PHOENIX -- Talk of contraction has been like the sound of guns over the horizon, whispers quickly followed by logical denials of its legality or reality. But here we are, a week from the end of the World Series and the expiration of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, and everyone from clubhouse kids to the owners now know that Bud Selig and his advisors are dead serious about at least trying to pare down franchises.
Contraction would begin to reverse the damage done by two dumb and dumber expansions that cost nearsighted owners many times more than the relatively few pennies they pocketed.
Baseball players union chief Donald Fehr insists that any contraction must be a part of the new CBA. He also wonders how, other than in Montreal, politicians and courts are going to buy into a couple of teams disappearing. Major League Baseball lawyers believe that labor law allows any company to fold.
There are sources on both sides that insist contraction is a negotiable item. And that for an increased players share of the World Cup and international dollars, an increase in rosters to 27, a shorter spring training and other chips, it can happen.
So, the industry talk right now is that MLB is wary of the Florida attorney general's office. So Montreal would disband and owner Jeff Loria would get the Marlins and try to save them, with the possibility of moving them to Northern Virginia, while Marlins owner John Henry would buy the Angels from Disney.
Then, Carl Pohlad would sell the Twins to his fellow owners, who would disband the first American League team ever to draw 3 million fans.
So much for the legalities and details and lawyer talk, and, in case you don't realize it, even MLB's brightest lawyers like Rob Manfred would much rather have some fun with all this. And what could be a greater offseason story than a dispersal draft?
Look, no one knows how this would work. But best guesses right now are that MLB will claim that the contracts of the folding teams were acquired by baseball, which would allow a dispersal draft. And since the Expos and Twins don't have too many huge salaried players, they could be dispersed, with limited no-trade exceptions.
That draft would apparently include only those players on 40-man rosters, but while many feel that those not on the 40-man roster would be free agents, one general manager says, "not only would there be a tremendous bidding war for a player like Joe Mauer (the Twins catcher selected first in this June's draft), but all those great minor league prospects might end up with the cash cow teams -- which means a separate draft."
"The great thing about something like this is that a team like the Pirates, Devil Rays or Royals could take a top player and turn him into three or four really good players," says another AL GM. "Pittsburgh would have the first pick. Can you imagine what Dave Littlefield could get for Vladimir Guerrero? Or what someone could get for Javier Vazquez? If you're a fan, this could be a blast and create a lot of excitement and interest."
No, in Montreal, they won't miss it.
So here's a mock dispersal draft, starting with the Pirates taking the first pick and following going down from there, for amusement only:
1. Pittsburgh Pirates: Expos OF Vladimir Guerrero. If they choose not to pay him, they can trade him to the Yankees for 1B Nick Johnson, OF Marcus Thames and LHPs Brandon Claussen and Randy Keisler.
2. Tampa Bay Devil Rays: Money is tight, but Twins SS Cristian Guzman gives them the young shortstop and energy they lack in the organization.
3. Cincinnati Reds: Expos P Javier Vazquez. Can you imagine the deals Jim Bowden would ask for once he knew he had Vazquez. "Mr. Beane, Mario Ramos, Justin Miller and Adam Piatt don't do it. Does the name Zito mean anything anything to you? Plus ..." Bowden's first need is a No. 1 starter, and he can maneuver to clear Vazqez's estimated $4.5M arbitration number.
4. Baltimore Orioles: Twins LHP Eric Milton. Terrapin comes home.
5. Kansas City Royals: Twins RHP Joe Mays. This guy pitched better than Milton or Brad Radke. He showed he's better than you think, a front man for a staff needing one.
6. Milwaukee Brewers: Twins 3B Corey Koskie. Getting that power and grit at third makes a Jeromy Burnitz deal easier.
7. Detroit Tigers: Expos 2B Jose Vidro. Then trade Damion Easley.
8. Colorado Rockies: Twins OF Torii Hunter. The Rockies think he will hit for power and gives them two good defensive players in the outfield. Some worry about that .784 OPS, 29 walks and .306 on-base percentage and 9/6 SB/CS ratio, although he's made great strides.
9. Texas Rangers: Twins P Brad Radke. Makes sense.
10. Florida Marlins: Twins OF Mike Cuddyer. Can play 1B, or LF or 3B if they must move Cliff Floyd or Mike Lowell, and is a minimum salaried guy who's coming fast.
11. Anaheim Angels: Expos RHP Tony Armas. A potential No. 1 makes that starting staff awfully good, and if you saw this monster Robert Jenks throw in the Arizona League, you may have seen the best starter prospect out there.
12. San Diego Padres: Expos SS Orlando Cabrera. An infield of Phil Nevin at first, D'Angelo Jimenez at second, Sean Burroughs at third and Cabrera at short. Pretty darned good when you consider their young pitching could be next year's Astros.
13. Toronto Blue Jays: Twins RHP Adam Johnson. They wanted him at the July 31 deadline, and with all their young talent, he could be a cornerstone for the Yankees' prime challengers from 2003 on.
14. New York Mets: Twins 1B Doug Mientkiewicz. Keith, Olerud …
15. Boston Red Sox: Expos RHP Carl Pavano. One of these days he's going to be healthy and win 16-20 games, so why not back home?
16. Philadelphia Phillies: Twins LHP Eddie Guardado. A highly valuable commodity taken by a team needing bullpen help to protect all their superb young pitching.
17. Chicago White Sox: Expos 2B Henry Mateo. Good second base prospect, patient at the plate, a lot of talent.
18. Los Angeles Dodgers: Expos RHP Scott Strickland. If Jeff Shaw leaves, load up on the power arms at the end.
19. Chicago Cubs: Twins RHP Rick Reed.
20. Cleveland Indians: Twins OF Mike Restovich. The Indians are weak positionally in the high minors, and this kid is a right fielder with big power and potential.
21. Atlanta Braves: Twins LHP Brad Thomas. Third-starter potential. Low salary allows them to spend in the market for bats and they need some more Aussies.
22. New York Yankees: Expos RHP Guillermo Mota. Another power arm in front of Mariano. Unless they take Scott Strickland.
23. San Francisco Giants: Twins LHP Johan Santana. If they move Shawn Estes, a potential lefty starter to go with Kurt Ainsworth and Jerome Williams.
24. Oakland A's: Expos OF Brad Wilkerson. Patient, pure bat. An A's kind of player.
25. Arizona Diamondbacks: Twins 2B Luis Rivas. Doesn't walk a lot yet, but a highly skilled defender with shortstop tools and ambition.
26. Seattle Mariners: Twins OF Jacque Jones.
27. Houston Astros: Expos CF Wilken Ruan. Great tools, a CF who can fly. Might go much higher since, next to pitching, a leadoff hitting center fielder is the object of 13-16 teams' desires.
28. St. Louis Cardinals: Twins LHP
Avaliable in Round 2: Montreal: 3B Fernando Tatis, CF Peter Bergeron, RHP Zach Day, C Michael Barrett, RHP Troy Mattes, LHP Graeme Lloyd, RHP Britt Reames.
Minnesota: OF Bobby Kielty, OF Brian Buchanan, C A.J. Pierzynski, RHP Kyle Lohse, RHP LaTroy Hawkins, RHP Grant Balfour.
And what happens to Tatis' contract if no one takes him?
That's another matter.
And would Dave Littlefield take from the Mets for Guerrero? Or from the other 15 teams in line for Guerrero, Vazquez, Milton ... ?