Nationals close to getting new owner

Nationals close to getting new owner

A decision to choose the new owners of the Washington Nationals is coming down to its final days, with an announcement possible sometime next week, a source familiar with the negotiations said on Tuesday.

Commissioner Bud Selig's determination is still pending separate meetings in New York this week with the pair of final groups to go over paperwork and introduce potential new partners to the Major League Baseball hierarchy.

The finalists among the eight contenders appear to be the two with the closest Washington ties: Fred Malek, a former Texas Rangers minority partner during the early 1990s when President George W. Bush had control of the team, and Mark Lerner, a minority owner in the company that holds the National Hockey League's Capitals.

Jeff Smulyan, a former owner of the Seattle Mariners, is still in the picture. But MLB seems to be now leaning toward a group with strong Washington political ties capable of seeing to conclusion the $611 million construction of a new ballpark on the waterfront near the Capitol building.

A lease for the Nationals to play 30 years in that stadium was finally agreed upon with the D.C. City Council last month and documents have slowly been signed since then.

MLB reportedly was not happy with the makeup of the Lerner group and asked it recently to add partners with more minority backgrounds. The Malek group already includes such high-profile African Americans as former Secretary of State Colin Powell and Vernon Jordan, who was an advisor to President Clinton.

Bob DuPuy, MLB's president and chief operating officer, told a Congressional committee recently that the sale of the MLB owned-and-operated team should be determined in a matter of weeks.

The owners will be asked to approve the sale of the team for a reported $450 million during the next quarterly meetings scheduled for May 17-18 in New York.

The sale will bring to an end an odyssey that began in late 2001 when MLB owners voted to contract two teams, widely reported to be the Montreal Expos and Minnesota Twins.

Instead, MLB purchased the financially ailing Expos on Feb. 15, 2002, from Jeffery Loria and his group of partners for $120 million and a relocation committee spent much of the next three seasons studying where to move the team. The decision to relocate the Expos to the nation's capital was made near the end of the 2004 season and the renamed Nationals have just begun their second season playing in 45-year-old RFK Stadium.

The search for new owners has taken more than a year, during which eight groups placed a deposit with MLB and seriously vied for the team. The Nationals will be the ninth MLB franchise to change the majority owner since February 2002, including the Cincinnati Reds, which were sold earlier this year.

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.