Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association are on the verge of an agreement for the Montreal Expos to play 22 home games in San Juan, Puerto Rico, next season, sources familiar with the situation said yesterday.
An announcement could be made today. The final major hurdle to the deal was resolved in MLB's favor when a San Juan promoter agreed to end his insistence that MLB contractually owed him an additional $600,000 in revenue from last season's Expos games. That dispute delayed completion of the deal for nearly a month as Monterrey, Mexico, re-emerged as an alternative venue.
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Sources said San Juan guaranteed MLB between $9 million and $10 million. In addition, work will soon begin on moving back the fences at Hiram Bithorn Stadium by 25 feet, installing a new artificial turf field and improving clubhouse facilities.
Promoter Antonio Munoz Sr. declined to comment about the dispute, as did Gene Orza, associate general counsel of the players association and its point man in discussions with Robert Manfred, an MLB vice president, about moving the Expos' home games. Manfred also declined to comment.
Expos players originally rejected playing a second straight split season, citing road weariness and scheduling that included games in San Juan in September. MLB agreed to complete the games in San Juan by early July. They also reached agreement on two fundamental areas of contention: travel arrangements and the level of the Expos' 2004 payroll.
The games in San Juan will finish two days before the All-Star Game in mid-July, according to sources. The Pittsburgh Pirates, in their tentative 2004 schedule, list a four-game road series against the Expos ending in July. Otherwise, according to sources, the Florida Marlins and New York Mets will travel to San Juan in April, followed by the Milwaukee Brewers and San Francisco Giants in May and the Toronto Blue Jays and Pirates in July. One additional series needs to be set.
The latest development came on the same day MLB's relocation committee, seeking a permanent home for the Expos, met in Chicago after a quarterly owners' meeting there. MLB has been operating the Expos the past two seasons in a limited partnership of its 29 other teams.
Bob DuPay, MLB's president and chief operating officer, said the committee plans to meet "shortly" with jurisdictions that are still interested for "discussions of mutual interest." The committee had not met since recommending late in the summer to hold off relocation for at least another season. None of the three bidding jurisdictions -- the District, Northern Virginia and Portland, Ore. -- has met MLB's threshold requisition: completion of a financing plan for a new ballpark or selecting a site for its location.
Prior to the meeting, sources said it would focus on how to proceed for a possible relocation in 2005. More jurisdictions could be added to the mix, although several owners have said privately the District is the only viable option. MLB top executives do not plan to comment as frequently or announce self-imposed deadlines for their work.
Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos remains steadfastly opposed to relocating the Expos to either the District or Northern Virginia.