Rating the Trade

It was great to see the Expos finally trade for top tier talent instead of trading it away and the acquisition of Bartolo COlon might very well help them compete with the Braves down the stretch, but was this deal a good one for them?

The specifics of the deal are:

The Expos get Bartolo Colon, Tim Drew and cash.

The Indians get Brandon Phillips, Cliff Lee, Grady Sizemore and Lee Stevens

We are pretty familiar with the major league talent that's being exchanged here, so we know that trading Bartolo Colon (one of the best power pitchers in the AL) for Lee Stevens (a good field, occasional hit first baseman in the NL) is decidedly in favor of the Expos.  Surprisingly enough, both players make about the same money: Colon makes $4.8 million, Stevens, $4 million.  The big difference is that after each's contract is up, Colon's salary will go up because he's in the prime years of his career, Stevens will go down because he past that age.

So do the minor leaguers the Expos included make up the difference?  Phillips is one of the top 10 hitting prospects in the minors.  Though he's a shortstop by trade, he has played third and second base as well.  Sizemore is a toolsy outfielder.  What isn't revealed in their numbers is that Phillips just turned 21 and Sizemore will turn 20 in August.  Which means they are a couple of the youngest players in their leagues.  Both players are on track to make the majors by the time they are 22, which is a good marker for potential All-Stars.

BATTERS    LVL   AVG   G  AB   R   H  TB 2B 3B HR RBI  HP  BB  SO  SB CS DP   SLG   OBP    E
Phillips   AAA  .257  10  35   1   9  16  4  0  1   5   0   2   6   0  0  0  .457  .297    0
Phillips    AA  .327  60 245  40  80 124 13  2  9  35   5  16  33   6  3  7  .506  .380   14
*Sizemore   A+  .258  75 256  37  66  89 15  4  0  26   2  36  41   9  9  6  .348  .351    3

Cliff Lee will turn 24 in August, so he may not have the potential that the two hitters have.  However, he's a lefty and was dominating AA - look at his strikeout per innings - so it's clear that he wasn't just a throw in.  Drew is the same age but was pitching in AAA, and while his ERA there is solid, his strikeout rate does not instill a great deal of confidence that he's gonna be a solid starter in the majors.  Looking back, he hasn't had a solid strikeout rate since 1998, when he was playing in the South Atlantic League.  Lee, on the other hand, has been striking hitters out right and left since he was drafted out of college in 2000.

Drew, Tim     8-4   3.27  15 15  2   2 96.1  96  368  402  43  35  6  3  4  4  23  1  43  3  2
*Lee, Cliff   7-2   3.23  15 15  0   0 86.1  61  310  336  31  31 12  1  1  1  23  0 105  2  0

So was it worth trading 3 potential star players for 1 ace starter?  My answer is no.  And there are several reasons.

The first is that there will very likely be a strike this season, leaving the Expos less time to make up that 6.5 game deficit on the Braves.  If the strike lasts for more than a couple weeks, there's little chance that the upgrade of Colon will make up that difference.

Secondly, the Expos likely won't be the Expos next season.  Unless they are contracted, which is a distinct possibility (although moving them makes much more sense as the logistics of contraction are becoming increasingly muddled) wouldn't they be better off with cheap talent that they can keep for the next decade than with a guy they're gonna have to pay at least $12 million a year after his current contract runs out in 2003?  If they are moved to DC, as some suspect, they won't have a strong revenue stream from a new stadium for several years.  That team would likely be seeking ways to cut salary initially, not take more on.  Letting Colon walk would go a long way toward that end.

Lastly, let's assume there isn't a strike this year and that the Expos aren't contracted.  These three players are the Expos' 3 best prospects.  What happens if the Braves trade for Jim Thome?  Or the Mets trade for Cliff Floyd?  The Expos would have no answer for their competition's upgrades.  GM Omar Minaya has already peddled away their 4th best prospect, Donnie Bridges, for a guy who might one day make it as an outfield reserve, and traded a talented young pitcher, Bruce Chen, for a mediocre middle reliever.  The cupboard is essentially bare in Montreal and Minaya has nothing to show for it except for Bartolo Colon.  In a year in which teams will likely take table scraps for contracts they are trying to get out from under, dealing this much talent for so little in return borders on the insane.

The irony is that while it may work out that Colon pushes the Expos into the division lead and further makes a mockery of Selig's contraction plan, contraction itself might be the only thing preventing the Expos (or whoever has this team next year) and their fans from regretting this deal in the long term.