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Casual Friday: Who will be the last Expo?

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We're entering the eleventh season since the Montreal Expos moved to Washington and became the Nats. There are five players remaining in MLB who played for the Expos at some point. Who will be the last man standing?

Big Bart is one of the final five Expos.  While he's the oldest of the remaining Expos, he also clearly had the best season in 2014 of the remaining bunch.
Big Bart is one of the final five Expos. While he's the oldest of the remaining Expos, he also clearly had the best season in 2014 of the remaining bunch.
Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

I'll throw in a small preface about how I know that some of you may not be fans of this subject matter.  I know that many in D.C. don't consider the Expos to have anything to do with the current franchise.  There are some of us who were Expos fans and remained loyal to the franchise through the move, though.  Maybe this is for them.  Also, if this subject matter annoys you, just wait until I finish up something else I'm working on....

After the 2004 season, the Montreal Expos packed their bags and headed to Washington.  2015 will be the eleventh season since the Expos became the Nationals, so it's not surprising that the number of players who played in the bigs for the Expos is starting to dwindle.  As we near the start of the 2015 season, there are just five former Expos with a real shot at playing in the majors this season.  I'll note that just one of these players spent any time as a Washington National.  Two others were members of the final Expos squad that were traded/released by the Nats during the 2004-05 offseason.  Let's have a look at their Expos' history and their current roles to see if we can figure out which MLB player will be the final Montreal Expo.

Endy Chavez (37)

Acquired: February 22, 2002 as a waiver claim from the Mets

Left the organization: Traded May 14, 2005 to the Phillies for Marlon Byrd

Currently: In the Seattle Mariners camp on a minor league invite

We'll start with the only remaining Expo that actually stuck around (briefly) with the franchise through the move.  Chavez played a whopping seven games for the Nationals in 2005, going 2 for 9 as a pinch hitter and defensive replacement before being traded to the Phillies.  Chavez spent three seasons with the Expos.  The final two of those seasons saw him as the starting center fielder.  These were the only two seasons in Chavez's career in which he was really anything more than a fourth outfielder.  His five home runs in both 2003 & 2004 are a career best.  His 18 steals in 2003 and 32 steals in 2004 are the two best figures of his career.  Chavez also managed his career highs in doubles (25), triples (6), runs (66), and RBI (47) while he was a member of the Expos.

Of course, Chavez's main contribution on a big league field throughout his career has been as a fourth outfielder.  Throughout his career, Endy's glove has been well ahead of his bat.  Now 37, Chavez's most useful skill seems to be fading.  A plus defender throughout most of his career, Chavez has actually had three straight seasons where he's provided negative defensive value (-1.6, -9.5, -6.5 defensive runs above average).  His experience, his willingness to play in a backup role, and the fact that he can still provide passable defense at all three outfield positions could help him hang around just a little while longer, but the end is nigh.

My best guess: He may catch on somewhere in 2015, though I'm not optimistic that it will be in Seattle.  I wouldn't be surprised if this is his last season, though.

Bartolo Colon (41)

Acquired: June 27, 2002 (with Tim Drew) from Cleveland for Cliff Lee, Brandon Phillips, Grady Sizemore, and Lee Stevens

Left the organization: January 15, 2003... Traded to the Chicago White Sox (with Jorge Nunez) for Orlando Hernandez, Rocky Biddle, and Jeff Liefer

Currently: Projected to be a member of the New York Mets opening day rotation

As someone who was an Expos fan, I'll always call the deal for Colon "Minaya's Folly."  GM Omar Minaya had a team that had remained fairly competitive in the first half of 2002.  He attempted to make a deal that would bolster the team's chances of making a run to the playoffs and drum up excitement from a city that wasn't very supportive near the end.  Eventually, he would use his time with the Expos and parlay it into a job as the GM of the division rival Mets (thank you Mets) so that he could make several devastating moves that dimmed their future.

Of course, Cliff Lee went on to have some moderate early success before peaking a bit late and winning the Cy Young in 2008.  From 2008-2014, he never had an ERA higher than 3.65.  Now 36, Lee has a serious injury that may end his career.  Phillips, a shortstop prospect at the time, also took a few years (and another organizational/positional change) before finally busting out with Cincinnati in 2007.  He's never had the superstar tag that Lee earned, but he did turn in a 30/30 campaign (2007) and a couple of other 20/20 campaigns (2008 & 2009) while providing gold glove defense at second base.  Sizemore was considered the biggest impact prospect of the three at the time of the deal, and he peaked very early in his career.  Though he didn't reach the majors until 2004, Sizemore contributed 26.9 fWAR from 2005-2008.  Injuries derailed the young superstar's career in 2009, and he hasn't been the same since.

Colon did have a strong second half for the Expos that season, going 10-4 with a 3.31 ERA and a 1.31 WHIP.  Unfortunately, they finished in second place (83-79) in the NL East, 19 games behind the Braves and 12 games behind the wildcard winning Giants.  He was dealt the following offseason and later won a Cy Young award (though Johan Santana should have won it) with the Angels.  As an Expos fan who has complained about how much that trade shattered the future of the organization for years, I have to mention that Colon (2.1 fWAR) accrued more WAR in 2014 than any of the three prospects he was traded for back in 2002.

My best guess: Colon doesn't have the overpowering fastball that was his bread and butter early in his career, but he may have some longevity... even at 41.  He's recreated himself as a terrific pitcher who can get by despite throwing a bunch of slop.  Though his age and... umm... rather unathletic build don't necessarily suggest that he'll play much longer, I wouldn't be surprised if he plays two or three more seasons.

Scott Downs (39)

Acquired: July 31, 2000 from the Chicago Cubs for Rondell White

Left the organization: November 29, 2004... Released by the Nationals

Currently: In camp with the Cleveland Indians on a minor league contract

Way back when Downs was a member of the Expos, he was a starter.  He spent more than four years in the organization, though he did miss a full year with injury (IIRC, Tommy John) during that time.  He was never really a good big league starter, but he was a starter.  After being released in 2004, Downs hooked on with the Toronto Blue Jays, where he moved to the bullpen.  Downs spent a few years as a long man/swing man, making the occasional start for the Jays.  Since 2007, he's exclusively been a reliever, a move which greatly improved his effectiveness and the longevity of his career.

Since transitioning to the bullpen in 2007, Downs has an ERA of 2.68 (roughly half of his 5.35 ERA as a starter in his career).  He led the league in appearances in 2007 (81) while posting a season long ERA under 2.00 three times.  Downs did not have a very good 2014 season, though, as he finished with a 4.97 ERA (though it was 3.14 after a trade to the AL champion Royals).  He's now landed in Cleveland's camp, where I would think he'll have a good shot at sticking around as a LOOGY.

My best guess: LOOGYs tend to hang on a lot longer than most players.  If last year's performance becomes a trend, I would think that he only has a couple of years left.  If not, he could probably continue to come in and face a couple of batters per game until he's 45.

Bruce Chen (37)

Acquired: April 5, 2002 with Dicky Gonzalez, Saul Rivera, and Luis Figueroa for Scott Strickland, Phil Siebel, and Matt Watson

Left the organization: June 14, 2002... traded to Cincinnati for Jim Brower

Currently: In camp on a minor league deal with the Cleveland Indians

If you forgot Chen was an Expo, I don't blame you.  I've tried.  Chen made 15 appearances and 5 starts for the Expos in less than half a season with the organization.  He had a 6.99 ERA and 1.88 WHIP in his 37.1 innings with the 'Spos.  Chen has had a few decent seasons in his big league career as a swing man, but he certainly never reached the ceiling projected for him early in his career.

In 2014, Chen was expected to be a member of the Royals' rotation before an injury opened the door for Danny Duffy to take his place.  Duffy would go on to finish 9-12 with a 2.53 ERA in Chen's spot.  Chen returned to his previous role as a swing man and finished 2-4 with a 7.45 ERA in 15 games (7 starts).  He was released in September, but is now trying to make Cleveland's bullpen.

My best guess: Like Downs, Chen is a lefty, which could help to prolong his career a bit.  That said, I would be surprised if he goes north with the Tribe.  There's a chance that his left-handedness helps to keep him around for another year or two, but I wouldn't be shocked if he's thrown his last inning in the majors.

Maicier Izturis (34)

Acquired: January 5, 2004 with Ryan Church from the Cleveland Indians for Scott Stewart

Left the organization: November 19, 2004.  Traded (by the Nats) with Juan Rivera to the Anaheim Angels for Jose Guillen

Currently: Competing for the starting second base job in Toronto.  He'll make the club as a utility man if he doesn't win the job

Much like the other position player on this list (Chavez), Izturis' biggest assets are his glove and his versatility.  He's not the complete zero with the bat that his brother Cesar was, but he has below average power, average on-base skills, and just slightly above average speed.  As that brief profile would suggest, Izturis has spent most of his career as a utility man.  He plays more frequently than most utility men, but he's never reached 500 plate appearances in any single season.  He did have 300+ plate appearances in every season from 2006-2013 before spending most of 2014 on the disabled list.

At this point in his career, Izturis is a veteran middle infielder who can maybe hold down a second base job until someone with a brighter future is ready.  Unlike everyone other than Colon, Izturis is under contract on a big league deal, which has a pretty reasonable $3 million option for 2016 for a player of his caliber.  Izturis does have another advantage in this race in that he's the youngest (by three years) of the remaining Expos.

My best guess: Izturis will stick with the Blue Jays for the next two seasons.  How he plays these next two years will determine whether he hangs on any longer than that.  He'll hit the free agent market as a 36-year-old utility man after 2016.  Though he probably won't have an exorbitant asking price, I'm not sure he'll have that easy a time finding a landing spot.