4 Montreal Expos Reversing their old practice, the Expos spent some bucks in hope of contending

March 27, 2000

On the first day of spring training Felipe Alou reintroduced
himself to his young Expos. In the past the players might have
likened their skipper to a post-graduate career counselor, as if
his main duty was to help them find jobs with richer ball clubs.
Now times have changed. Nobody was going anywhere, Alou said, and
he expected the players to fulfill their promise in Montreal.

"The word is out from the front office that it's no longer
business as usual," says the 64-year-old Alou, who's in his ninth
season with the Expos. "This is what we were waiting for. The
entire organization is being challenged."

Throwing down the gauntlet is new general partner Jeffrey Loria,
a 59-year-old New York art dealer and longtime Yankees
season-ticket holder who took over the Expos in December. Loria
has promised to keep the team in Montreal and is putting together
the financing for a new 36,000-seat downtown stadium that would
open in 2002. By then the Expos may be ready to contend, because
Loria has vowed that Montreal will end its practice of letting
good young players like Pedro Martinez, Larry Walker, Moises Alou
and John Wetteland leave for more well-heeled environs.

Though Loria has budgeted a fairly paltry payroll of about $28
million this year, the sum is still a significant increase over
the $16 million the Expos had committed at the start of 1999. For
now the Montreal front office will continue to till its rich farm
system while making modest forays into the open market.

In the off-season Expos general manager Jim Beattie focused on
the pitching staff. He obtained Hideki Irabu--who can earn up to
$6 million in the two years remaining on his contract--from the
Yankees in December for a prospect and two players to be named
later. A day earlier he'd landed reliever Graeme Lloyd,
Montreal's first significant free-agent signee since Oil Can
Boyd, in 1989. "I really didn't think I'd be an Expo," says
Lloyd, who was persuaded otherwise by a three-year, $9 million
offer. That amount has been criticized as too generous for a
lefthanded setup man, but Loria believes he needed to sign a
decent free agent to spell out the Expos' new sense of ambition.
Top starter Dustin Hermanson, who had balked at signing a
long-term deal until the team's future became clearer, was also
locked up for three years at $15 million.

After going 14-11 with a 3.13 ERA in 1998, the 27-year-old
Hermanson responded poorly to the expectations of being the team
ace and was a disappointing 5-12 going into last September. "Then
I started throwing from different arm positions, different
angles, the way I used to," says Hermanson, who was 4-2 with a
2.45 ERA after Aug. 31. With a rotation that also includes
promising righthanders Javier Vazquez and Carl Pavano, and a
deeper bullpen, the Expos should make even better use of closer
Ugueth Urbina, who won or saved 47 of Montreal's 68 wins last
year.

The other phases of the game--fielding, hitting and running--are
still in doubt. The Expos were the worst defensive team in
baseball last year. In lieu of significant personnel changes the
Expos hired infield coach Perry Hill away from the Tigers, who in
1997 became the first American League team to leap from worst to
first in fielding percentage. In '98 three of Detroit's four
infielders finished among the top four in their league at their
positions.

The Montreal offense is built around rightfielder Vladimir
Guerrero, who set seven offensive club records and finished in
the top 10 in the National League in 11 categories in 1999. Best
of all, the Expos have locked him up through 2003 as part of a
bargain five-year, $28 million deal they struck in September
1998. But who's going to protect Guerrero in the middle of the
order? Montreal failed in its off-season attempts to deal for
hard-hitting third basemen Vinny Castilla and Jeff Cirillo. Now
the most likely candidates are newly acquired Lee Stevens, who's
coming off the best season of his career, and Michael Barrett,
who hit .293 last season as he shuffled back and forth between
catcher and third base. This year Barrett will probably stay at
third. "Playing one position is going to give me a chance to work
on my hitting a little more," he says.

The Expos also need to set a more appetizing table for Guerrero.
They had the second-worst on-base percentage (.323) in baseball
and went through nine leadoff hitters last year. The candidates
for the top of the order are unproven centerfielders Peter
Bergeron and Milton Bradley (who's obviously a gamer). Whoever
wins the job must set an aggressive example on the base
paths--only two teams in the majors stole fewer bases than the
Expos last year.

Montreal is talking about contending for the wild card
immediately, but it's asking too much of Alou to reverse
misfortune overnight. A .500 finish would be a nice start. --I.T.

COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO HEAVY BAGGAGE Irabu comes with a fat contract and a reputation for being in poor shape, but he has held batters to a .250 average over the last two years. COLOR PHOTO: CHUCK SOLOMON

around the Horn

OFFENSE
[2 stars]
DEFENSE
[1 star]
STARTING PITCHING
[2 stars]
BULLPEN
[3 stars]
MANAGER
[4 stars]

by the numbers

1999 Team Statistics (NL rank)

Batting average .265 (11)
Runs scored 718 (14)
Home runs 163 (13)

1999 record: 68-94 (fourth in NL East)

Opponents' batting average .270 (11)
ERA 4.69 (9)
Fielding percentage .974 (16)

next up...

Righthanded reliever Guillermo Mota says he'd never thrown a
pitch in an organized baseball game before the Expos selected him
in the Rule 5 minor league draft, in December 1996. At the time
he was an infielder in the Mets' system. "On a lot of my throws
the first baseman would say, 'Hey, you hurt my hand!'" Mota says.
Having proved that he couldn't hit (he had a .241 minor league
average), he was asked by Montreal if he would consider pitching.
"Everything was totally new," says Mota, who had to be taught how
to wind up. As a rookie in '99, he was 2-4 with a 2.93 ERA in 51
games. Armed with a fastball that tops out in the mid-90s, Mota
and the Expos expect bigger things in 2000. "He could become a
stopper someday," says general manager Jim Beattie. "He
challenges hitters. Maybe that comes from his perspective of
knowing that it's not easy to hit." Or is it? In Mota's first
(and only) at bat in the majors last summer, he hit a three-run
homer.

the lineup
projected roster with 1999 statistics

Manager: Felipe Alou (ninth season with Montreal)

BATTING ORDER B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

CF Peter Bergeron* (R) L-R 93 .314 3 20 14
2B Mickey Morandini L-R 260 .241 4 37 6
LF Rondell White R 118 .312 22 64 10
RF Vladimir Guerrero R 10 .316 42 131 14
1B Lee Stevens L 130 .282 24 81 2
3B Michael Barrett R 152 .293 8 52 0
C Chris Widger R 197 .264 14 56 1
SS Orlando Cabrera R 273 .254 8 39 2

BENCH

IF Jose Vidro S-R 188 .304 12 59 0
IF Geoff Blum S-R 283 .241 8 18 1
OF Milton Bradley (R) S-R 291 .329 12 50 14
OF Wilton Guerrero S-R 300 .292 2 31 7
OF Manny Martinez R 329 .245 2 26 19

STARTERS PVR W L IPS WHIP ERA

RH Dustin Hermanson 69 9 14 6.4 1.36 4.20
RH Javier Vazquez 136 9 8 5.9 1.33 5.00
RH Hideki Irabu 133 11 7 5.9 1.33 4.84
RH Carl Pavano 178 6 8 5.7 1.46 5.63
RH Mike Thurman 184 7 11 5.4 1.31 4.05

BULLPEN PVR W L S WHIP ERA

RH Ugueth Urbina 16 6 6 41 1.26 3.69
LH Graeme Lloyd 175 5 3 3 1.26 3.63
RH Guillermo Mota 196 2 4 0 1.43 2.93
RH Miguel Batista 210 8 7 1 1.51 4.88
LH Steve Kline 226 7 4 0 1.28 3.75
RH Anthony Telford 237 5 4 2 1.56 3.94

New acquisition
(R) Rookie
B-T: Bats-throws
IPS: Innings pitched per start
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 164)
*Triple A stats
Double A stats

the book
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Expos

"This is an exciting young team with a chance to be very good
pretty soon. If the Expos minimize mistakes and don't give away
outs, they could finish .500.... Peter Bergeron and Milton
Bradley are both topflight prospects who are probably ready now.
Bradley reminds me of Carl Everett. He can hit for power, he's a
very good outfielder, and he's probably faster than Everett. He
does have a bit of a chip on his shoulder--he's had some problems
with umpires.... I love Michael Barrett. He's an above-average
defensive player at third and catcher. They'll likely keep him at
third, but they could put him behind the plate, and he'd be one
of the league's best defensive catchers.... Mickey Morandini was
terrible last year, but he's looked great this spring, and he
still drives fastballs.... I'm impressed with Carl Pavano. He's
hitting 92 to 94 mph, and he has a hard slider.... Dustin
Hermanson is an enigma. Against one hitter he looks like Greg
Maddux. Then he faces another, and it's gone. If he doesn't
mature, he could spend his career as a bottom-of-the-rotation
guy."

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)