Coming into 2015, there were seven “active” players who previously suited up for the Montreal Expos. In no particular order, they were Luis Ayala, Scott Downs, Bruce Chen, Endy Chavez, Maicer Izturis, Bartolo Colon, and Jon Rauch. Chen retired before the start of the season. Ayala is pitching in the Mexican League after spending all of the 2014 season in the minor leagues. Rauch did not pitch in the minor leagues after failing to latch on with the Kansas City Royals in spring training. The tallest pitcher in baseball history’s biography lists him as a former major leaguer, so it seems safe to assume his career is over. Downs, who had the longest active career without appearing in the postseason, is 39 years old and did not make an Opening Day roster. The 37-year-old Chavez does not appear to be playing professional baseball anywhere after failing to make the Seattle Mariners roster (That doesn’t mean he’s done, however. After the Apocalypse, Earth will be left with Twinkies, cockroaches, and most likely Endy Chavez playing baseball somewhere.). Izturis played 11 games for the Toronto Blue Jays last year, and just had season-ending shoulder surgery. He will be 35 at the start of next season. After essentially two years away from the big leagues, it would appear his career is over.
That leaves Colon to bear the torch for the Montreal Expos.
To me, that is rather fitting, and quite surprising. Ever the picture of physical fitness, did anyone really expect the 42-year-old Colon to be playing in the Major Leagues this long? Well, he is, and he is not doing all that poorly. Colon currently sports a 9-9 record with a 4.60 ERA. That’s tolerable for a number-five starter.
Let’s get back to Colon’s status as the final Expo, though.
Colon was acquired by the Montreal Expos on June 27, 2002. Montreal was surprisingly in contention at the time with a 41-36 record, 6.5 games behind the Atlanta Braves and 5.0 games behind the Arizona Diamondbacks in the Wild Card hunt. Their roster still featured Vladimir Guerrero (caught stealing a ridiculous 20 times that season), Jose Vidro (one of the most criminally underrated players in the history of the game), and Orlando Cabrera. The starting rotation wasn’t bad either, with young pitchers Javier Vazquez, Tomo Ohka, and Tony Armas Jr. at the top, but the team needed an ace.
Luckily, the Expos were owned by Major League Baseball and puppet General Manager Omar Minaya had the green light to do just about whatever he wanted. Minaya sent Brandon Phillips, Cliff Lee, Grady Sizemore, and Lee Stevens (obviously the steal in the trade) to the Cleveland Indians for Colon. Colon delivered 17 exceptional starts for the Expos, going 10-4 with a 3.31 ERA and four complete games. Ultimately, the Expos ran out of steam and finished 19.0 games behind the Braves, but they did post a winning record for the first time since 1996. Colon was dealt to the Chicago White Sox after the season for a star-studded package that included Rocky Biddle, Orlando Hernandez, Jeff Liefer, and cash. Cash was clearly the most important part, as Major League Baseball continued to bankroll the Expos.
The Expos surprisingly contended again in 2003, Guerrero’s final season North of the Border. They faded to another 83-79 finish after the league decided to save a few thousand dollars and not call up any minor leaguers in September. I suppose they deemed spending $35 million to keep the Expos afloat a large enough act of charity.
Lee, Phillips, and Sizemore went onto become All-Stars after leaving the Expos organization. All three would have been quite appealing to the Washington Nationals in 2005 when the Expos graciously ceased to exist. Instead, the Nationals were stuck with the remaining scraps the owners were kind enough to leave with the Expos. Even though they were able to grind out 81 wins in their inaugural season, the Nationals then posted six consecutive losing seasons before finally emerging from their post-Montreal doldrums. It’s hard to imagine things being that difficult with Lee, Sizemore, and Phillips on board at the time of the move. Injuries have derailed the careers of Lee and Sizemore, but Brandon Phillips continues on at near-All-Star levels of production. All of them could have been Nationals, and may have contributed to a Washington World Series title by now.
There could not be a more fitting player to serve as the final player who proudly wore the red, white, and blue of the ‘Spos. He symbolizes all that went wrong when Major League Baseball graciously took the reins from Jeffrey Loria. It is not a good idea for 29 other owners to control a single team. There is no real way for the team to be managed impartially or rationally. Do you think the Cleveland Indians owner would have signed off on a similar trade if the roles were reversed? It’s hard to imagine many owners of a team barely sniffing playoff contention entertaining the idea of mortgaging the future to rent a pitcher for three months.
Bartolo Colon‘s career will most likely end following the 2015 season, effectively removing the last vestiges of the Expos franchise from the league. Enjoy him while you can, and Vive les Expos!