffery Loria turned over control of the Montreal Expos to Major League baseball at the outset of the millennium, it was understood that the league would find a new ownership group, location notwithstanding. The Dodgers are certainly not leaving Los Angeles any time soon (although people probably said that about Brooklyn at one point), and it is still unclear if control could ever be transferred back to the McCourt family. While those scenarios are fundamentally different, what is similar is that a MLB-appointed leadership group will take over the day-to-day operations of the team.
In the Dodgers’ current dilemma, MLB has tabbed former Rangers president (and U.S. ambassador to Japan) J. Thomas Schieffer to run the day-to-day operations of the Trolley Dodgers. Unlike in the Expos example, MLB is not implanting an entirely new baseball operations group (which included GM Omar Minaya and Manager Frank Robinson). Still, someone without long-term ties and direct loyalty to the franchise will be making many of the major decisions.
When someone who has the power that Schieffer has, but not the specter of long-term commitment shackling them, an interesting scenario is created. Such a scenario existed in 2002 with the Expos, when Minaya was given the green light to improve his franchise. In that season, Minaya attempted to make a move that would earn the surprising Expos a berth in the postseason. Such an achievement would have made the Expos a more marketable asset for MLB to sell, and it is reasonable to think that MLB would like to see the Dodgers secure a profitable position in the standings this season.
When Minaya was motivated more by short-term achievement than long-term growth of his organization, he orchestrated one of the most legendarily franchise-crippling trades in baseball history (too strong?). Looking to bolster the Expos’ rotation, Minaya acquired Cleveland Indians’ ace righthander Bartolo Colon. The deal had little impact on the team’s 2002 roster (only platoon-ish first baseman Lee Stevens was dealt off the active roster), but left a massive hole in the organization for years to come.
Going the other way in the deal was three prospects, who often go nameless in these type of deals. Now, we know the deal included SS Brandon Phillips, LHP Cliff Lee, and OF Grady Sizemore. Colon has only won 14 games since 2005, while Phillips, Lee, and Sizemore have all gone on to become perennial All-Stars (Lee added a Cy Young for good measure).
Since Lee and Sizemore were not necessarily top prospects at the time of the deal (although Lee was rated 11th in the Expos organization and had a 3.23 ERA in AAA at the time and Sizemore was just 19), Minaya could possibly hide behind a defense that they blossomed beyond expectations. That argument quickly loses steam when you realize that Phillips was the unquestioned top prospect in the Expos organization at the time, and “perhaps the top shortstop prospect in the minors,” according to ESPN.com. While it is not a perfect comparison due to the historical proportions of his coverage and talent, but imagine if the Nats flipped Bryce Harper (along with their top AAA pitcher, say Ross Detwiler, and their 3rd round pick from the 2009 draft, Potomac RHP Trevor Holder) for a rental player this fall? Yeah, not pretty.
The trade was seen as gutsy and aggressive at the time, but you cannot argue that it set the franchise back considerably. Consider this – all three of the players Minaya dealt were still with the Indians in 2005 (and conceivably would have been under the Nats’ control that year). The Indians were one Josh Beckett-gem away from the World Series in 2007. The Nats won 73 games that year and possessed a barren farm system.
The Dodgers are probably safe at the moment, as it appears standing GM Ned Colletti and Manager Donny Baseball will remain in their positions. But, they should still heed the warning signs from the 2002 Expos. Making a short-sited move to increase the marketability of the franchise could have devastating effects for the ownership group charged with cleaning up the mess.
News and notes from Nationals Park:
- Ian Desmond sat out yesterday, and contemplated his two-error affair from Sunday.
- Jason Marquis claims he was trying to emulate Livo with his 55-mph changeup yesterday.
- Jayson Werth has some history in Pittsburgh.
Small notes from around the Bigs Nationals: Since we went a little big picture with the article itself, we will keep things local in the Small Notes. Yesterday, feeling the heat from a certain hard-hitting quasi-journalist, Michael Morse and Adam LaRoche stepped up their games. Supporting a solid outing from the rejuvenated Jason Marquis, both players smacked crucial homeruns (LaRoche’s third, Morse’s first). The homers provided for the scenario we called for earlier in the week – when smallball was not enough, a little well-timed pop provided the difference. You can catch the full wrap-up here.
As always, check out my homepage for all of my thoughts on the Nationals. Please share your thoughts, complaints and comments below. For daily updates, you can subscribe to these articles (free at the top of the page) or follow me on Twitter (@Neuman85). Enjoy today’s entertainment below!
Song of the Day: Bad Books – “You Wouldn’t have to Ask”
Nats Video of the Day: Bryce Harper “argues” with some bat lady. I am guessing “Chief Hitting Officier is not her real job title. Just a guess.