- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 1, 2005

Major League Baseball officials have asked bidders for the Washington Nationals if they would be willing to merge with or accept members of other groups trying to buy the franchise.

Commissioner Bud Selig would like to merge some of the groups as he has in previous sales, according to sources familiar with the process, but it is not certain whether that would work in the case of the Nationals.

“It’s something that people who know Bud have always expected to be a possibility,” one industry source said. “He does like, when the situation is right, to put people together, if he thinks by taking certain parts and putting them together you get a strong whole group. That is his style.”

It is not clear, however, what response Selig and MLB chief operating officer Bob DuPuy received in their interviews with the eight groups bidding on the team. There has been reluctance on the part of bidders to make any such mergers; no one wants to give up control of the team simply to be part of a winning ownership group.

“After all this time and effort put in, no one is really anxious in putting in a lot of money and being a limited partner,” a source said.

All indications are that the process for selecting an owner is down to its final stages, where a merger or movement of investors from one group to another could take place.

Selig faced a similar situation in trying to close the sale of the Boston Red Sox three years ago, when multiple bidders were attempting to buy the franchise. Selig brought the group headed by Les Otten and former San Diego Padres owner Tom Werner together with Florida Marlins owner John Henry and former Padres and Baltimore Orioles president Larry Lucchino. Selig ultimately chose that new group as owners.

DuPuy said two weeks ago that MLB hopes to put the ownership of the Nationals up for a vote at owners’ meetings Nov. 16 and 17 in Milwaukee. On the night of Nov. 17, the commissioner is scheduled to attend a function in the District.

Baseball officials have said the selection of an owner for the Nationals has been delayed by MLB’s negotiations with the city over a lease for a $535 million ballpark in Southeast. Those negotiations are expected to resume this week, and one District official said privately he expects a deal to be concluded in time for the meetings in Milwaukee.

The eight bidders seeking to purchase the Nationals are: communications executive and former Seattle Mariners owner Jeff Smulyan; businessman William Collins and Albert Lord, chairman of Sallie Mae; the Washington Baseball Club, led by former Texas Rangers partner Fred Malek and Jeffrey Zients; former Washington Capitals part-owner Jonathan Ledecky; Maryland real estate businessmen Mark and Theodore Lerner; Washington developer Franklin Haney; former Atlanta Braves president Stan Kasten; and Yusef Jackson (son of Rev. Jesse Jackson) and Ronald Burkle.

The franchise is expected to sell for at least $450 million, the price set by Major League Baseball.