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All-Star break targeted as deadline

1/15/2004 - Montreal Expos

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Major League Baseball hopes to pick the future home of the Montreal Expos by the All-Star break, vowing to make a decision this season following two years of missed deadlines.

The Expos were bought by the other 29 teams before the 2002
season, and the commissioner's office originally hoped to relocate
the team by 2003.

Following a two-day owners meeting, Expos president Tony Tavares said baseball's goal was to ``hopefully have a decision by the
All-Star game.''

Commissioner Bud Selig expressed confidence the Expos would be
relocated by the start of the 2005 season. He said remaining in
Montreal was not an option.

``They've had a hard time finding local ownership once Charles
Bronfman left in 1989. It's been a terrible struggle up there,''
Selig said. ``I'd like to get the club sold. It would be one less
thing for us and for me.''

Baseball officials have spoken about the Expos with groups from
Las Vegas; Monterrey, Mexico; Norfolk, Va.; Northern Virginia;
Portland, Ore.; San Juan, Puerto Rico; and Washington, D.C. Last
year, owners told the groups they wanted funding for a new ballpark
in place before making a decision. It was unclear if baseball still
holds to that.

``Whoever gets the team is going to have a ballpark situation
structured,'' Selig said.

Selig wouldn't predict if the proposed $430 million sale of the
Los Angeles Dodgers from News Corp. to Boston developer Frank
McCourt would be approved before the Jan. 31 deadline established
in the agreement between the sides. Baseball officials want to make
sure the debt involved in the purchase doesn't exceed the sport's
limits, and Selig called McCourt's meeting with baseball officials
next week ``very, very important.''

``We have very stringent ownership rules, guidelines that we
follow fastidiously, because if we don't in one place, then we
aren't going to be able to in another,'' Selig said.

He added that it was important for the sport to get the proposed
sale resolved.

"They are a signature franchise. They need stability," Selig
said.

Selig said he still has not read Pete Rose's new autobiography
and wouldn't say what the next step is as he considers Rose's bid
to lift the permanent ban he agreed to following an investigation
of his gambling in 1989.

Owners did not take any action on the proposed start of the
baseball World Cup in March 2005, with Selig saying plans still are
in formation. They also heard a report on plans that have been
drawn up to start a baseball channel, with Selig saying the idea
was being ``very seriously under consideration.'' On the TV front,
baseball and television executives said ESPN was likely to televise
the season opener between the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay in
Tokyo on March 30.

Baltimore's Peter Angelos and San Francisco's Peter Magowan were
elected to the sport's eight-person executive council, replacing
Atlanta's Bill Bartholomay and Minnesota's Carl Pohlad.

Owners approved a series of rules changes but have for now
abandoned expanding the annual amateur draft to players outside the
United States and Canada. Baseball's labor contract called for a
committee to set rules for a worldwide draft, with a goal of having
it in place last June.

``At this point, the clubs have indicated that they are not in a
majority favoring a worldwide draft,'' said Sandy Alderson,
executive vice president for baseball operations in the
commissioner's office.

Owners did vote to have all teams ranked from lowest winning
percentage to highest for their selection order for the annual
amateur draft and the winter meeting draft of players not protected
on 40-man rosters. Currently, teams are ranked from lowest winning
percentage to highest in their leagues, and the NL and AL alternate
picks.

The new order, which may need approval from the players'
association, would start with the 2004 winter meeting draft in
Anaheim, Calif., and the 2005 amateur draft.

Owners also voted to have order of claims made by inverse
winning percentage on waivers for players that teams are trying to
get off their rosters (outright waivers and unconditional release
waivers). Currently, teams within the league have a chance to place
claims by inverse percentage, and only then do teams in the other
league have the chance to place claims. This change does not apply
to waivers for the purpose of late-season trades.

Owners also voted to:

  • increase Triple-A rosters from 23 to 24.

  • have one-year suspensions for players who falsify their age,
    name or other material facts on their contracts.

  • make last year's experiment with a bereavement leave of up to
    seven days permanent and expand the allowable use of the list to
    players whose in-laws have died.

  • eliminate the distinction between pitchers and position
    players for substitutions on postseason rosters when a team has a
    player on the disabled list on Aug. 31.

  • allow teams until five days after the World Series instead of
    Oct. 15 to release players from minor league contracts while
    maintaining the right to re-sign them before May 15.

  • give teams until 6 p.m. Eastern time to set opening-day
    rosters in the years there are Sunday-night openers rather than
    midnight the day before the first major league game.

  • eliminate the rule limiting teams to having five high-school
    players at a workout, subject to talks with the national high
    school governing body.