No timetable set for Nationals sale

No Nationals sale imminent

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. -- Commissioner Bud Selig said Wednesday morning that the sale of the Washington Nationals to one of eight groups vying for the franchise for the past nine months won't be completed by next week's owners meetings in Milwaukee, and there is no timetable for the process to be completed.

The Commissioner has been individually meeting with each group since mid-October and still has three more to go, he told a round table gathering of reporters after talking to general managers, who are in town this week for their annual post-World Series sessions.

"I'm interviewing these groups myself," Selig said. "All these people have spent a lot of time, money and effort and they certainly each deserve one interview. I've really enjoyed it. I've done five interviews already and I'm trying to do the rest as quickly as possible. We have owners meetings coming up, industry meetings and other things."

The last quarterly meetings of the year are next Wednesday and Thursday in Milwaukee. The owners don't gather again until mid-January in Scottsdale, Ariz.

MLB, which owns and operates the Nationals, had hoped to have the approximately $450 million sale of the team completed by the end of the regular season. But complications with the Washington, D.C., city council regarding a lease for the team to play at a new $500 million ballpark in the nation's capital has delayed Selig's decision.

To meet expectations of prospective bond purchasers, the council is currently in the process of approving financing changes in the original legislation passed late last year. Negotiations between MLB and city officials on the lease are ongoing, and both sides hope to complete the document by the time the council closes business this year.

Stipulations regarding the lease were memorialized in a term sheet agreed upon last year by both parties when the team shifted to Washington from Montreal. In general, the Nationals will make no upfront financial contribution to the ballpark, which won't be ready until 2008 at the earliest, but will pay rent initially estimated at about $5 million a year.

Meanwhile, the team will continue to play at aging RFK Stadium, where it drew 2.5 million fans this past season and reportedly made a profit of about $30 million. MLB purchased the former Expos from Jeffery Loria and his group of minority partners for $120 million on Feb. 15, 2002.

It has been Selig's position that the franchise shouldn't be sold until the lease agreement is contractually completed. Thus, he declined to define a timetable for the sale.

"It won't happen by the owners meetings and I can't give you a timetable," he said, speaking about the prospective owners. "Look, we'll do it as soon as possible. And I understand their view. We've talked to them a lot about it and they understand. I'll say this for the groups: they have plans in waiting. It's just a question of who gets the team."

Bob DuPuy, MLB's president and chief operating officer, met with Selig in late September and laid out the ownership choices after the relocation committee conducting the sale spent months gathering information and accepting bids. The club went 81-81 and wasn't eliminated from the National League Wild Card race until late in the season.

Of the eight groups, two have the strongest ties to the area. The first is headed by Fred Malek, a former Texas Rangers minority partner during the early 1990s when President George W. Bush was the managing general partner of the team. The second is Mark Lerner, a minority owner in the company that holds the NHL's Washington Capitals. The other top contender is a group headed by former Seattle Mariners owner Jeff Smulyan that has limited Washington ties.

Each group had already met at least twice this year with select members of the relocation committee, but this is the first round in which Selig has been directly involved.

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.