Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - For a team that has its future in question, the Montreal Expos were able to keep their focus on the field in 2003 and played above their means, finishing with an 83-79 record for a second straight season.
However, with the team limited in spending due to ownership issues, the club traded powerful righthander Javier Vazquez to the Yankees and lost Vladimir Guerrero in the offseason to free agency, as he signed a $70 million contract with Anaheim.
Staying competitive has never been tougher for the Expos and apparently the offseason losses have caught up with the team, so much that their offense is on life support.
With the team's future location in limbo and a decision expected by the All- Star break where the Expos will be in 2005, the present is far more pressing for Omar Minaya's club. As general manager of the Expos, Minaya has his hands tied as the team continues its operation under the ownership of Major League Baseball.
During the winter meetings there were rumors that the Expos wanted Juan Gonzalez, but that idea was squashed apparently because of financial reasons. Instead, the team opted for an athlete with a checkered past in Carl Everett, signing him to a two-year, $7 million contract.
Everett was supposed to replace some of the power left by Guerrero, but instead he's on the disabled list with an injured right shoulder and won't be back until at least early May.
Despite the loss of Vazquez, the team still has 15-game winner Livan Hernandez at the top of its rotation. Tony Armas Jr. will also be a big plus once he returns from the DL, but manager Frank Robinson has huge issues with his depleted offense.
The Expos came into Saturday's game at Philadelphia with a 2-8 record and just 12 runs so far this season. They entered the game with the lowest batting average (.185), on-base percentage and slugging percentage (.254). But worse was a three-game sweep by the Marlins in Puerto Rico, as Florida outscored the Expos 17-0.
The Expos touched down in Philadelphia with a franchise-record 33 inning scoreless drought. That went to 34 until third baseman Tony Batista hit a homer in the second inning of a 4-2 defeat at Citizens Bank Park. If that isn't bad enough, the little opportunities the Expos are getting so far are going to waste as they are 3-for-54 with runners in scoring position.
"We believe it's not a panic point yet," Expos second baseman Jose Vidro said. "It's still early and we have to keep pushing until we get these W's. We're going to get them. We know that. It's just a matter of time."
It's very possible the Expos could be basement dwellers in the NL East this season. Even though Montreal does have some veteran leadership with Hernandez, Vidro and shortstop Orlando Cabrera, the club took a giant step back. Still Vidro believes the Expos can come out of their offensive slump.
"It's too early to be losing confidence," Vidro said. "We have a better team than what we've shown out there. This is going to turn around."
Oh, is it?
Despite a back injury, Guerrero was the driving force in Montreal's offense in 2003. with a .330 average with 25 homers and 79 RBI, this despite him missing 50 games. Everett may attain those numbers (except for batting average) for an entire season once he returns, but the majority of Montreal's offense hardly puts fear into an opponent.
Terrmel Sledge is in his rookie year in the outfield and entering Saturday's action is hitless in 14 at-bats. Peter Bergeron is hardly the definition of a leadoff hitter as his career average hovers around .225. Juan Rivera, acquired in the offseason from the Yankees, has looked bad in the field.
"We have to count on what we have," added Vidro. "Right now we don't have Vladdy and we don't have Vazquez. We can't be thinking about them. We have to do it ourselves. We played really good in spring training with this ball club. I don't think we need those guys back. I think it's a matter of us putting some wins up there and things will change."
Who's kidding who? Vidro would love to have Vlad and Vazquez back on the team, but even he admitted baseball is a business where unfortunately a team sometimes has to cut corners.
There are other problems facing Montreal's offense. Batista missed a portion of spring training with the chicken pox and was off to a slumping start. Brian Schneider was hitting barely above .100 as was Brad Wilkerson, who was replacing an injured Nick Johnson at first base. Johnson is due back off the disabled list by the end of this month.
In all this there's just one thing Robinson can tell his team - remain positive. After all, the season is only two weeks old.
"That's what I tell them," Robinson said. "It's early in the season. Just go out and act positive and we'll get on a roll one of these days, hopefully not too long into the future."