|Monday, November 5
Expos, Twins could go in contraction plan
By Sean McAdam
Special to ESPN.com
Now that the 2001 season is history, Major League Baseball owners will meet in Chicago on Tuesday to make some history of their own.
On the agenda: the elimination of two teams, three franchise shifts and two club ownership transfers.Here are some of the nagging questions surrounding the issue -- and some corresponding answers:
Q: Why is baseball thinking about contracting -- or eliminating -- the Montreal Expos and Minnesota Twins?A: In a word: leverage. While commissioner Bud Selig continues to say that every possible measure will be considered to solve the game's "myriad" of economic woes, contraction is something of a red herring, since, although it does eliminate two struggling franchises, it does nothing to address the issue of competitive imbalance or the need for additional revenue sharing. Q: What leverage is gained by contraction? A: For the first time in recent memory, owners can make the Players Association come to them to bargain for the 50 jobs that would be lost in contraction. That's not insignificant for the owners, who have lost at nearly every turn at the labor table. Suddenly, the Players Association would be put on the defensive. That alone would change the dynamics of the upcoming negotiations toward a new collective barganing agreement. Q: Why the Twins and Expos? A: The Expos have struggled almost since their inception to gain a foothold in Quebec, mostly to no avail. They've become known as a breeding ground for terrific talent, but have been unable to retain those players as they approach free agency. They were outdrawn by several minor-league franchises last season. Also, because they exist outside the U.S. border, they can be folded without political fallout. Baseball zealously guards its anti-trust exemption and doesn't wish to antagonize members of Congress or the White House with labor talks on the horizon. Reportedly, that's one reason why baseball decided to spare the Florida Marlins -- out of fear that it would make enemies with Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, and his brother George, the First Fan. As for the Twins, owner Carl Pohlad has grown restless with a franchise he purchased in 1984, and is frustrated with his inability to secure public financing for a new ballpark in either Minneapolis or St. Paul. Q: What do Pohlad and Expos owner Jeffrey Loria get for their troubles? A: Pohlad will get somewhere between $200-$250 million to shut down the Twins, not a bad return on his original investmant of $34 million some 17 years ago. Loria, meanwhile, will take over the Florida Marlins. Florida owner John Henry, like Loria, has been unable to get backing for a new ballpark.
Q: And what of Henry?A: The musical ownership chairs continue here as Henry leaves south Florida for Southern California, buying the Anaheim Angels from Disney, which has been quietly attempting to sell for the last two years.
Q: What happens to the Twins and Expos players?A: The Twins players will be made available to the remaining 28 teams in the form of a dispersal draft, with teams selecting in reverse order of finish.
As for the Expos, plans are underway for Loria to select a handful of players -- three major players and five from the minor leagues, indicate some reports -- to go to Florida.Similarly, Henry will take a like number of Marlins to the West Coast with him. The remainder of the Expos would also be placed in the dispersal draft. It's unclear what will become of the hundreds of players in the Montreal and Minnesota minor-league systems. Q: Will Minnesota lose major-league baseball for good? A: Not necessarily. Currently, baseball doesn't have a viable relocation or expansion city available to it, always a good bargaining tool when a municipality, county or state balks at funding a new ballpark. If the Twins move, the Minneapolis-St. Paul area will be a landlord looking for a baseball tennant. It happened in hockey. When Norm Green couldn't get a new arena built for the Minnesota North Stars, he took them to Dallas. Then, when hockey got ready to expand, it moved back into the Minneapolis-St. Paul market, where there was already an appetite for hockey and ... ta-da! ... a new area awaiting the NHL. Q: Speaking of the Twins, is this a good business move for baseball, having to fork over as much as a quarter of a billion dollars? A: Probably. Although $250 million isn't pocket change, baseball will no longer be cutting the Twins' revenue-sharing checks for as much as $20 million annually. Add in the larger pieces of the TV rights fees and other revenue streams, and it won't take long to make up the payout, especially if baseball expands back into the area -- for more than the $250 million being sacrificed. Q: Why allow the moving owners to take players with them? A: The last thing commissioner Bud Selig wants is to risk high-profile All-Stars like Vladimir Guerrero or Brad Radke declared free agents in a legal challenge by the Players Association, this flooding the market with a handful of players who, at least in the case of Guerrero, would command eight-figure annual salaries. The next-to-last-thing Selig wants is for bottom-feeding, small-market teams like Kansas City and Pittsburgh to select Guerrero, then deal him to the Dodgers or Yankees because they can't afford the outfielder. Q: Does Selig have the votes necessary to approve contraction? A: Selig's chief failure as commissioner has been his inability to build a consensus among owners, many of whom couldn't agree on the day of the week it is or whether the sun will come up tomorrow. If Selig is successful, it will be because he can convince them that the leverage gained at the bargaining table will outweigh any losses incurred in the political arena from angry public officials. If he's not, it won't be because of a lack of effort. Selig kept a low profile during the World Series, but privately, according to sources, was attempting to win votes from owners. Q: If Montreal and Minnesota fold, that leaves each league with an odd number of teams -- 13 in the American League, 15 in the National League. How is that resolved? A: Realignment. Texas will move from the AL West to the AL Central, a plan that pleases Rangers owner Tom Hicks since it means more road games played within his team's own time zone, and potentially, improved TV ratings. Hicks disliked the unbalanced schedule as a member of the AL West since it meant too many late starts in Seattle, Oakland and Anaheim. In the NL, Pittsburgh will move from the six-team Central to the NL East, filling the void left by the Expos. And, in the biggest move of all, Arizona will move from the NL West to the AL West. Q: Why Arizona? After all, weren't they just crowned NL champions, two weeks before becoming world champions? A: Yes. But the Diamondbacks will be moved because they can be moved. When they were granted an expansion franchise, it was with the provision that they -- along with fellow expansionite Tampa Bay -- could be relocated without objection in their first five years. That clock is ticking, and if the Diamondbacks aren't moved now, they could fight it in the future. Q: What's Jerry Colangelo's position on switching leagues? A: He's against it, citing Phoenix as a long-time National League market, by virtue of spring training and Pacific Coast League affiliations. But Colangelo got a loan guaranteed by Major League Baseball when he was having trouble meeting his payroll, so he's in no position to contest this -- legally or otherwise.
Q: So there will be no rematch between the Yankees and Diamondbacks next October?A: Not unless it comes in the American League Division Series or American League Championship Series. Q: Who are the big losers under the realignment plan? A: In the short term, the Oakland A's and Seattle Mariners get hit from both sides. Not only do they get the defending world champion Diamondbacks in their division -- and plenty of up-close-and-personal looks at the two-headed pitching monster that is Curt Schilling-Randy Johnson -- but they also get an improved Angels team to contend with. If Henry brings some additional pitching -- say, Ryan Dempster, A.J. Burnett and Josh Beckett -- with him and adds it to a staff that already includes terrific arms like Ramon Ortiz, Scott Schoeneweis and Jarrod Washburn, the Angels might have the best young staff in the league for years to come. Q: What's the strangest aspect to all this? A: Try this: Bob Brenly might manage the National League in next July's All-Star game -- as is customary for the manager of the defending league champs -- while players like Johnson, Schilling and Luis Gonzalez compete against him -- as members of the AL squad!
Sean McAdam of the Providence Journal covers baseball for ESPN.com.