SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Four weeks after Sam Zell took over as Tribune Company CEO predicting the sale of the Chicago Cubs by Opening Day 2008, Major League Baseball's president called that projection "not realistic." Members of MLB's Ownership Committee were briefed on the status of the Cubs' sale during Wednesday's opening day of the baseball owners' quarterly meeting. Although prospective buyers of the 133-year-old franchise have been submitting their integral information to appropriate MLB departments for reviews of their credentials and backgrounds, the process hasn't yet reached the financial stage.
Addressing media following a full day of meetings on assorted topics at the Four Seasons Resort, Bob DuPuy, president and COO of MLB, said, "There is no formal timetable for a sale." Asked whether the pre-Opening Day sale wishes expressed by Zell on Dec. 20, when he assumed control of the Tribune Company to formalize a $8.2 billion deal, no longer seemed realistic, DuPuy answered, "That would be my conclusion." The sale of the Cubs has been anticipated for nearly two years, since their parent Tribune Company went on the market. Appraised at nearly $600 million in Forbes Magazine's annual survey, the Cubs have attracted a long list of suitors, the most visible among them high-tech guru and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and Jerry Colangelo, owner of the Phoenix Suns and former managing general partner of the Arizona D-backs. The Tribune Company acquired the Cubs for $20.5 million in 1981. The process is far from the so-called "book" stage, the point at which a buyer's detailed bid and management plans would be presented for approval to the Ownership Committee. "A book has not been distributed. There is no formal timetable for the sale," DuPuy said. "The Ownership Committee asked that they receive ongoing reports. But potential buyers have not been providing any information to do the due-diligence work. "Our job is to process applications and approve people. How a team -- and ownership group -- goes about selling their teams, that's their prerogative and their timetable, not ours." The most recent franchise to change hands was the Atlanta Braves, whose sale by Time Warner to Liberty Media for $450 million was approved at the owners' May 2007 meeting in New York. Since the Cubs have gone on the block, the franchise has continued to aggressively field a competitive club. Last winter, the club signed free agent Alfonso Soriano to an eight-year, $136 million contract, and later signed Aramis Ramirez and Carlos Zambrano to extensions representing a total investment of $170 million. The Cubs rallied last season to the National League Central championship. A month ago, the Cubs signed Japanese free-agent outfielder Kosuke Fukudome to a four-year, $48 million deal, and earlier on Wednesday brought back their former pitching ace, Jon Lieber, signing the free-agent righty to a $3.5 million contract for 2008. "I have no concerns about the situation with the Cubs," DuPuy said. "They continue to be operated by the Tribune Company and, notwithstanding the change in control, I don't expect any change in the operation of the team. It's business as usual."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.