Possible contraction scenario changes

By John Perrotto
November 6, 2001

Major League Baseball has revamped its possible contraction plan, which introduces major changes for the possible dispersal draft.

Reports of two teams being contracted before the start of next season, dropping the number of teams in the major leagues from 30 to 28, have been hot and heavy the past two weeks. Such teams as the Anaheim Angels, Florida Marlins, Minnesota Twins, Montreal Expos, Oakland Athletics and Tampa Bay Devil Rays are being mentioned as possibilities.

Management sources with teams considered for contraction have said over the past two days that Minnesota and Montreal will be the teams eliminated if contraction takes place. Whether MLB can legally contact teams is open to question. The Major League Baseball Players Association will likely fight any attempts to fold the two franchises in court and argue that players on those clubs should be made free agents rather than be subjected to a dispersal draft.

Emerging as the most likely contraction scenario is Montreal owner Jeffrey Loria taking over Florida and Marlins owner John Henry taking over Anaheim. Meanwhile, MLB would then pay a buyout — possible as much as $250 million — to both the Disney Corporation, owners of the Angels, and Carl Pohlad, owner of the Twins.

However, it appears not all of the players from the Expos organizations would automatically go into a possible dispersal draft, though Twins players would. Furthermore, it appears any team not affected by contraction would not select a player in the dispersal draft until the fifth pick.

Under a deal that has been discussed between Loria, Henry and MLB, Loria would be allowed to take three Montreal major-league players and five Expos minor-league players to the Florida organization. Henry could take the same number of Marlins players to Anaheim. The remaining players from the Expos and all the players with the Twins would then go into a dispersal draft.

However, Loria and Henry would also get two picks each for Florida and Anaheim at the beginning of the draft before the remaining clubs would select in the same order they will pick in next June's amateur draft. That means the Pirates would have the No. 5 choice.

Amateur draft order is determined by the reverse order of finish in each league for the previous season with the No. 1 pick alternating between the National League and American League. The Pirates had the worst record in the NL this year at 62-100 and Tampa Bay matched that mark in the AL. However, the Pirates have the No. 1 choice because 2002 is the NL's year to pick first.

With Florida and Anaheim getting two picks each at the start of a dispersal draft and Loria being able to take three players with him, the dispersal pool would be somewhat shallower than originally thought.

Most likely, Loria would keep standout right fielder Vladimir Guerrero and pitcher Javier Vazquez in his employ. The third player to stay would almost certainly be either second baseman Jose Vidro or shortstop Orlando Cabrera.

With the first four picks by Florida and Anaheim, Vidro or Cabrera would probably be taken along with three of four Twins: pitchers Joe Mays, Eric Milton and Brad Radke. Minnesota shortstop Cristian Guzman could also be in that group.