Expos make best of situation
By Michael Levesque
MONTREALWith the threat of contraction and an uncertain future looming over the franchise, the Expos embark upon the 2002 draft with a daunting task: How do they persuade players to sign with them?
In the wake of a fourth straight season with at least 94 losses, the Expos enter this years draft with the fifth overall selection. One thing is assured: It will be a lot easier for first-year scouting director Dana Brown to announce a players name and draft him than it will be to persuade that player to sign a contract with a team that may not exist next season.
"If I were a player, I would try to price myself out of the Expos market," one assistant scouting director said. "If it came down to it, though, and I was in a players shoes, Id rather be an Expo than a Marlin. At least you know theyre going to be moving to a new situation, and if youre a Marlin youre just in limbo. The Marlins are probably going to get contracted at some point, and its just a bad organization, where the Expos have a good chance at moving to Washington or northern Virginia and becoming a big-time club."
This is a difficult year in many ways. The fallout of former owner Jeffery Loria heading south to Florida, and in Grinch-like fashion taking the majority of his staff and scouting information with him, left the Expos scouting department in shambles.
New Expos general manager Omar Minaya moved quickly to fill the void, hiring former Pirates East Coast crosschecker Brown as scouting director. They didnt assemble the bulk of their staff until late March, though, putting the team weeks behind schedule.
Making things even more demanding, the Expos have just 12 full-time scouts, a skeleton crew compared with the typical major league organization. The shortage in manpower has required each area scout to cover a larger-than-normal territory.
Given the time frame and that it was not the best time of year to hire people, Brown did manage to bring in some quality baseball men. Paul Tinnell, the Pirates farm director last season, came in as a crosschecker. Ty Brown and Zack Hoyrest, highly regarded for their work with the Marlins and Rangers, signed on as area scouts.
"We were behind six weeks, but were pretty much up to speed and caught up," Brown said. "We got a late start, but weve seen all the top players in the country and Ive been happy with the job our team of scouts have done. Were going to be fine. Im very optimistic that were going to get some top big league players out of this draft."
In previous years, the Expos coordinated draft operations out of their spring-training complex in Jupiter, Fla. With Major League Baseball now operating the club, the team has shifted to Montreal under coordinator of scouting operations Alex Anthopoulos.
"Everything is coming along, and things are coming together," Anthopoulos said. "Not having the offseason to work through some of the kinks has been the biggest roadblock. With new administration, new staff, setting up the computer system, new programs and just getting people comfortable, it took a little bit of time to get everybody on the same page."
At one point it looked like the Expos would rely almost exclusively on the Major League Scouting Bureau to prepare for the draft. That now does not appear to be the case. The team plans to use its own scouting information for a good portion of the draft and may lean on the bureau only for the later rounds.
"One thing that has been a blessing is a lot of the area scouts were employed with other teams last year, so they had experience and already had a network of people, and they were already in the mix in terms of having their own follow lists." Anthopoulos said. "They also have been tireless workers. Not one of them has come back and said, I have an impossible area, or Im struggling to cover all these guys. Theyve covered a lot of ground, and the guys are doing a really good job."
Looking On The Bright Side
Brown, who joined the Expos after spending eight seasons with the Pirates, says he hasnt received any negative feedback from players or agents, but admitted it could become an issue closer to the draft.
The Expos actually will have a little more money to work with than last year. Because of possible signability issues, Brown says his selections could end up more college oriented, though he would not avoid selecting a high school player if he is the best available.
"What we are selling the player on is major league baseball," Brown said. "Thats basically our approach. Were letting the guys know that theyre signing up for major league baseball, and being with us is just as good as being with somebody else. When we talk to the players, we convey to them that it doesnt matter who you sign withMets, Yankees, whoever drafts youthere is always a chance you could be moved in trades, the Rule 5 draft or other factors."
Brown said he understands its a unique and difficult situation, one with more questions than answers.
"We have to be honest with the players," he said. "Were not sure whats going to happen. There could be a contraction draft, in which case you would be drafted by another team, and then there is also a strong possibly that we could end up somewhere else and have a chance to have a big-time franchise. This could end up being a great thing."
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