McLane announced in November he was accepting offers for the sale of the club he purchased more than 18 years ago, and he said he desired local ownership. Crane, who nearly bought the Astros in 2008, is the CEO and founder of Houston-based Crane Capital Group.
"There is no agreement with anybody, and there are at least three that are far along in the process," McLane said Friday from Temple, Texas. "Jim Crane is certainly one of them. There are several others. There is no agreement, and it's a wide-open field. It's a long process."
The negotiations are being handled by Steve Greenberg of Allen & Company, a New York-based investment bank. Greenberg said Friday he was in "deep discussions with multiple parties," but wouldn't go as far as saying a deal is done.
"We're a lot closer to the finish line than we are to the starting line," Greenberg said. "We're toward the end. It's always hard to predict when you're going to actually close something out. Sometimes the last few points can get resolved very quickly, and sometimes they can take a month. We're working our way through it, but I'm not prepared to say that we're on the brink of a deal at this point."
Greenberg said he believed Crane is an outstanding potential candidate.
"If you go back to Drayton's press conference [in November], he laid out in general how he was thinking about a transition, and he talked a lot about local ownership," Greenberg said. "Crane is a local guy, and obviously Crane's a very successful businessman with a high degree of energy and a great love of the game. He was a college baseball player. He's all got the credentials and would be a great candidate."
McLane said in December 2009 that he had a tentative agreement with Crane to purchase the Astros following the 2008 season, but a deal couldn't be reached. Crane previously had bid to purchase the Chicago Cubs and Texas Rangers.
Crane was unavailable for comment.
McLane purchased the Astros for $117 million and watched the franchise reach new heights, reaching the playoffs six times in a nine-year span between 1997 and 2005. The team reached its first World Series in '05, but was swept by the Chicago White Sox. He also oversaw the building of Minute Maid Park in 2000.
Forbes reported Thursday the Astros are worth an estimated $474 million -- which ranked 14th in the magazine's annual list of MLB teams -- a figure that doesn't necessarily reflect all revenue streams and assets associated with the ballclub. The Astros have an agreement with the NBA's Houston Rockets and cable network provider Comcast to launch a regional sports network that will begin airing Astros games in 2013 and Rockets games beginning with the 2012 preseason.
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.