Major League Baseball is studying a proposal that would soon transfer control of the Montreal Expos to New York art dealer Jeffrey Loria, but would give him another year to complete financing and the sale of seat licenses for a new stadium in Montreal, a high-ranking baseball executive said last night.
Approval of such a deal could end the possibility of a relocation of the franchise for the time being and signals Major League Baseball's commitment to Montreal, according to Robert DuPuy, MLB's executive vice president and chief legal officer. Groups in Washington, Northern Virginia and Charlotte have expressed interest in acquiring the team.
DuPuy said Commissioner Bud Selig and the eight-member ownership committee have not decided whether to recommend for approval to all 32 owners Loria's offer to buy controlling partner Claude Brochu's 14.2 percent stake in the team.
Baseball wants to see "sufficient progress toward a new stadium and a stable Montreal franchise" before making that recommendation, DuPuy said.
"It will not be a decision meant to stall an inevitable relocation of the club or serve as a Band-Aid for the 2000 season," DuPuy said. "But, instead, it will be based on a belief the team will succeed in [Montreal] long-term. If they vote for Loria, they're committed to trying to make it a go in Montreal."
Loria and his group originally had planned to buy 35 percent of the Expos and, with equal money from other equity investors, infuse $100 million (Canadian $150 million) into the franchise. If the latest plan is approved, that deal will be on hold for a year, according to DuPuy.
Instead, Loria and his partners will purchase the 14.2 percent of the stock controlled by Brochu for about $18 to $20 million (Canadian $27 million to $30 million), DuPuy said. He said Loria's deadline to complete the deal with Brochu is Nov. 5. Baseball has an unwritten policy of not making any managerial or ownership announcements during the World Series, which starts Saturday night.
Spokesmen and one minority partner in Montreal have said they have not seen any snags develop in the approval process, but they have declined to discuss details recently and have referred questions to Major League Baseball.
Major league owners last month put off the sale of the Oakland Athletics and the Kansas City Royals while a task force studied small-market teams and the possibility of reducing the number of MLB franchises by at least two teams from the current 32.