From Larry Walker to John Wetteland to Pedro Martinez, Montreal Expos talent seemed to head south as quickly as the club could develop it. By 2002, it seemed possible that the Expos were playing their final season in Montreal and the threat of contraction put the organization's future in jeopardy. So they surprised some people when they acquired an All-Star caliber player mid-way through the 2002 season.
GM Omar Minaya obtained Bartolo Colon and Tim Drew from the Indians for Cliff Lee, Grady Sizemore, Brandon Phillips and Lee Stevens.
The Canadian Press wrote that Minaya made a "stunning acquisition," and some of Colon's teammates agreed. C.C. Sabathia told the AP the move was a "big blow," a "shock."
Combine a bold GM, a franchise in peril and a division title within reach and you'll see some surprising moves.
The Expos were in the playoff race after acquiring Colon on June 27th, 2002. They trailed the Braves by 6.5 games and found themselves 5.0 games behind the Wild Card-leading Diamondbacks. At the time of the trade, many writers pointed to the Expos' rotation depth; Colon joined Javier Vazquez, Tomo Ohka and Tony Armas Jr. to form one of the Senior Circuit's deepest rotations.
Colon played well for the Expos. He pitched 117 innings of 3.31 ERA ball, allowing less than a hit per frame and striking out two men for every one he walked. The Expos won 83 games – more than they'd won since 1996 – but it wasn't enough to topple the Braves, who won 101 times.
The Indians weren't in a position to make a playoff run so, like this year and last, they dealt their ace away. But not even GM Mark Shapiro can hope his recent deadline deals turn out as well as the one he made in 2002.
Shapiro told the AP at the time that the Indians were "clearly moving to a total rebuilding process." So how did he plan to rebuild the franchise? Start with an athletic center fielder and a left-handed ace.
Sizemore, who was 19 at the time of the trade, has combined power, speed, plate discipline and defense to become one of the league's elite players. Lee followed up his 2008 Cy Young campaign with a strong start that allowed Shapiro to obtain four Phillies prospects for him in a midseason trade.
Lee Stevens was a non factor and the Indians sent Phillips to the Reds for Jeff Stevens in a 2006 trade. Shapiro sold low on a second baseman who plays strong defense and has a 30-30 season to his name. But they acquired talent to spare for Colon, who was under team control for a year and a half after the trade.
The Expos traded Colon to the White Sox after the season. In return, they obtained Rocky Biddle, Orlando Hernandez, Jeff Liefer and cash. Minaya's gamble turned the Expos' top minor leaguers into a trio of considerably less valuable players. A playoff appearance would not necessarily have prevented the Expos from moving to D.C. after 2004, but the Bartolo Colon trade was anything but the solution to the organization's problems.