When the 1994 MLB season was suspended in August because of a labor dispute, the Montreal Expos had an MLB-best 74-40 record. Considering that the team employed Pedro Martinez, Ken Hill, Jeff Fassero, Larry Walker, Moises Alou, Cliff Floyd and Marquis Grissom, that shouldn't be especially surprising. The 1994 season, of course, never resumed and Felipe Alou's squad never got a chance to win the first World Series title in franchise history.
The Expos relocated to Washington D.C. and became the Nationals after the 2004 season. There's always been quite a bit of curiosity about whether the team would have been able to survive in Montreal if the 1994 season had been allowed to play out in its entirety.
But what about if they had completed what could have been a franchise-altering trade six years later?
In December of 2000, the St. Louis Cardinals agreed to a trade with the Expos that netted them pitchers Dustin Hermanson and Steve Kline. In return, they parted with Fernando Tatis Sr. and Brett Reames. Albert Pujols, at that time, was a prospect at third base, with Cardinals' manager Tony La Russa acknowledging that both he and Tatis Sr. probably couldn't co-exist in the long run, as noted by Kevin McCann of St. Louis Sports Online.
They traded Tatis Sr. after a disappointing age-25 season. However, in 1999, Tatis Sr. had slashed .298/.404/.553 with 34 home runs, 107 RBIs, 21 stolen bases and a 3.2 fWAR. He had even been rewarded with a four-year contract in March of 2000, suggesting the team felt he was part of their long-term plans. However, McCann noted that Tatis Sr.'s approach declined after getting his new deal, which made him the pick to be traded. It's not said up front, but the indication is that if the Cardinals had elected to bank on a rebound year from Tatis Sr. - which wouldn't have been a ridiculous idea - Pujols would have been shipped to Montreal to complete the trade.
Of course, Pujols made himself a pretty appealing prospect in 2000, which also factored into the decision to keep him. After the Cardinals selected him in the 13th round of the 1999 MLB Draft, Pujols exploded in his first season in the team's system. Across three levels of the minor leagues, Pujols hit .314 with 19 home runs and 96 RBIs in 2000, earning him the honor of being named the team's Minor League Player of the Year.
Quickly, the Cardinals were rewarded for holding onto Pujols, as he slashed .329/.403/.610 with 37 home runs, 130 RBIs and a 7.2 fWAR en route to winning the National League Rookie of the Year. At the height of the Steroid Era, Pujols finished fourth in National League MVP voting in his first major league season. Meanwhile, Tatis Sr. played in just 41 games for the Expos that season, posting a -0.8 fWAR.
Ironically, Pujols didn't even end up playing third base on a primary basis in 2001. Placido Polanco emerged as the team's starting third baseman. With Mark McGwire in his final major league season, first base wasn't open either, so Pujols almost served in a super-utility role, playing 78 games in the outfield in 2001.
Meanwhile, the Expos finished in the basement of the National League East in 2001, going 68-94. One player wasn't going to fix that. You do wonder, though, what the addition of Pujols would have meant for the outlook on the team's future. Future Hall of Famer Vladimir Guerrero Sr. made his third consecutive All-Star team in 2001, slugging 34 home runs and driving in 108 runs. 24-year-old righty Javier Vazquez had a big season as well, going 16-11 with a 3.42 ERA and 6.1 fWAR across 223.2 innings. If you add Pujols into that young core, the outlook for the Expos' future would have been pretty bright.
Instead, the Expos had a bleak final few seasons north of the border. While they actually won 83 games in both 2002 and 2003, they regressed to just a 67-95 record in 2004 after Guerrero left in free agency to sign with the Los Angeles Angels. With constant questions looming about television deals and the ability to fund a new stadium, the Expos relocated to Washington D.C. after the 2004 season.
Rather than a possible deal for Pujols, the deal that came to define the final few years of the Expos' existence was one made in July of 2002. The Expos, in seemingly a positive development, bought at the trade deadline attempting to reach the playoffs. They acquired RHP Bartolo Colon from the Cleveland Indians. Colon would go 10-4 with a 3.31 ERA in 17 starts with Montreal, but the Expos finished 12 games back of the San Francisco Giants for the National League Wild Card spot. What's worse, while Colon would be traded to the Chicago White Sox that offseason, the Expos had given up three future All-Stars to acquire him; Cliff Lee, Grady Sizemore and Brandon Phillips.
Of the historical trade rumors in our series, Pujols to the Expos was probably the furthest from actually happening. Still, it's worth mentioning because the Cardinals were seemingly operating under the belief that both Tatis Sr. and Pujols couldn't be a part of their long-term plans. Had the Expos been able to convince the Cardinals to instead part with Pujols, perhaps their final few seasons in Montreal would have been more memorable. And who knows, maybe enough team success could have persuaded all parties involved to keep the team in Montreal.