18 March 2004

Not That Anyone Cares: A Plan for the Expos

I got to thinking, as I was writing that piece on baseball teams' attendance numbers as they might be affected by the relocation of the Expos to North Jersey: Maybe there is hope. Maybe there's a way to save the Expos without preferentially stepping on any other franchise's toes, and without even relocating the team. For that matter, maybe without even selling the team.

You see, there's this long-standing rule in the MLB bylaws that nobody is allowed to own controlling interest in more than one franchise at once, because it would create a conflict of interest. An owner who has two teams could trade all the good players from one team to the other, for all its lousy players, with no repercussions at all. Then the one team could be great, and the other would suck. This thought occurred to a couple of different owners at approximately the same time, over a hundred years ago. But that's another story.

This story, on the other hand, is more interesting because it affects all the teams. A couple of years ago, when the Yawkey Trust wanted out of RedSox nation, the only guy who really wanted to buy the team was John Henry, who, besides being pretty handy at turning a jack and swinging a hammer, also owned the Florida Marlins at the time. So he needed someone to buy the Marlins so he could buy the RedSox. The only guy interested in that was Jeffrey Loria, who had been such a cheapskate as the owner of the Montreal Expos that their games weren't even broadcast on TV (and only in French on the radio, I think) the first (& last) year he owned the team. And of course, nobody wanted to buy the Expos, given that the franchise has been in self-imposed limbo for the last ten years, so now what?

Henry buys the Sawx.

Loria buys the Marlins (and they win the World Series. C'est la vie.)

And the other 29 baseball owners buy the Montreal Expos until someone with some brains and/or balls figures out what to do with them. Well, hold onto your hockey pucks and Bare Naked Ladies CDs, because Boy of Summer's got a Plan.

Here's the deal: Because the owners of the other 29 MLB teams own the Expos, and because to some extent or another the Expos are their competition, none of them wants to pony up any significant money to fund the enemy. The result of this tactic is that the Expos have less and less ability to retain or acquire talent, making the team that much less attractive both to any potential fans and to any potential buyers.

Well, I say that they're going about this entirely the wrong way. The Expos should have an extraordinary competitive advantage. Think about it: the other teams each only have one multi-millionaire owner to support them. The Expos have almost thirty! They shouldn't be scrimping and saving! They should be piling it on! Lavishing the franchise with payroll money! With a relatively minor investment from each of the 29 owners/ownership groups, they could have an enormous pool of money with which to pay the salaries of any and every player they can get their greedy little paws on! Think of the possibilities!

They've already got a pretty good second baseman in Jose Vidro, probably one of the three to five best in the majors right now, plus a pretty good shortstop in Orlando Cabrera. They had a superstar right fielder in Vladimir Guerrero and another decent player in Brad Wilkerson. Javier Vazquez was one of the better pitchers in the NL, even though the radio guys in NY don't seem to be giving him any credit yet. Tomo Ohka, Livan Hernandez and Zach Day all have their merits as starting pitchers, as did Tony Armas before he got hurt. Luis Ayala and TJ Tucker are certainly more than serviceable relief pitchers.

So you've got some talent with which to start building. And you've got 29 multi-millionaire owners. So why not pool your resources, maybe based on some kinda sliding scale according to revenues of the other team owners, and make a SuperTeam!??! You could get something like a $200 million payroll without enlisting more than $10 mil from any one team! With a pool of money like that, they could keep Vazquez and Guererro, sign Bartolo Colon, Gary Sheffield, Javy Lopez, Rafael Palmiero, anyone they want!

I wasn't able to find accurate numbers for 2004 MLB team payrolls yet, but based on last year's numbers, it looks like an investment of ~6% of each team's payroll, in addition to what they're already spending, would be plenty to make the Expos a Super Team. Besides, almost every team currently has or recently has had a worse investment than the one I'm suggesting, as you can see:

Approx 2003 Player(s) on whom team
Team Opening Day Payroll 6% wasted a LOT of $ in 2003

NY Yankees $149,760,995.00 $8,985,659.70 Steve Karsay $5M, Sterling Hitchcock $6M
Los Angeles $105,897,620.00 $6,353,857.20 Darren Dreifort, $11M
Boston $96,631,677.00 $5,797,900.62 John Burkett, $5.5M
Atlanta $104,622,210.00 $6,277,332.60 Paul Byrd, $3M
San Francisco $82,352,167.00 $4,941,130.02 Robb Nen, $8.8M
Seattle $87,184,500.00 $5,231,070.00 Jeff Cirillo, $6.8M
NY Mets $116,868,613.00 $7,012,116.78 Mo Vaughn, $17M
Chicago Cubs $80,743,333.00 $4,844,599.98 Shawn Estes $3M
St. Louis $83,150,894.00 $4,989,053.64 Fernando Vina, $5.3M
Arizona $80,657,500.00 $4,839,450.00 Tony Womack, $6M
Texas $104,526,470.00 $6,271,588.20 Chan Ho Park, $12.9M
Philadelphia $70,780,000.00 $4,246,800.00 Joe Table, $5.2M
Chicago Sox $51,010,000.00 $3,060,600.00 Billy Koch, $4.2M
Anaheim $79,031,667.00 $4,741,900.02 Kevin Appier, $11.5M
Minnesota $55,605,000.00 $3,336,300.00 Eric Milton, $6M
Baltimore $69,452,275.00 $4,167,136.50 Albert Belle, $12M
Houston $70,489,840.00 $4,229,390.40 Brad Ausmus, $5.5M
Colorado $66,981,667.00 $4,018,900.02 Denny Neagle, $9M
Cincinnati $56,979,777.00 $3,418,786.62 Barry Larkin, $9M
Florida $48,368,298.00 $2,902,097.88 -
Oakland $50,360,834.00 $3,021,650.04 Jermaine Dye, $11.7M
Cleveland $48,834,834.00 $2,930,090.04 Bob Wickman, $6M
Detroit $49,163,000.00 $2,949,780.00 Bob Higginson, $11.9M
Montreal $51,949,000.00 $3,116,940.00 Fernando Tatis, $6.5M
San Diego $45,430,000.00 $2,725,800.00 Trevor Hoffman, $9M
Kansas City $40,518,000.00 $2,431,080.00 Brent Mayne, $2.75M
Pittsburgh $54,542,099.00 $3,272,525.94 Kevin Young, $6.6M
Milwaukee $40,627,000.00 $2,437,620.00 Glendon Rusch, $4.25M
Toronto $51,279,000.00 $3,076,740.00 Cory Lidle, $5.35M
Tampa Bay $19,630,000.00 $1,177,800.00 Rey Ordonez, $6.5M
sum of contributions w/out Montreal $123,688,756.20
Potential Montreal payroll $175,637,756.20

I had to list two players for the Yankees, because nine or ten million dollars is a LOT of money, but maybe we can suspend the ridiculous Yankees Revenue SHaring Tax for a year or something, y'know?

Interestingly enough, Florida did a pretty good job of avoiding having any real albatrosses on the payroll. They had a pretty low salary to begin with, and the few big-ticket guys they had were all reasonably productive. And of course, we can't count Montreal's own payrollin contributions to its own payroll. That would be silly.

The point of listing those players (The Overpaid All-Stars) is not that the team couls or should take away the salaries of those players to give them to better (or healthier) players. It's simply to point out that what I'm suggesting, in most cases, would be neither the largest expenditure nor the most ridiculous investment most of these teams have made in the last year, much less the last several seasons.

And assuming that they could have done this, take a look at what their lineup could have been by signing free agents to the deals they got elsewhere and making a few key trades:

Starting Lineup
SS Miguel Tejada $12.00M
2B Jose Vidro $7.00M
CF Vladimir Guerrero $14.00M
RF Manny Ramirez $20.50M
LF Gary Sheffield $13.00M
1B Rafael Palmeiro $4.50M
3B Troy Glaus $9.00M
C Javy Lopez $7.50M

C Gregg Zaun $0.50M
1B Travis Lee $2.25M
OF Kenny Lofton $3.10M
3B Robin Ventura $1.20M
OF Raul Mondesi $1.75M
IF Mark McLemore $0.73M

Offense Total $96,300,000.00

RP-R Armando Benitez $3.25M
RP-L Arthur Rhodes $3.10M
RP-L Ricardo Rincon $1.30M
RP-R Tim Worrell $2.75M
RP-R Scott Sullivan $2.50M

SP-R Javier Vazquez $10.00M
SP-L Greg Maddux $ 8.00M
SP-L Kevin Brown $15.00M
SP-R Curt Schilling $12.00M
SP-R Bartolo Colon $13.25M
Pitching Total $71,150,000

Team Total $167,450,000

Are you telling me that this team wouldn't kick butt?

They already had Vazquez and Vidro under contract, and now they could afford to resign Guerrero. They could afford to pick up the Manny Ramirez contract when Boston dangled him on waivers last winter, and most of the rest of these guys were free agents. They had some talent on the roster already, which could be used to trade for Troy Glaus, Curt Schilling and Kevin Brown. Brown, especially, would not require much back in trade, since the Dodgers really wanted to clear salary more than anything. They could send Orlando Cabrera to Anaheim in the trade for Glaus, to give them someone who could eventually play 3B. Between the Starting and relief talent the Expos already had and their newfound ability to take on big salaries, they could make the trades for Schilling, Glaus and Brown with little or no trouble at all.

As we learned in our previous endeavor, looking at attendance, fans go to see games when the team plays well, so how much better a way could we come up with to drum up attendance in Montreal? Besides that, Maddux and Palmiero are sure fire Hall of Famers, setting potential milestones in each game they play. There must be at least two or three more HoFers in that lineup as well, which always helps fans to be able to say that they saw the Montreal SuperTeam back when Manny Ramirez was just a marginal Hall of Famer...

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