Fred Malek, head of a District-based group seeking to bring baseball back to the area, has supplied Major League Baseball with a standing, guaranteed offer to purchase the Montreal Expos immediately, operate them in Quebec in 2002 and move the club to Washington in 2003, baseball and local government sources confirmed yesterday.
A Northern Virginia bid group led by telecommunications executive William Collins is expected to make a similar proposal for the Expos to MLB within the next few days, industry sources said last night. Both offers were unsolicited.
The exact terms of either offer were not known last night, but both are expected to hover around $160 million. Forbes Magazine last year estimated the Expos’ value at $92 million, and the last round of league expansion required payments of $130 million per franchise. But beyond the above-market-value offers, both bids are designed to provide quick certainty to what is by far baseball’s weakest and least stable franchise.
For years, both local groups had been wary of making any pronounced moves that might upset their chances of joining the ultra-exclusive fraternity of baseball owners. But with MLB commissioner Bud Selig having proclaimed Washington as “the prime candidate” for relocation Thursday and the Expos soon to be without an owner, league and government sources said both groups have apparently decided the time for caution has passed.
Both Malek and Collins declined to comment yesterday. But both said Thursday following Selig’s unexpected and unprecedented comments that their efforts to bring baseball back to the Washington area would heighten. Washington has been without a team since the expansion Senators left for Texas after the 1971 season.
“We’ve always believed in the viability of our market,” Collins said. “We’re pleased Mr. Selig’s comments were so strong, and that just gives [us] more incentive to keep working.”
Already the worst revenue generator in the league, the Expos will be without an owner when current chairman Jeffrey Loria departs to buy the Florida Marlins for $158 million. Closure on that deal is anticipated by the end of February. If baseball fails to eliminate the Expos as it wishes before the start of this season and that is very likely considering the numerous legal roadblocks barring contraction MLB will be forced to operate the team this season.
Malek’s offer was sent Monday in anticipation of that takeover of the Expos.
Baseball last operated a team internally in 1975, when the San Francisco Giants ran into brief but deep financial trouble.
MLB officials declined to comment on the new bids yesterday, and it is uncertain whether they will prompt any immediate action. Selig also said Thursday that despite the certainty of some team relocation in the near future, he wants a new labor deal with the players struck first something that will not happen for at least several months and perhaps much longer.
But the league already is not relishing the prospect of assuming control of the Expos and is not making any plans to continue that operation past 2002.
If either local bid group lands a relocating franchise, the club would play for at least two years at RFK Stadium.
The Malek group wants to build a new baseball-only facility in the city, preferably near Mount Vernon Square in Northwest. The Collins group has not specified a preferred location for a new ballpark in Northern Virginia. Both groups are counting on significant public sector money for the projects.
Meanwhile, Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis yesterday expressed mixed feelings over Washington’s newly heightened chances for baseball. The outspoken owner was highly supportive of the prospect of a team raising and broadening the area’s sports profile.
But he remains skeptical of a local baseball club’s attendance potential, particularly during the dog days of summer in Washington.
“I have to see to believe getting D.C. residents to go to 80 games per year 50 in the summer,” Leonsis said.