4 Montreal Expos The franchise may be going places, but one stop won't be the postseason

April 04, 2004

Twenty-five years ago, when Olympic Stadium in Montreal was the
giddiest ballpark in the majors, Expos rallies were accompanied
by fans singing, "Val-di-ri, val-di-ra," the refrain from The
Happy Wanderer. No longer happy, the Expos are now professional
wanderers who will again play 22 games in San Juan. That makes
103 road games, so much travel these guys should stay at a
bedouin-and-breakfast. The Expos--les Expos in Montreal, los
Expos in Puerto Rico--play only three of their first 26 games in
Canada, a schedule that could put the team in a deep hole.
General manager Omar Minaya believes that if his players return
home in early May with a .500 record, they will challenge in the
National League East. If not ... well, this could be a daunting
year in any language.

Unfortunately the Expos travel like a car-sick toddler. They were
officially 31-50 on the road last year (plus 13-9 in Puerto
Rico). The players remain convinced that a 25-game Montreal to
Florida to Philadelphia to San Juan to Seattle to Oakland to
Pittsburgh to Montreal trip last May and June--the most
ill-planned excursion since Napoleon got a hankering to see
Moscow--ultimately undermined them. "We were better than the
Marlins last year," says reliever Joey Eischen, pointing out that
the Expos were tied with four teams for the NL wild card on Aug.
28. "We were supposed to battle them to the end, but we had no
wind left in our sails because of our schedule. Twenty-two extra
road games beats you down."

Manager Frank Robinson ordered a tougher spring training
conditioning program to help prevent fatigue over the long haul.
But while the Expos may be in better shape physically, the fact
remains that they operate under different rules than the other 29
major league teams. For instance, Montreal was not allowed a
handful of September call-ups who might have bolstered a fading
team because Major League Baseball, which owns the Expos,
wouldn't spring for the $150,000 or so it would have cost to
expand the roster. Despite operating with one hand tied behind
his back, Minaya has been creative in engineering trades for
righthander Bartolo Colon and outfielder Cliff Floyd in 2002 and
nearly landing Juan Gonzalez last year. His payroll remains at
roughly $40 million--one of the lowest in the league.

Still, the Expos, 83-79 in each of the past two seasons, have
muddled through, though they may not be so resourceful this year.
Over the winter they lost All-Star rightfielder Vladimir
Guerrero, who signed with the Angels as a free agent, and faced
with a possible $10 million arbitration settlement with No. 1
starter Javier Vazquez, they traded him to the Yankees. But they
received first baseman Nick Johnson in the deal with New York and
signed rightfielder Carl Everett and third baseman Tony Batista
as free agents. Given Montreal's reputation in baseball as
Siberia on the St. Lawrence, the signings were surprising.
(Montreal last signed a marquee free agent 20 years ago, a
42-year-old Pete Rose.) "We had to do some selling to Everett,"
Minaya said, "but he played against us [with the Rangers] in
Puerto Rico last year and liked how we went about things."

In a city that has embraced baseball mavericks such as Bill Lee,
Pascual Perez and Oil Can Boyd, the ebullient Everett should be a
cult hero by June if he's on a 100-RBI pace. (He had 92 in
splitting last season between the Rangers and the White Sox.)
Batista hit 26 home runs and drove in 99 runs for the Orioles
last season but struck out 102 times and drew only 28 walks in
631 at bats. The three newcomers, along with superb second
baseman Jose Vidro and shortstop Orlando Cabrera, will have to
produce consistently to compensate for the loss of Guerrero.

Righthander Livan Hernandez is the ace of the staff. If righty
Tony Armas Jr., who is out until May while recovering from
shoulder surgery, is healthy and if righthander Zach Day matures,
the Expos could mix it up with the division heavyweights.
However, the rotation is so thin and the farm system so bare
after years of ditching prospects because of fears that the team
would be sold or contracted, one significant injury could bury
them. But then the Expos are used to life on the precipice. --M.F.

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN IACONO LIVAN LARGE The 240-pound Hernandez has pitched more than 215 innings in five of the last six seasons. COLOR PHOTO: MLB PHOTOS/GETTY IMAGES EVERETT

IN FACT

No other hitter saw more pitches per plate appearance last year
than Brad Wilkerson, who averaged 4.37.

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

"THEY'VE GOT big holes to fill with Vladimir Guerrero and Javier
Vazquez gone, but you've got to tip your hat to G.M. Omar Minaya.
Carl Everett was a good signing for them; he'll get them some
runs. He was a solid citizen last year with the White Sox and the
Rangers, so maybe he's finally matured.... Getting out of New
York could be good for Nick Johnson. He can relax and will have a
lot less pressure on him.... Livan Hernandez is coming off a
career year, but I don't know if he can do it again. Vazquez was
an ace, and now they don't have a No. 1 or a No. 2 in the
rotation.... There's not a lot of depth in the bullpen or a lot
of veteran relievers. Rocky Biddle doesn't have an overpowering
out pitch to make him a dominant closer, but he does a decent
job.... They could be right in the division race at the All-Star
break, one or two games over .500, but they really don't have a
chance to win it. Pitching costs too much money, and this team
can't afford to spend in order to stay competitive."

THE LINEUP
projected roster with 2003 statistics

BATTING ORDER

CF Bergeron
2B Vidro
1B Johnson
RF Everett
SS Cabrera
LF Wilkerson
3B Batista
C Schneider

PETER BERGERON*
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L-R 234 .302 1 32 12

BRAD WILKERSON
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L 124 .268 19 77 13

CARL EVERETT [New acquisition]
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
S-R 63 .287 28 92 8

ORLANDO CABRERA
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 52 .297 17 80 24

JOSE VIDRO
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
S-R 112 .310 15 65 3

TONY BATISTA [New acquisition]
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 134 .235 26 99 4

NICK JOHNSON [New acquisition]
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L 114 .284 14 47 5

BRIAN SCHNEIDER
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L-R 283 .230 9 46 0

BENCH

TERMEL SLEDGE (R)*
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L 216 .324 22 92 13

ANDY FOX [New acquisition]
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L-R 339 .194 0 8 1

ROTATION

PITCHER PVR W L IPS WHIP ERA

RH Livan Hernandez 45 15 10 7.1 1.21 3.20
RH Tony Armas Jr. 165 2 1 6.2 1.06 2.61
RH Tomo Ohka 80 10 12 5.9 1.40 4.16
RH Zach Day 95 9 8 5.7 1.45 4.18
RH Claudio Vargas 171 6 8 5.5 1.33 4.34

BULLPEN

PITCHER PVR W L S WHIP ERA

RH Rocky Biddle 88 5 8 34 1.55 4.65
RH Luis Ayala 120 10 3 5 1.10 2.92
RH T.J. Tucker 273 2 3 0 1.38 4.73

2003 RECORD
83-79
fourth in NL East

MANAGER
Frank Robinson
third season with Montreal

New acquisition
(R) Rookie
B-T: Bats-throws
IPS: Innings pitched per start
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
*Triple A stats
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 142)

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)