We sat down with new Expos GM Tom Grieve to discuss what he learned during his time in Texas, what he has planned for the Expos and what we can expect from the team this year.
Question #1: You were fired by the Rangers during the 1987 season which you, and many experts, said came as a surprise. What did you learn from that experience?
Answer: Well, I learned that nothing is guaranteed in this business and that you don't have much time to accomplish the things you need to. I really felt we (the Rangers' staff) would be back for the '88 season and have a chance to continue to build on what we started. Obviously, we had a rough year in '87, but those things happen sometimes and I think we had something good going there. With that being said, I think it is much more important to me now to have a plan coming in and to get it implemented as soon as possible.
Q2: What would you have done differently in Texas?
A: Honestly, I really think we were on the right track. We got off to a bad start in '87 and then we lost our top two pitchers (Frank Tanana and Mike Mason). That made it very difficult to bounce back from. We actually made a little run right before we lost Mike, but after he went down, that was pretty much the end of the season as far as most of the players were concerned. We were so far back. You could just tell the players had lost hope and just trying to get through the season. I think we would have been OK the next season but, obviously, the team felt differently.
Q3: What is the plan that you have for the Expos?
A: That is still kind of a work in process. Long-term, obviously, we want to win a championship. However, we have a little more leeway coming into the situation here with the Expos. It is more of a step-by-step process. We want to get over .500. Then we want to win the division. Then we want to compete for a championship. We have some players here that we really want to feel out this season and see what we have. Young guys like David Cone and Andres Galarraga and Craig Biggio. We also want to see what Floyd Youmans (who threw a no-hitter last season) and Lee Tunnell and John Dopson are going to bring. Can they build off of last year? That is going to be big indicator of where we go in the future.
Q4: So far, there have been a few relatively minor additions to the team. However, the core remains virtually the same. How is this team going to be better than last season's team?
A: I don't consider the additions we have made to be minor in all honesty. Johnny Ray is gives us a completely different look at second base and the top of the order. He is a much better hitter than Jeff Treadway and plays very solid defense. I really think Johnny is the best two-hole hitter in the league. His addition alone, I think, makes us much better. Also, our bench is completely different. As you know, there was very little production off of the bench last year and, being a National League team, not a lot of help when needing to pinch-hit for the pitcher. This year we have Domingo Ramos and Dave Henderson. Those two guys give us better options at the plate and also give us more flexibility in the field. I think we have the potential to be much better.
Q5: One addition that would be very significant is the possibility of adding two-time all-star Andy Van Slyke. How did the pursuit of him come about and how is that going?
A: Going after Andy was something we kind of jumped in on mid-stream. I was looking for a leadoff hitter that could get on base in front of Johnny and give a spark at the top of the order. I was scouring the waiver wire and free agents for a shortstop that could fill that hole. We like Al Newman but like him better as a utility player off of the bench. Kind of like what Domingo is going to be for us. When it became apparent that finding that type of player wasn't going to pan out, I had just accepted we were going to go into the season with what we had and that were would need to work with that. Then I read an article about the Royals going after Andy and the money that was being considered. I had never thought Andy was affordable for us but realized he might be after seeing that. So, I went to (team owner Charles) Bronfman and told him I wanted to see if we could get Andy to come here and he signed off on it. Unfortunately, it looks like everyone else in the league read the same article and now, as far as I'm aware, there are at least five team all in a bidding war for him. I won't rule (the signing of Van Slyke) out, but at this point, I'm not very optimistic.
Q6: Assuming you are not able to get Van Slyke, how is this team going to be better than last season's 70-win team and what can we expect from the Expos this season?
A: Well, like I said, I think the additions of Johnny and Domingo and Dave are going to make a difference. That improvement at the top of the lineup and added depth on the bench could easily get us near .500. We also have some young guys like Cone and Biggio who we feel strongly about. Depending on their progress, we could improve significantly there as well. We also have a new manager and pitching coach. The affects of coaches can be immeasurable. So, I think we definitely have reason to be optimistic this season. Obviously, we need to stay healthy and we can't really afford any significant drop offs in production from our key guys. However, I think we are certainly in a position to be around .500 and, should some things bounce our way, have the potential to be even better. The Mets are definitely at the top of the division and are going to be hard to knock off. The rest of the division is wide open though. You just never know what can happen.
Grieve took a 69 win team in '84, the year before he became the Rangers GM, and led them to an 82 win season the following year. His track record says .500 the first year and playoff contention the second. Only time will tell if history will repeat itself, but if it does, Expos' fans will have something to cheer about for the first time in several years.