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MLB Unveils P.R. Games…2 Gems Likely To Stay… Keeping Team Intact Would Be Good Business… To Move For '04

Baseball, Expos Unveil Puerto Rico Games


December 17, 2002
Copyright © 2002 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- Roberto Alomar has won 10 Gold Gloves, two World Series titles and made 12 All-Star teams. For the first time in his career, he'll get to play at home.

Baseball and the Montreal Expos formally announced Tuesday that the club will play 22 homes games in Puerto Rico next season.

Puerto Rican-born players, including Alomar of the New York Mets, Atlanta's Javier Lopez, Anaheim's Bengie Molina and Juan Gonzalez of the Texas Rangers are looking forward to playing there, even as visitors.

"To me, this is a dream come true," Alomar said. "To wear a major league uniform and to play on my island is the biggest thing that has happened to me in my career."

The plan to bring the Expos to Puerto Rico depends on whether Hiram Bithorn Stadium will meet baseball's specifications, said Tony Bernazard, the players' union representative in Latin America.

The union approved the plan earlier this month, but improvements to the stadium, including the quality of the playing field and clubhouses, must be completed before the games begin, Bernazard said.

"We hope these games are a great success," he said. "There are some things that need to be worked on, but we're confident that they'll be finished."

Major league baseball's executive vice president, John McHale, said the Puerto Rico games will be good for baseball.

"This is a giant step in the geographic development of the game," McHale said. "Puerto Rico was chosen for this event because of its rich baseball tradition, the interest of the Latin players and the success of the inaugural game in 2001," he said.

The Texas Rangers and Toronto Blue Jays opened that season in Puerto Rico.

The Expos will play the Mets (April 11-14); Atlanta Braves (April 15-17); Cincinnati Reds (April 18-20); Anaheim Angels (June 3-5); Texas Rangers (June 6-8); Florida Marlins (Sept. 5-7) and the Chicago Cubs (Sept. 8-10).

"This is going to be a great baseball party," Expos General Manager Omar Minaya said.

The Expos are being operated by the commissioner's office. Some games were moved to Puerto Rico because of lagging attendance in Montreal over the past few years. ?

Expos' 2 Gems Likely To Stay

Phil Rogers

December 13, 2002
Copyright © 2002 CHICAGO TRIBUNE. All rights reserved. 

NASHVILLE -- Although the Montreal Expos are under orders to cut payroll, it is considered unlikely they will deal either of their two most prized players, right fielder Vladimir Guerrero and right-hander Bartolo Colon.

Major-league executives say Expos general manager Omar Minaya is expected to try to arrange a series of trades involving lesser-paid players during baseball's winter meetings, which begin in full Friday. Right-handed starters Javier Vazquez and Tony Armas Jr., second baseman Jose Vidro, shortstop Orlando Cabrera, catcher Michael Barrett and reliever Matt Herges are more likely to be traded than Guerrero or Colon.

Minaya must cut the payroll of the orphaned Expos from a projected $55 million to somewhere in the range of $40 million to $45 million. He believes he can do so without damaging the long-range outlook for the troubled franchise, which improved 15 games to 83 wins in 2002 and hopes to contend for a playoff spot in 2003.

Before heading to Nashville, Minaya traveled to the Dominican Republic to explore the possibility of signing Guerrero and Colon to long-term contracts. Both are eligible for free agency after 2003 but would make the Expos more attractive to a potential owner looking to relocate the team for 2004. Washington remains the most likely site, but Portland, Ore., Newark, N.J., and San Juan, Puerto Rico, also are possibilities.

Minaya knows the Expos can't afford Guerrero or Colon operating in Montreal. But he wants to keep them as long as possible in hopes new ownership will have the resources to keep them as cornerstones.

"We're exploring something with them, but we're pretty much in the very early stages," Minaya said. "They said they had an appetite for it, and they said they would be willing to listen."

According to sources, Guerrero is expected to command at least $105 million over seven years. Any talk of an extension with Colon, who is coming off a 20-win season, would start at four years, $48 million.

Although the Expos haven't ruled out dealing Guerrero or Colon, there are other ways for them to reduce payroll.

"We have more creative ways of getting to the number we have to get to," club President Tony Tavares said. "We still have to get down, but we can make a creative deal or move somebody else."

Montreal is expected to ask a high return in exchange for any player. The Expos are interested in one- and two-year players who are not eligible for arbitration, as well as prospects who are ready to contribute.

"I was talking about this with another GM--there's an intense amount of interest in a team that maybe has to make only one significant move," Indians GM Mark Shapiro said. "That benefits them. I'm not sure anyone is going to get a bargain. You're going to have to give up a lot."

That might not be true if a team is willing to take third baseman Fernando Tatis along with someone like Vidro, who is guaranteed $5.5 million in 2003 and $7.0 million in '04, or Vazquez, who is eligible for arbitration and expected to receive about $6 million.

Tatis, who hit .228 last season and has averaged only 12 homers and 43 runs batted in since signing a four-year contract in the spring of 2000, is owed $6.75 million for '03 and a buyout for '04.

Both White Sox general manager Ken Williams and the Cubs' Jim Hendry expect to talk to Minaya.

With financial flexibility and a vacancy at third base, the Cubs fit the description of a team that could take Tatis to acquire a commodity like Vazquez, Vidro or Armas, but they deny having interest.

For the Cubs, Armas may have more appeal than Vazquez, who would join Kerry Wood and Matt Clement to give them three right-handed starters tied to the team only through 2004. Armas, who was 12-12 with a 4.44 earned-run average, is a first-time arbitration-eligible who would be under team control through 2005.

Williams will discuss Colon, Vazquez and Armas with the Expos. He also might be interested in Vidro or the arbitration-eligible Cabrera and Barrett. If the Sox added a middle infielder, they probably would have to trade Jose Valentin.

Williams also will keep a close eye on the American League Central champion Minnesota Twins. They had a payroll of $40.2 million a year. It would grow to more than $55 million if it were left intact.

The Twins saved a little money by not re-signing free-agent relievers Mike Jackson and Bob Wells. They go to the winter meetings looking to trade arbitration-eligible DH David Ortiz, who was third on the team in homers and RBIs.

Owner Carl Pohlad recently told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune that he's willing to allow the payroll to grow to $50 million. That means the Twins probably won't have to also deal someone like leadoff man Jacque Jones.

"We don't like the idea of the payroll going up that high and it means losing money," Pohlad said, "but it's unavoidable if we want to keep all of our good players and bring another World Series here."

Keeping the Expos Intact Would Be Good Business


December 13, 2002
Copyright © 2002 THE NEW YORK TIMES. All rights reserved. 

Instead of working together to emasculate the Montreal Expos, Major League Baseball owners could enhance the value of their property for only about $350,000 each.

If each of the other 29 clubs paid the additional amount for the operation of the team they own in this unique arrangement, the Expos could have a $50 million payroll for the 2003 season and retain all of their best players.

For a sum barely over the new minimum salary for one player, the owners of the Expos could create potentially valuable benefits for themselves and for baseball.

Because the Expos' best players are from Latin America, their presence in the team's lineup would assure large turnouts, sellouts most likely, for the Expos' 22 games in San Juan, P.R., next season.

With the Expos expected to be sold and relocated sometime next year, the continued presence of their best players would enhance the team's chances to be a contender and its value to a prospective buyer.

If their best players remain with them instead of going to wealthier teams like the Mets or the Atlanta Braves, the Expos would help improve competitive balance in their division and keep it from getting further out of whack in any division that Vladimir Guerrero or Bartolo Colón might go to.

Despite these potential benefits, the Expos' proprietors don't want to spend extra money on them. They have told baseball officials they would rather spend it on themselves.

That is why baseball has laid out a break-even plan for the Expos next season. To achieve that economic goal, the Expos will have to limit their payroll to about $40 million, up only $2 million from last season, instead of $50 million, where they would have to be to keep all of their best players.

As a result of that development, Omar Minaya will be the most popular person at the winter meetings, which begin in Nashville today and run through Monday.

Minaya is the Expos' general manager and will be inundated with offers for Guerrero, Colón, Javier Vazquez and maybe Jose Vidro and Orlando Cabrera. With the meetings relatively short this year, Minaya may not have time to sift through and weigh the torrent of trade proposals before he leaves the Opryland Hotel.

When he talked about his task Wednesday, Minaya was neither daunted nor depressed. "I see it as a challenge," he said, reprising his comments of last February, when he took control of the Expos' baseball operations on short – very short – notice. "I'm a little excited about how it's going to come together. I'm excited about seeing how we can put our team together for next year. I'm looking forward to going to the winter meetings. It's going to be tough, but we as a staff can get it done."

Depending on the moves he makes, Minaya could have an impact on next season's races. He would like to have only a positive impact for the Expos, but if the Yankees get Colón or Guerrero, they will be more difficult to beat. Baseball officials don't want the strong teams to get stronger and the wealthier teams to get richer on the field, but that will likely be the result of the Expos' forced moves.

Commissioner Bud Selig said he understood the possibility of that development, but he defended the desire for the Expos to break even.

"A lot of clubs are going to have to make those kind of decisions," he said. "It's not only the Montreal club. I understand we own the Montreal club. Everybody understands the Montreal club has to be run with positive economic resolve, but there are a lot of clubs making decisions like that, so the Montreal club is not alone."

The difference with the Expos, though, is that their roster, to an extent, is determined by baseball officials and other teams. The other teams determine their own rosters. Weakening a potential contender is better for other contenders.

As the general manager of the division rival Braves, John Schuerholz said that he did not mind competition, but that all teams had to deal with economic reality.

"They have to operate and manage their club the best way they feel it's appropriate," he said. "They have to make choices. It's no different than it is in Pittsburgh, Atlanta or Kansas City. The same considerations are measured. How much revenue can we generate and what kind of roster can it support?"

Unlike other teams, though, the Expos were used as a pawn in the negotiations that produced the new labor agreement in August. Presumably, by agreeing to end the effort to contract the Expos, Major League Baseball elicited some concession from the union. Perhaps the owners should view the additional cost of operating the Expos as a cost connected to collective bargaining, part of the price of gaining labor peace. Tie that approach to the potential benefits that could be derived from keeping the team intact, and it would make economic sense for the Expos to retain Guerrero and his $11.5 million salary and Colón and his $8.25 million salary.

But unless the Expos' proprietors change their stance quickly, Minaya will have to perform magic to keep the team whole.

"I'm not committed to trading any player," he said. "At the end of the day, I have to make the budget, but there's nobody specifically I have to trade."

Baseball Calls Cities On Expos' Interest


December 14, 2002
Copyright © 2002 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- While the Montreal Expos prepared to pare payroll, the commissioner's office got ready for the first step in the process of selling the team.

The commissioner's office telephoned government officials in Washington, D.C.; Northern Virginia; and Portland, Ore., and told them that if they are interested in having the Expos move to their area, they should express an interest by the end of February.

There was no formal announcement by the commissioner's office, but details were provided Saturday by a high-ranking baseball official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

"These were areas that we had heard were possibly interested, areas that we had been reported in the newspapers as possibly being interested," the baseball official said. "It was nothing formal, no forms, no questionnaire, not a request for proposal or anything like that."

After baseball's plan to eliminate the Expos and Twins last winter was stopped by the Minnesota courts, the Expos were bought by the other 29 teams for $120 million from Jeffrey Loria, who purchased the Florida Marlins for $158.5 million from John Henry, who was part of the group that paid a record $660 million for the Boston Red Sox.

The Expos are being operated by the commissioner's office, which has ordered the team to keep its payroll to about the same level as this year, approximately $40 million. To do that, general manager Omar Minaya must trade players.

To increase revenue for the Expos, whose home attendance is among the lowest in the majors, the commissioner's office is moving 21 home games next season from Montreal to San Juan, Puerto Rico.

The commissioner's office would like to sell the Expos by the 2004 season, and commissioner Bud Selig last month established a committee to be in charge of the process. No team has moved since the expansion Washington Senators became the Texas Rangers after the 1971 season.

Baseball's inquiries to cities were first reported Saturday by The Washington Post.

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