SCOTTSDALE, ARIZ. Major league baseball hopes to pick the future home of the Montreal Expos by the All-Star break, vowing to make a decision this season following two years of missed deadlines.
The Expos were bought by the other 29 teams before the 2002 season, and the commissioner's office originally hoped to relocate the team by 2003.
Following a two-day owners meeting, Expos president Tony Tavares said baseball's goal was to "hopefully have a decision by the All-Star game."
Commissioner Bud Selig expressed confidence the Expos would be relocated by the start of the 2005 season. He said remaining in Montreal was not an option.
"They've had a hard time finding local ownership once Charles Bronfman left in 1989. It's been a terrible struggle up there," Selig said. "I'd like to get the club sold. It would be one less thing for us and for me."
Baseball officials have spoken about the Expos with groups from Las Vegas; Monterrey, Mexico; Norfolk, Va.; Northern Virginia; Portland, Ore.; San Juan, Puerto Rico; and Washington, D.C. Last year, owners told the groups they wanted funding for a new ballpark in place before making a decision. It was unclear if baseball still holds to that.
"Whoever gets the team is going to have a ballpark situation structured," Selig said.
Selig wouldn't predict if the proposed $430 million sale of the Los Angeles Dodgers from News Corp. to Boston developer Frank McCourt would be approved before the Jan. 31 deadline established in the agreement between the sides. Baseball officials want to make sure the debt involved in the purchase doesn't exceed the sport's limits, and Selig called McCourt's meeting with baseball officials next week "very, very important."
"We have very stringent ownership rules, guidelines that we follow fastidiously, because if we don't in one place, then we aren't going to be able to in another," Selig said.
He added that it was important for the sport to get the proposed sale resolved.
"They are a signature franchise. They need stability," Selig said.
Selig said he still had not read Pete Rose's new autobiography and wouldn't say what the next step was as he considered Rose's bid to lift the permanent ban he agreed to following an investigation of his gambling in 1989.
Owners did not take any action on the proposed start of the baseball World Cup in March 2005, with Selig saying plans still are in formation. They also heard a report on plans that have been drawn up to start a baseball channel, with Selig saying the idea was "very seriously under consideration."
On the TV front, baseball and television executives said ESPN was likely to televise the season opener between the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay in Tokyo March 30.
Baltimore's Peter Angelos and San Francisco's Peter Magowan were elected to the sport's eight-person executive council, replacing Atlanta's Bill Bartholomay and Minnesota's Carl Pohlad.
Owners approved a series of rules changes but have for now abandoned expanding the annual amateur draft to players outside the United States and Canada. Baseball's labor contract called for a committee to set rules for a worldwide draft, with a goal of having it in place last June.
"At this point, the clubs have indicated that they are not in a majority favoring a worldwide draft," said Sandy Alderson, executive vice president for baseball operations in the commissioner's office.
Owners did vote to have all teams ranked from lowest winning percentage to highest for their selection order for the annual amateur draft and the winter meeting draft of players not protected on 40-man rosters. Currently, teams are ranked from lowest winning percentage to highest in their leagues, and the NL and AL alternate picks.
The new order, which may need approval from the players' association, would start with the 2004 winter meeting draft in Anaheim, Calif., and the 2005 amateur draft.
Owners also voted to have order of claims made by inverse winning percentage on waivers for players that teams are trying to get off their rosters (outright waivers and unconditional release waivers). Currently, teams within the league have a chance to place claims by inverse percentage, and only then do teams in the other league have the chance to place claims. This change does not apply to waivers for the purpose of late-season trades.
Owners also voted to:
l increase Triple-A rosters from 23 to 24;
l have one-year suspensions for players who falsify their age, name or other material facts on their contracts;
l make last year's experiment with a bereavement leave of up to seven days permanent and expand the allowable use of the list to players whose in-laws have died;
l eliminate the distinction between pitchers and position players for substitutions on postseason rosters when a team has a player on the disabled list on Aug. 31;
l allow teams until five days after the World Series instead of Oct. 15 to release players from minor-league contracts while maintaining the right to re-sign them before May 15;
l give teams until 6 p.m. Eastern time to set opening-day rosters in the years there are Sunday-night openers rather than midnight the day before the first major-league game;
l eliminate the rule limiting teams to having five high-school players at a workout, subject to talks with the national high school governing body.