The Montreal Expos announced yesterday that they are affiliating with the Class A Potomac Cannons starting in 2005, bringing part of the franchise's minor league system to the Washington area.

Major League Baseball, which owns the Expos, would not allow Montreal and Potomac to sign a contract two years ago, Cannons owner Art Silber said, but there was no such opposition this time.

"Two years ago they [Major League Baseball] stopped it specifically because it would have been a statement that the likelihood was that the Expos were going to relocate to the area," Silber said. "Here they [MLB] have taken a totally neutral position. And clearly, as the owner of the ballclub, they could have blocked it if they chose to. The fact that they didn't, you can only read into that the likelihood of the ballclub coming to the area hopefully is pretty good."

Silber said he discussed the matter several weeks ago with an "unidentified major league baseball source," who said baseball "would not object" if Montreal signed a contract with Potomac.

Potomac and Montreal officials at a news conference yesterday said they acted without additional knowledge of negotiations regarding the future of the Expos, but said the move was obviously made hoping the District would be the team's new home. Silber said Potomac would hope to follow in the footsteps of franchises such as Frederick and Aberdeen, Md., Class A teams that attract large crowds in part because of their proximity to their parent club, the Baltimore Orioles.

The new contract ends Potomac's two-year affiliation with the Cincinnati Reds and continues through the 2006 season. Silber said he hopes to reveal plans for Potomac's new Prince William County stadium -- which has had funding since 2002 -- in December, and that the Cannons will begin playing there in 2006.

Adam Wogan, right, of the Expos, and Cannons owner Art Silber announce that Potomac will leave the Reds' system to join the Expos in 2005.