Expos deal in 2002 has a `what-if' spin

AL notebook

Baseball Week

July 31, 2005

For those of you wanting the Orioles to make a whatever-it-takes trade because they are in contention for the first time in eight years, here's a cautionary tale.

One made possible by former Baltimore boy, Mark Shapiro, the Cleveland Indians general manager. It has been a little more than three years ago since Shapiro made a blockbuster trade with baseball's ward, the Montreal Expos.

At the time, the Indians were seven games out of first in the American League Central. The Expos were 6 1/2 games out of first in the National League East. But the Indians traded their best starter, Bartolo Colon, to Montreal for three prospects.

Colon went 10-4 with a 3.31 ERA in 17 games for the Expos, but Montreal didn't come close to the postseason. That winter Montreal traded Colon to the Chicago White Sox in a three-way deal for three players who are no longer in their system. Meanwhile, the Indians held onto the three Montreal prospects. Now, the Tribe is in legitimate wild-card contention, partially because of those players.

Center fielder Grady Sizemore, who turns 23 Tuesday, looks like a budding superstar. And left-handed pitcher Cliff Lee, 26, already has double-digit wins and is becoming an unlikely ace.

The only disappointment was the jewel of that trade, infielder Brandon Phillips, who has failed to hit big league pitching. He's in Cleveland to work with hitting coach Derek Shelton, not to play. But he's still only 24.

As for the Expos, turned Washington Nationals, they are also in the thick of the pennant race in the National League. They have holes, though. They had to trade for center fielder Preston Wilson; they could use another solid starter and someone to replace weak-hitting shortstop Cristian Guzman at the plate.

Imagine where they would be if they still had Sizemore, Lee and Phillips.

Nomo help

It has gotten this bad. The New York Yankees are scouring Florida for pitching. First they grabbed Al Leiter from the Florida Marlins' scrap heap. Last week they claimed Hideo Nomo (5-8, 7.24 ERA) off waivers from baseball's ultimate landfill, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays' starting rotation. And they actually feel good about it.

"He's one of the premier pitchers of all time in terms of what he's accomplished in Japan and then coming here," Yankees GM Brian Cashman said. "You look at Nomo, and you compare him to our in-house choices, and it's a no-brainer."

Nomo, 36, is 9-19 with a 7.70 ERA in 184 2/3 innings since the beginning of 2004. Since baseball started tracking ERA in the early 20th century, only Hal Elliott of the 1930-1931 Philadelphia Phillies had a higher mark (8.10) while pitching at least 150 innings over a two-season span, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Quick hits

After his average dropped 30 points, Detroit Tigers third baseman Brandon Inge was given a day off, breaking his consecutive games streak at 141. ... It took 58 days for the Oakland Athletics to go from the third-worst team in baseball to the leader in the American League wild-card chase. ... Pedro Borbon Jr., 37, is at Triple-A Salt Lake and could be recalled by the Los Angeles Angels if they don't trade for a reliever.

League notebooks are compiled from interviews, wire services and reports from other newspapers.

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