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Home Economics Stifling Expos

August 24, 2003|ROSS NEWHAN

The 2004 schedule has to be finalized by Sept. 1, but finalized in the context of the Montreal Expos only means it is still likely to be open for adjustments, considering that even Bob DuPuy, baseball's chief operating officer and the man shepherding the relocation project, concedes "we now have significant time restraints in regard to the schedule" and no contingency has been ruled out, including a permanent solution.

Perhaps, but the likelihood is that Pete Rose will be reinstated at some point in the millennium before baseball decides between Washington and Northern Virginia as a permanent home -- given the threats of lawsuits and unresolved issues with each site -- and that the Expos will either play a full schedule in Montreal or San Juan or split the schedule again between the two, with maybe Washington thrown in for a series or two.

The players' union has said it will not approve a split schedule again because it created too many hardships for the Expos, including a five-time zone trip seemingly authored by Stephen King, but industry sources now suggest that the union would be agreeable if convinced that the schedule before and after the San Juan games wouldn't require three suitcases.

The indecision, of course, has left Vladimir Guerrero in multi-million-dollar limbo.

The Montreal right fielder waved off questions about his future and free agent eligibility in Los Angeles on Thursday. If baseball has made a mess of the Montreal situation, Guerrero represents the biggest potential blunder.

The belief is that he would prefer to stay in the comfort zone of the Expos' heavily Hispanic roster. General Manager Omar Minaya, if he doesn't leave for the New York Mets or Cincinnati Reds first, is close to Guerrero's mother and thinks he can sign Guerrero, providing Commissioner Bud Selig, as the Expos' godfather, authorizes the funds.

Will he be far-sighted enough to do that before Guerrero's price goes up as a free agent and the Expos' sale price goes down if he has left the team?

The only certainty is that the Expos can't be contracted before 2007.

Hitching Post

The St. Louis Cardinals are the anti-Dodgers -- second to the Atlanta Braves in the National League in most offensive categories and 12th in pitching with a staff earned-run average of 4.93 through Thursday. Only the Colorado Rockies, who play half their games at Coors Field, had allowed more hits.

The Friday acquisitions of Mike DeJean as a set-up man and spot closer and Sterling Hitchcock as an eventual starter should help, providing southpaw Hitchcock can reacclimate to starting after making 44 relief appearances and only three starts in two years with the Yankees.

Hitchcock expected to be New York's No. 4 starter when he signed a stunning two-year, $12-million contract after the 2001 season, but Orlando Hernandez remained as the No. 4 rather than being traded last year and the Yankees also acquired David Wells, Jeff Weaver and Jose Contreras after the Hitchcock signing.

In New York, where the manager doesn't always know what the Boss is up to, Joe Torre said:

"We signed [Hitchcock] to be one of our starters, and then the parade came."


Mark Mulder was possibly headed for the American League's Cy Young Award before suffering the injury -- first diagnosed as hip tendinitis and later found to be a stress fracture in his right leg -- that will probably sideline him for the season.

"It's a huge hole," Oakland A's teammate Scott Hatteberg said, and General Manager Bill Beane added, "The biggest concern is that you don't want it to impact you psychologically so that it ... prevents you from playing to your capability."

John Halama replaced Mulder on Saturday, when the A's won at Toronto, and Justin Duchscherer is likely to be summoned from triple A. Whether Beane can pull off a waiver trade at a time when wild-card and division rivals could try to block that move is problematic.

One pitcher who is believed to have cleared waivers and who could be a possibility is Cory Lidle, the former Oakland right-hander now with the Toronto Blue Jays.

"We'll see how things go," Beane told Bay Area reporters. "This time of year it's not that easy to be active. I'm not sure some [of the available options] would be better than what we have here."

Mark Of Excellence

The July 11 collision with Atlanta's Marcus Giles that put Mark Prior on the disabled list has not deterred the Chicago Cub right-hander's emergence as baseball's finest young pitcher. Prior blew away the Houston Astros for seven innings Wednesday and has allowed only two runs in 31 innings since leaving the disabled list, going 4-0.

"Sometimes," the former USC star said, "we take what we do for granted. I kind of refocused [while injured] and directed all my attention on being healthy. I've worked real hard with [pitching coach Larry Rothschild] and our strength coach to get in even better shape than I was. This can be the time of year when guys fade."

To ward off a potential playoff fade in this promising season after the 95 losses of last year, Cub General Manager Jim Hendry has acquired six position players in five trades since June 19. The latest was Tuesday's acquisition of second baseman Tony Womack, whose head was probably spinning after being traded twice in a month -- the first time from Arizona to Colorado.

The Cubs gave up little in the trades, added $2 million to the payroll, and Manager Dusty Baker saluted the parent Tribune Co. -- which also owns The Times -- for making good on a promise to do what was needed if the team was in the race.

"They kept their word, and we're going to do the best we can to keep our word," Baker said.

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