>Montreal – Julio Guillen is the new face in right, determined to get the Expos On the Right Track
The price tag for the Expos newest face was more than $20 million, but the Expos are hoping Julio Guillen proves to be worth every penny. Blessed with nice speed and the ability to drive the ball well, the Nicaraguan will jump straight to the majors, getting the nod in right field over Doc Butler. He’s tireless, and will likely start every game there.
Guillen represents one of the several moves the Expos made over the winter to improve upon their record last year. The organization appears to be starting with the fundamentals: defense. Last season, the Expos committed 108 errors (28th) and made 78 poor plays (30th), putting pressure on an otherwise taxed pitching staff. Over the winter, the right side of the defense was completely overhauled. Gone is starting second baseman Olmedo Leon (20 errors, 11 poor plays) and catcher/first baseman Max Palacios (8 errors, 14 poor plays) who signed with the Astros. With the rangey Guillen now patrolling right, miscast Doc Butler (8 errors, 12 poor plays) takes his skillset to a more suitable position.
To fill the holes, the club signed Brewers free agent second baseman Benjamin Hawkins (13 positive plays) and last year’s late call-up Karl Hamill will still be a defensive improvement at first. Starting shortstop Derrick Taylor’s glove will continue to be a liability (26 errors) but the presence of Hawkins should improve the middle of the defense and the Expos should play better in the field.
Better defense is good news for a pitching staff which surrendered nearly 1,000 runs and featured eight different starters last season, none of whom compiled a winning record. The improvements on the right side should only lower the team ERA (5.72, 30th) and WHIP (1.64, 29th). Aging starter Pepper Hayes was traded to the Nationals for durable reliever Steve Hines (1.34 WHIP, 91 IP), who will be ready every day to help the club sit on a lead. To compensate for Hayes’ departure, the Expos put a band-aid on the hole by signing 36-year-old Kenta Bong (11-11, 1.36 WHIP, 3.97 ERA) to a two-year deal.
All-Star center fielder Anthony Roberts (.319/.386/.383) will continue to set the table for the club, stealing 53 bases in 60 attempts and scoring 98 times but he looks to be joined by Benjamin Hawkins now. Catcher Felipe Melendez (.274/.344/.490) and left fielder Johnny Rose (.311/.372/.609) will be joined by Julio Guillen slugging them home. That’s more good news for a team that had an average attack in most offensive categories and ended the year with a run differential of -274. If things don’t go the way the Expos plan, rumors are they may shop talented Johnny Rose given Cy Oliver is sitting in AAA awaiting his turn in the show.
dwb’s take: an improved offense and a bulked up defense stands to improve the win totals over last year, but the team’s efforts to climb out of the division basement will be hampered by the starting pitching staff, none of which have exceptional command or velocity. Look for their win total to improve and the race in the NL North to tighten, challenging Cincinnati to move up.