The chances that Major League Baseball will move the Montreal Expos to the Washington area or anywhere else for the 2004 season are no better than 50-50, an industry source with knowledge of the ongoing process said yesterday. But area boosters say they believe that 2005 is the earliest date MLB would relocate the Expos.

"At best it's 50-50; I don't think they will" relocate the Expos in 2004, said a source aligned with one of four investor groups seeking a team in the District, Northern Virginia or either jurisdiction. "If you think about what they have to do, first of all they have to be absolutely certain. They can't take a misstep here" because of the high-profile, long-standing opposition from Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos to any team moving to the Washington area.

Commissioner Bud Selig 15 months ago called the Washington area "the prime candidate" for relocation of the Expos. But, shortly after naming a relocation committee, he said "nothing is certain" regarding a move in 2004. The Expos are owned by Major League Baseball's 29 other teams.

"Our goal is to get it [a move] done as expeditiously as we can consistent with the objectives laid out by the commissioner to the clubs," said Robert DuPuy, MLB's president and chief operating officer. He declined to specify Selig's objectives.

Fred Malek, chairman of Thayer Capital and leader of a group seeking a team for the city, said, "I know that Major League Baseball has given every consideration and a lot of thought to this, and I'm sure they'll make the right decision in a timely fashion."

Gabe Paul Jr., executive director of the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority, said: "It only makes sense for them to relocate and cut the losses that they're incurring in Montreal. We have the ability to do it. We have the ownership groups that are willing to do it and I don't see any reason not to."

MLB has said it would like to have a decision by the All-Star Game. Political and business leaders from the District, Northern Virginia and Portland, Ore., made proposals for ballpark financing to the nine-member committee three weeks ago. The committee intended to meet again in two weeks to discuss the bids but that meeting now is not likely before the end of the month because of scheduling conflicts, DuPuy said.