5 Montreal Expos The team without a country will play in Canada and Puerto Rico. And pray for help

March 31, 2003

The Expos are one team that is never safe at home. While the
threat of contraction has apparently vanished, relocation after
35 seasons looms larger than ever. The team, which is owned by
Major League Baseball, has already taken one step out the door
with the decision to play 22 of its 81 home games in Puerto Rico.
If this is not a naked cash grab--Montreal stands to make $7
million to $10 million in San Juan--it is lightly clothed, as
befits the Expos' new tropical setting. "We're like an old
barnstorming team," says reliever Dan Smith. "We'll go anywhere
for half the gate--San Juan, Poughkeepsie, Toledo. I'm hoping we
get a couple of games in southwest Missouri, close to my home."

The additional revenue should prevent further salary dumps such
as marquee starter Bartolo Colon, who was in Montreal for half a
season before being dealt to the White Sox in January. The
problem is that the Expos will play what amounts to 103 road
games, competitively unfair for any team but especially for one
that does not travel well: Montreal was 34--47 on the road last
season but thrived in the privacy of Olympic Stadium, finishing
with the second-best home record in the division. "You can call
those 22 games [in Puerto Rico] home games," general manager Omar
Minaya says, "but when you sleep in a hotel, they're road games."

Minaya worked with one hand tied behind his back in 2002--a $38
million payroll--and still figured out a way to acquire Colon
from the Indians on June 27 and rightfielder Cliff Floyd from the
Marlins two weeks later, bolstering manager Frank Robinson's run
at the National League wild card. (However, Montreal lost 11 of
14 during one July stretch and promptly traded Floyd to the Red
Sox just 19 days after he had arrived.) The Expos wound up second
in the NL East, with their first winning record since 1996. Now
faced with a $40 million budget, the bold G.M. is ready to
perform more magic with lead weights on his ankles. "I feel
confident we'll be able to improve the team without taking on
salary," Minaya says, "if we're in the hunt."

That is a long shot. The rotation is solid if not glitzy and will
benefit from the addition of 33year-old Orlando (El Duque)
Hernandez, who was acquired from the Yankees in a three-team
trade. The Expos have starting pitchers from Puerto Rico (Javy
Vazquez), Cuba (Hernandez), Venezuela (Tony Armas Jr.) and Japan
(Tomo Okha). Catcher Michael Barrett enjoys the diversity
because it gives him a chance to use the six years of Spanish he
took in school and the Japanese he picked up playing
instructional ball in Hawaii.

Of course the centerpiece of any success will be 27-year-old
rightfielder Vladimir Guerrero, who is in the final year of a
five-year, $28 million contract and figures to be in his final
season as an Expo. Minaya vows not to trade him as long as
Montreal is in contention--"I suspect if someone buys the team in
August, he might want Vlad on it," says Minaya. The free agent
market was soft last winter, but it had no fabulous five-tool
player entering his prime. Guerrero, who has struck out roughly
once in every eight at bats in his career, a minuscule number for
a power hitter, was one home run short of a 4040 year. He led the
league in hits and total bases and batted .336 without a reliable
No. 5 hitter behind him for protection. Known for having one of
the strongest outfield arms in baseball, Guerrero also tied for
the NL lead with 14 outfield assists. "And he's not even close to
being maxed out," Robinson says.

Guerrero could use help from Fernando Tatis, whose shoulder and
knee are healthy enough that he is no longer submarining his
throws from third base, and shortstop Orlando Cabrera, who had a
nightmarish season at the plate (.263 average) and in the field
(29 errors). Right now the only other pencil-it-in offensive
force is switch-hitting second baseman Jose Vidro, who hit .315
with 19 homers and 96 RBIs last season.

Vidro, like fellow Puerto Ricans Vazquez and first baseman Wil
Cordero, will feel right at home in San Juan. Vidro's mother,
Daisy, who has never seen her son play a major league game, lives
about 46 miles southwest of San Juan. "We talk about it a lot,"
says Vidro, 28. "I'm looking forward to playing with my family
sitting in the stands. I know a lot of guys on this team are
excited about it." They will be frolicking at Hiram Bithorn
Stadium, a home away from their deserted home in a city that fell
out of love with baseball. --M.F.

COLOR PHOTO: STEVE MOORE COUNTING THE DAYS Guerrero, a five-tool free-agent-to-be, doesn't figure to be the Expos' main attraction after 2003. COLOR PHOTO: RICK STEWART/GETTY IMAGES VAZQUEZ

IN FACT

By leading the league with 206 hits last season, Vladimir
Guerrero became the only active player with 200 or more hits in
two NL seasons.

ENEMY LINES
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Expos

"The corners of the infield are glaring weaknesses. First baseman
Jeff Liefer can hit an 86mph fastball out of the park, but that's
about it. In camp the Expos also used Wil Cordero at first--he
can't catch a cold--and Jose Offerman, who looks 50 years old.
Third base isn't any better: Fernando Tatis is a dog, a guy who
doesn't react to the ball coming off the bat. They'd dump him in
a heartbeat, but nobody wants him.... Montreal is pretty good up
the middle with shortstop Orlando Cabrera, second baseman Jose
Vidro and centerfield Endy Chavez, who is a good defensive player
and has a lot of speed. The big question is, Will he hit? ... I
like leftfielder Brad Wilkerson. He hits righties, he hits
lefties, and he has some pop in his bat.... Vladimir Guerrero is
amazing. I've never seen a guy square up on a baseball no matter
where it's pitched or what type of pitch it is. He gets the fat
part of the bat on the ball all the time.... I love Javier
Vazquez, but he needs to mature and pitch to his potential. If
Tony Armas ever pitches as good as his stuff, he'll be lights
out; right now he's an underachiever.... The bullpen is a
problem. I don't know how closer Scott Stewart gets big league
hitters out."

THE LINEUP
projected roster with 2002 statistics

BATTING ORDER

CF Chavez
2B Vidro
3B Tatis
RF Guerrero
1B Liefer
LF Wilkerson
SS Cabrera
C Barrett

ENDY CHAVEZ

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

L 214 .296 1 9 3

JOSE VIDRO

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

S-R 53 .315 19 96 2

FERNANDO TATIS

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

R 191 .228 15 55 2

VLADIMIR GUERRERO

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

R 1 .336 39 111 40

JEFF LIEFER [#]

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

L-R 156 .230 7 26 0

BRAD WILKERSON

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

L 163 .266 20 59 7

ORLANDO CABRERA

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

R 146 .263 7 56 25

MICHAEL BARRETT

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

R 190 .263 12 49 6

BENCH

WIL CORDERO

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

R 308 .267 6 30 2

BRIAN SCHNEIDER

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

L-R 272 .275 5 29 1

ROTATION

PITCHER PVR W L IPS WHIP ERA

RH Javier Vazquez 34 10 13 6.8 1.27 3.91
RH Orlando Hernandez[#] 105 8 5 6.4 1.14 3.64
RH Tony Armas Jr. 66 12 12 5.7 1.38 4.44
RH Tomo Ohka 68 13 8 6.2 1.24 3.18
RH Zach Day 149 4 1 3.8 1.15 3.62

BULLPEN

PITCHER PVR W L S WHIP ERA

LH Scott Stewart 74 4 2 17 1.11 3.09
RH Tim Drew 181 1 0 2 0.88 2.81
LH Joey Eischen 194 6 1 2 1.14 1.34

[#]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 157)

2002 RECORD

83--79
second in NL East

MANAGER

Frank Robinson
second season with Montreal

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)