Imagine Expos on field here next year
If team can afford him, Vladimir Guerrero would bring star power
Mais oui, les Expos viennent! (The Expos are coming!)
The Montreal Expos, the Francophone team of Quebec since 1969, are at least one year and one approved stadium financing plan away from moving to the Rose City.
But if one bold stroke leads to another and another and another, the Portland Expos/Beavers/Somethings could be playing a year from now at PGE Park and in 2007 at a new, $350 million ballpark.
Major League Baseball is expected to relocate the Expos in either Portland, northern Virginia or Washington, D.C. The decision could come by the All-Star break, July 14-16.
Et maintenant, votre Žquipe de baseball de 2004! (Introducing your 2004 baseball team!)
Since many fans live in the world of Fantasy Baseball, anyway, let's paint the picture of opening day 2004: Imagine 25,000 people jammed into PGE Park, bunting and hot dogs and peanuts everywhere, Mayor Vera Katz smiling broadly, rain holding off and real major leaguers running out to their positions.
The Atlanta Braves, the most dominant team in the National League East Division, are here for the opening series. Portland finally has its second pro franchise.
Portland's players were mostly born and bred in the Montreal system. Over the years, that system has produced many major leaguers. But, because of Montreal's small market and poor attendance (average 7,935 in 2001, 10,025 in 2002), the cash-strapped Expos often lost their best players to free agency or traded them.
Still, many minor leaguers envy their counterparts in the system, because the Expo organization always pushed its prospects to the big leagues faster than most and didn't bury prospects. And the scouts are continuing to scour Latin America, excelling at finding players in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.
Would Portland's team still be in the NL East? Hopefully not. If so, the club could be picked to finish fifth out of five, behind Atlanta, the New York Mets, Philadelphia and Florida. Another second-place finish, which the Expos achieved by going 83-79 in 2002, would be unlikely.
Vive Vladimir! (Long live Vladimir!)
What kind of team would Portland have in the former Expos? Probably one with decent, young pitching ÑÊand one player in particular the city would find exciting.
Anyone who hasn't seen Vladimir Guerrero play, well, he's terrific. A 6-3, 210-pounder with a rifle for an arm from right field. Think Roberto Clemente.
Guerrero has been one of baseball's best sluggers the past five years, a bad-ball hitter who doesn't strike out much. Last season, he hit .336 with 39 homers, 111 RBIs, 206 hits, a .593 slugging percentage, 40 stolen bases and 106 runs scored.
The 27-year-old Dominican Republic native might not like Portland's weather, but you probably wouldn't hear him complain. He grew up in extreme poverty and is grateful to be making millions. But he speaks broken English and shuns media attention.
Unfortunately, the club might lose him after the 2003 season. Set to make $11 million, he could command Alex Rodriguez-like money in 2004 as a free agent ($20 million or more). The Expos want to sign him Ñ The Montreal Gazette says the team will offer him about $90 million over five years Ñ but if negotiations don't go anywhere and ownership and a new city haven't been found, he could be dealt by the July 31 trading deadline.
Says General Manager Omar Minaya, on ESPN.com: 'We tried talking to his agent (Fernando Cuza) this winter. The response was: 'We'd be interested if we knew where the guy was going to be. If an owner was in place and a location was in place, it would be a more fruitful conversation.' '
Portland's team owners would need to budget big bucks for Guerrero. But he seems happy despite having little hope of winning championships, mainly because he grew up in the Montreal system with many teammates ÑÊincluding shortstop Orlando Cabrera, second baseman Jose Vidro, catcher Michael Barrett and pitcher Javier Vazquez, all homegrown guys and good players.
Vidro, a 28-year-old Puerto Rican, slid some last year but wasn't far off his great 2000, when he hit .330 with 24 home runs, 97 RBIs and 200 hits. He's one of the best in the bigs. Cabrera slid last year, with a bad back, but he has good years ahead of him. Left-fielder Brad Wilkerson was runner-up for NL rookie of the year in 2002, with 20 homers and 59 RBIs.
Vazquez went 16-11 with a 3.42 ERA in 2001. Despite starting this season with a strained calf, he should be better than he was last year (10-13, 3.91).
The Expos are going into 2003 with strong starting pitching, bolstered by the acquisitions of Cuban half-brothers Orlando Hernandez and Livan Hernandez. Orlando ('El Duque'), who starts on the disabled list, pitched for three World Series champions with the New York Yankees. Livan, a 1997 World Series hero for Florida, has been a durable starter, most recently with San Francisco.
Although the Expos dealt some prospects last year, the organization has a proven track record in developing young players. The best prospects now are pitchers, such as rangy right-hander Josh Karp. Also showing promise on the mound are Seung Song, Mike Hinckley and Clint Everts.
Some or all of them could be in Portland uniforms soon.
If it happens É
Au jeu! (Play ball!)