Major League Baseball yesterday solved the problem of what to do with the Montreal Expos in 2003 -- the answer: have them play 22 home games in San Juan, Puerto Rico -- and turned its attention to 2004 and beyond.
The Expos will play three homestands at Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan next season, beginning with 10 games from April 11 to 20. The other affected games will be in June and September, and the Expos will still play 59 home games at Olympic Stadium in Montreal.
"We believe these games will generate considerable excitement in Puerto Rico and throughout the Caribbean region," Commissioner Bud Selig said in a statement. "We have attempted to balance the need for home schedule certainty with this opportunity to stage attractive games in a city and region renowned for its production of players and the enthusiasm of its fans."
Of greater interest to Washington area baseball fans, Selig announced the formation of a relocation committee to determine the long-term fate of the Expos. Selig has called Washington the "leading candidate" for a relocated franchise.
The relocation committee, which has had two meetings, is headed by owner representatives Jerry Reinsdorf of the Chicago White Sox and Wendy Selig-Prieb -- the commissioner's daughter -- of the Milwaukee Brewers, plus MLB officials Bob DuPuy, John McHale, Tom Ostertag and Jonathan Mariner.
The committee also includes consultants Corey Busch, who has done relocation studies for the league, and Bob Starkey, a franchise appraiser.
DuPuy, baseball's president and chief operating officer, has said the league hopes to have a relocation market selected by the all-star break in July. The league, which bought the Expos from Jeffrey Loria for $120 million last winter, is expected to hold a bidding process to sell the team.
"I have asked the committee to conduct its work sensitively, thoroughly, expeditiously and, perhaps most important, without any public comment until they have completed their work to ensure the fairness of the entire process," Selig said.
The Expos' 2003 schedule remains unofficial pending approval by baseball's union. According to sources, compensation remains an issue, with players asking to be reimbursed for playing more than one-quarter of their home games away from their in-season home, as well as for the cost of flying their families to Puerto Rico to join them.
"This is going to require some discussion with us. This is not a done deal," said Gene Orza, the union's associate general counsel.
However, two MLB officials yesterday said they did not expect the issue to hold up the deal.
The Expos' attendance of 812,536 was the lowest in baseball in 2002, and league officials hope the games in Puerto Rico will generate greater revenue. Hiram Bithorn Stadium, which played host to a pair of games in 2001 between Texas and Toronto, seats between 20,000 and 25,000 fans.
Expos President Tony Tavares said the projected extra revenue generated by the games in Puerto Rico will prevent the team from having to jettison high-priced stars such as Vladimir Guerrero and Bartolo Colon. However, MLB still has not given a payroll budget to General Manager Omar Minaya.
Staff writer Mark Asher and the Associated Press contributed to this report.