For a working vacation in Puerto Rico, the Major League Baseball-owned Expos. While the franchise—which had looked like a prime candidate for contraction at this time last year—will stay in Montreal through at least 2003, baseball is close to announcing a plan for the team to play 20 "home" games in San Juan next season. (Owners were expected to approve the plan and to set the Expos' 2003 payroll at meetings scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday in Dallas.) The proposal points up what an albatross the Expos have become for baseball. The team, which this season had the majors' lowest average attendance (10,031 a game), has no chance of making money in Montreal, but no city has emerged as a promising alternative. Washington, D.C., would love to have the Expos, but until a new ballpark is built ( RFK Stadium, where the team would have to play at first, is a lousy baseball facility), commissioner Bud Selig is reluctant to okay that move.
Thus baseball will try to squeeze revenue out of the team by scheduling two 10-game home stands at 25,000-seat Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan, where the Rangers and the Blue Jays played the season-opener in 2001 and where the Expos are almost certain to draw larger crowds than they do in Montreal. Even with the extra income, the Expos, whose $39 million payroll was higher only than the Devil Rays' last season, will be hard-pressed to preserve last year's team, which finished at 83-79, second in the National League East. Keeping intact a pitching rotation that includes Bartolo Colon, Javier Vazquez and Tony Armas Jr. will require an additional $15 million to $20 million, but I MLB is not expected to approve a salary increase of more than $5 million or $6 million. Thus the other 29 teams will set their payroll, then pick at the team's still-breathing carcass. "Is there a perfect solution right now?" asks Sandy Alderson, MLB's executive vice president of baseball operations. "I don't think anyone believes there is."