Montreal Expos: Building a team to keep the franchise in town

VERO BEACH, FL - CIRCA 1992: Pitcher Pedro Martinez #37 of the Montreal Expos pitches against the Los Angeles Dodgers during a Major League Baseball spring training game circa 1992 at Holman Stadium in Vero Beach, Florida. Pedro played for the Expos from 1994-97. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
VERO BEACH, FL - CIRCA 1992: Pitcher Pedro Martinez #37 of the Montreal Expos pitches against the Los Angeles Dodgers during a Major League Baseball spring training game circa 1992 at Holman Stadium in Vero Beach, Florida. Pedro played for the Expos from 1994-97. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images) /
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Well, Montreal Expos fans, what few of you there still are, we’ve reached that day again. You know the one. The day which lives in infamy for all of us.

Here we are, nearly 17 years after Nos Amours (and I don’t even speak French) last played a game, and I still can’t get enough of the franchise I fell in love with as a kid. I’ve seen all Annakin Slayd’s Expos videos, and wait for the next. I’ve read all Danny Gallagher’s Expos books, and eagerly await the release of the next one in October. Just today, I wore my “Why not us, why not now,” Expos shirt, even though much maligned former owner Jeffrey Loria promoted the motto heavily.

Do you ever move away from your first love? With baseball, I haven’t. Yes, I cheer for the Washington Nationals because they were born from the Expos. Jose Vidro, Brad Wilkerson, Ryan Church, they wore Expos blue before donning the Nats red. I knew the history of Expos baseball, so it was easy to switch over and begin appreciating the Nationals lore as it happened. Sure beats trying to research 90-plus years of some other franchise or jump on a bandwagon of a perennial winner.

Rather than cry over spilled milk again (I reserve Blue Monday for those emotions), in rehashing that 1994 season when a 74-40 Expos team was destined to win the World Series. Larry Walker, Kenny Hill, Marquis Grissom. Sorry, about to knock that glass of milk over. Rather than trudge through the ’94 season again, I’m going to speculate on the ’98 season. The season which could have saved baseball in Montreal.

For this fantasy, we aren’t talking baseball politics. We aren’t talking Claude Brochu. We’re barely going to get into salaries. Is everything you read after this paragraph, outlandish, impossible, and wishful thinking? Yes. Come on, I’m an Expos fan, let me have something.

With the benefit of hindsight, we construct an Expos unit in 1998 which keeps the team in Montreal and still has them playing baseball today

While this will have some George Constanza, “I think I’ve found a way to get Bonds and Griffey without giving up too much”, some of these moves wouldn’t seem far fetched if the Expos brass would have spent some money. Their 1998 payroll was just over $8M. Total. For the whole ball club. They put the small, in small market team.

Our orchestrating begins way prior to ’98 though, say, the 1993 MLB Draft. Instead of taking Chris Schwab, an outfielder who tallied ten total ABs above Double-A in his career, the Expos drafted outfielder Torii Hunter instead. By ’98, Hunter would move Rondell White to left field, with an in-his-prime Vladimir Guerrero in right field.

1994 happened. The strike washed away the remaining games and the 74-40 Expos were left to have a fire sale. We won’t rewrite that history. We’ll just negotiate a little better. John Wetteland, one of the best closers in baseball, still traded to the New York Yankees. Not for Fernando Seguignol and cash though. Keep your money, George, and send us your No. 3 prospect, pitcher, Andy Pettitte.

Kenny Hill. He was your ’94 National League Cy Young winner were it not for a work stoppage. He still goes to the St. Louis Cardinals, but not for three guys you’ve never heard of. We’ll take your No. 1 prospect, pitcher Alan Benes. That’s all. Just him. Straight up.

At the conclusion of the 1997 season Montreal traded a guy who did win the Cy Young for them. Pedro Martinez. Martinez wasn’t a free agent until the following year though. Trading him early meant the Expos were getting maximum value out of him following his stellar season. This is where it gets tricky. Our whole plan revolves around this trade not going down, and the Expos building around this future Hall of Famer.

The Expos have to pay Pedro. In 1998 he made $7.6M playing in Boston. Just about what the 25 men in Montreal made. Therefore, Expos brass dug deep, banked on their team, and wrote the check (just asked Martinez not to cash it until after the season).

Locked into Pedro and destined to bring in a couple other arms, free agent Andy Benes jumps at the opportunity to pitch in the same rotation as his brother, Alan. Free agent Rod Beck is signed for the bullpen to set up Ugueth Urbina. And sure, free agent Andres Galarraga will take a hometown discount. Yes, he’s coming off a 40 homer, 140 RBI season, but he’ll play for peanuts (good, because that’s what they’d have to pay him) to return to the franchise which gave him his first shot.

Martinez is the ace of a staff which includes a young Pettitte and Benes (better than a young Carl Pavano and Trey Moore), an elder Benes, and Javier Vazquez.

Across the infield is Galarraga, Wilton Guerrero (true, light hitting, but good glove and keeps brother Vladdy happy) Mark Grudzielanek and Shane Andrews (who hit 25 HRs in ’98).

We’ve spent too much money the way it is, so Chris Widger is still your catcher. Someone has to play cheap.

On the strength of their pitching, namely Pedro and Pettitte, the Expos battle the Atlanta Braves down the wire (had ’94 not happened, the Expos win the World Series, and the Braves are the ones having a fire sale and rebuilding at this point. Oh yeah, spilled milk).

Come trade deadline time, the Expos, who have always had a great farm system (they are called the minor leagues for the rest of the league aren’t they), decide to part with a trio of players for a lengthy left-hander, who made his Major League debut in Montreal. Instead of being traded to Houston, Randy Johnson finds his way back up north.

The wins pile up. Fans flock back to the Big O. Everyone is happy. Baseball is thriving in Montreal.

World Series or not (yeah, they made the playoffs, Pedro pitched them there, remember), there is enough excitement (and money in the bank) to re-sign Martinez and go after a couple other free agents. Jose Vidro and Orlando Cabrera are coming through the system, Jeffrey Loria never buys the team, Bud Selig doesn’t get involved, no talk of contraction, no move to Washington, DC.

Next. Manfred needs to address foreign substance policy. dark

I see uniforms of white, and pin stripes blue. I see hugs from Youppi for me and you. And I think to myself what a wonderful world.