The Expos traded away more than a dozen young players in the past 10 months to make an all-out dash for the National League East title. But they went into the tank down the stretch and at week's end were six games out of first. So what does Montreal do now?
"We have to try to get some of our most important free agents—[pitchers] Mark Langston, Bryn Smith, Pascual Perez—re-signed, then work some of our kids in," says Expo general manager Dave Dombrowski. "We have the chance to have an outstanding club next year, especially with the infusion of three or four outstanding young players."
This season Dombrowski's boldest gamble was to trade pitchers Brian Holman, Randy Johnson and Gene Harris to the Mariners for Langston on May 25. At first, the deal worked like a dream. By Aug. 2, the Expos were in first place with a 63-44 record, and Dombrowski, 33, was being hailed as a boy genius. Then the bubble burst. From Aug. 3 through last weekend, the Expos went 16-27, including 3-12 against their chief rivals, the Cubs, Mets and Cardinals. Now it appears that the odds are against Montreal re-signing Langston, Smith or another possible free agent, outfielder Hubie Brooks, and rumors abound that manager Buck Rodgers might get the ax in the off-season.
What went wrong? Langston, who started out 10-3 for Montreal, has gone 2-4 in seven starts since Aug. 16. The Expos also never found an adequate replacement for middle reliever Jeff Parrett, who, with pitcher Floyd Youmans, was traded to the Phillies last winter for righthander Kevin Gross (11-11, 4.14 ERA). Most important, the heart of Montreal's order—outfielder Tim Raines, third baseman Tim Wallach, first baseman Andres Galarraga and Brooks—went into a collective slump in early August.
Dombrowski is philosophical about the Expos' slide. "I don't regret what we did at all," he says. "The three kids we traded to Seattle are quality young pitchers, but if you look at what they've done for the Mariners [a combined 14-21 through Sunday], you'll see that if we still had them we would not have won this year. I couldn't live with myself if I hadn't tried that deal."
Dombrowski expects the Expos to improve next year because of the full-time presence of outfielders Marquis Grissom and Larry Walker, both of whom have been impressive this season, and infielder Delino DeShields. Dombrowski also feels he has three pitching prospects—Mark Gardner, Richie Lewis and Mel Rojas—who are as good as the three he sent to Seattle.
Critics have said that Rodgers lost the respect of his players when he benched Brooks for several games in late August and replaced him with Walker. But Dombrowski says, "The disappointment of what's happened in the last month has people overreacting." No matter how deep the Expos' roster is, though, the fact remains that by December they may be without Langston, Smith and Brooks. And, after 21 years, without a pennant.
THE FUTURE IS NOW
Toronto scout Gordon Lakey thinks the Twins "have put together one of the best young rotations in the league" with the addition of two rookies, righthander Mike Dyer and lefthander Mark Guthrie, and two former Mets, righthander Rick Aguilera and lefthander David West, who came over to Minnesota in the Frank Viola trade on July 31. Other scouts are impressed by righthanded starter Kevin Tapani and middle reliever Tim Drummond, who were also part of the Viola deal. But the key for the Twins next year will be whether they re-sign closer Jeff Reardon, who on Sept. 14 became the first pitcher to get 30 saves in five consecutive seasons. Reardon may not throw as hard as he once did, but, as Twins manager Tom Kelly says, "He still holds a staff together."... St. Louis manager Whitey Herzog says, "A leadoff hitter in the National League has to do something he doesn't in the American, with the DH—knock in runs, because we often use the pitcher to bunt someone into scoring position." Herzog's leadoff hitter, Vince Coleman (27 RBIs in 517 at bats), is so bad in that category that he will probably be the first player the Cards try to trade after the season. Herzog is looking for a solid lefthanded hitter and another starting pitcher. Don't be surprised if L.A. lefthander John Tudor returns to St. Louis as a free agent. Tudor, who says he is on the rebound after spending a year rebuilding his injured left shoulder, asked for his release last week after learning that the Dodgers aren't planning to use him much in September. General manager Fred Claire refused his request.... Since second baseman Jim Gantner suffered a possible career-ending injury to his left knee, the Brewers have been experimenting with moving third baseman Paul Molitor to second and installing shortstop Gary Sheffield at third. But the oft-injured Molitor says that playing second regularly "would be pretty difficult and dangerous." He adds, "If it were up to me, this club would have a major restructuring." Don't hold your breath. What will probably happen is that Molitor will become the full-time DH, and the Brewers, who could use a lefthanded hitter and a veteran starter, will try to trade outfielders Glenn Braggs and Rob Deer. Says catcher B.J. Surhoff, "This staff badly needs a veteran. We have too many guys with less than five years experience, and no one to lead them."
YOUNG VS. OLD
Is the value of experience sometimes overrated in a pennant race? The Orioles, who finished the week 2� games out of first, think so. "I'm not supposed to be here, so what do I have to lose?" says rookie reliever Gregg Olson. Even some Baltimore veterans believe that the O's have an edge in the American League East race because the first-place Blue Jays' have a history of collapsing in the stretch. "Their experience is in losing," says Oriole lefthander Mark Thurmond.... The condition of outfielder Kevin Mitchell's sore wrists has been a major concern for the Giants. He may require surgery after the season.... Now that Indians president Hank Peters has fired manager Doc Edwards, his next move will probably be to trade centerfielder Joe Carter. The Indians think that Carter (.246, 33 homers) doesn't produce in the clutch because he swings at too many bad pitches. They're also not thrilled with his fielding lately. And who will be the new Cleveland manager? Probably John McNamara or Mike Hargrove.... One of the most heartening stories of the second half has been the comeback of Phillie shortstop Dickie Thon, who was a star in Houston before being beaned by Mike Torrez in 1984. Through Sunday, Thon had batted .323 since the All-Star break and was tied for the lead in homers among NL shortstops with 13. "I felt all along he still had power," says Phils coach Larry Bowa, who managed Thon in San Diego. "The more he plays, the better he's going to get."