Nationals' Price Tag Set at $450 Million

By Thomas Heath
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Major League Baseball has officially placed a $450 million price tag on the Washington Nationals, which would be one of the highest prices ever paid for a baseball team.

All eight groups who hope to purchase the Nationals submitted bids last week in the $450 million range. Baseball then sent out lengthy purchase agreements to each group, detailing the terms and conditions of the sale and setting the price at $450 million, according to league sources and several bidders who asked that they not be identified.

Baseball has not set a date for a return of the purchase agreements and it's unclear how the selection process will proceed from here. But the winning bidders will be required to place a $45 million deposit with baseball when they are selected, according to people who have reviewed the purchase agreements.

Also yesterday, Indianapolis media mogul Jeffrey Smulyan visited several key members of the District government, including D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D) and Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), briefing them on his bid. Smulyan, former owner of the Seattle Mariners, has been on a recent offensive to win support, recruiting local businessmen, attorneys and others as investors to help him allay concerns that he is not from the Washington area.

D.C. Council member Vincent B. Orange Sr. (D-Ward 5), a baseball booster, said he met Smulyan in the halls of city hall yesterday. Smulyan was making the rounds with Eric Holder Jr., former assistant U.S. attorney general, businessman Jeff Thompson, and attorney William Jarvis, all investors in Smulyan's group.

"It was good to see him and meet him," Orange said. "It shows he does recognize that having D.C-based owners as part of the partnership is important."

Orange has endorsed another bidding group led by entrepreneur Jonathan Ledecky, who owns a home in Georgetown. But Orange noted that if Ledecky is not successful, he still believes Major League Baseball should pick a group with strong local ties. Orange yesterday introduced a resolution at a council legislative session that, if affirmed, would officially ask MLB to select a local owner. If Smulyan gets the team, Orange said, he should live in the District and pay taxes here. The owner of the Nationals "should live and breathe D.C.," Orange said.

Several bidders believe that Smulyan, a local syndicate led by businessmen Frederic Malek and Jeffrey Zients, and the Lerner family of Bethesda are the favorites to win the team, but baseball officials would not confirm that.

The league has recently picked up the pace of the process, but MLB President Robert DuPuy has said that a new owner will not be selected until the District approves a lease governing baseball's long-term use of a $535 million stadium project that the city is building for the Nationals near the Anacostia River. The stadium is scheduled to open in 2008.

"We continue to have all eight groups active in the bidding process and actively interested in buying the team," said DuPuy. "Each has real strengths. We hope lease negotiations lead to a final signed document very soon so we can move forward with the final decision."

Staff writers David Nakamura and Eric M. Weiss contributed to this report.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company