Olney: For MLB teams, doing right by staff members now will pay dividends later

The last great selloff of the Montreal Expos began in the midst of the 1994-1995 work stoppage, as ownership anticipated massive financial losses from the shutdown. The Expos allowed Larry Walker to walk away as a free agent and traded center fielder Marquis Grissom, starting pitcher Ken Hill and closer John Wetteland.

As team owner Claude Brochu looked for ways to save money, however, he did not take aim at the baseball operations department. There was no baseball after mid-August in 1994, and no certainty of a season at the outset of '95, but there were no firings or furloughs.

"That was a good organization," recalled former Expos general manager Dan Duquette, who had moved on from Montreal in February 1994. "You had a lot of dedicated people in that organization, people who gave their life to baseball."

A small-market team, the Expos built an extraordinary culture of player development -- but also in front-office talent. Just as the Cleveland Indians and Tampa Bay Rays are now regarded as reliable sources for baseball operations help, the Expos churned out (among others) Bill Stoneman, Bob Gebhard, Dave Dombrowski, Gary Hughes, Duquette and Kevin Malone. At the time of the players' strike, the Expos' administrative assistant for the minor leagues -- presumably one of the lowest-paid members of the organization -- was Neal Huntington, who later would become the general manager of the Pirates for more than a decade.

"They knew that whatever they invested [in baseball ops staff] would be returned many times over," Duquette said.

It's an example worth pondering among baseball owners at a time when there is industry fear -- anticipation, really -- of massive layoffs in the weeks ahead. Major League Baseball fields are empty, ballpark gates closed, concession stands shuttered. The $11 billion revenue river has dried up, and while league and team officials and union leaders must and will weigh contingency plans, nobody knows for sure when the sport will open for business again; a hot spot of coronavirus cases, like those just experienced in the safe haven of the White House, could derail any restart.