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WSI News - News Watch

Report: Contraction likely off for '02; Expos to D.C.?

January 13th, from ESPN.com news services

It's becoming clear that contraction will likely be called off for the 2002 season sometime soon.

Citing unnamed sources familiar with the situation, The Washington Post reported Saturday that contraction is unlikely for 2002, and that the Montreal Expos could be moved to the Washington, D.C. region as early as 2003 if a series of transactions takes place at the owners' meeting next week in Phoenix.

Commissioner Bud Selig has repeatedly said baseball plans to eliminate two teams -- believed to be the Minnesota Twins and Montreal Expos -- before next season. And he's still not backing off that statement. Robert A. DuPuy, MLB's executive vice president and chief legal officer, told The Post that Selig has not decided to call off contraction for 2002.

However, The Post reported that baseball officials will make public their decision to postpone contraction, but only after an arbitrator makes a ruling on an ongoing grievance filed by the players' association.

The newspaper said, barring legal action by the Massachusetts attorney general, the approval of the Red Sox sale to a John Henry-led group will trigger an owners vote on the sale of the Marlins to current Expos owner Jeffrey Loria. The New York art dealer reportedly is believed to have already agreed on a $150 million price for the Marlins.

Major League Baseball would then step in and take over the Expos operation for the 2002 season, The Post reported, with Hall of Famer and current baseball senior vice president Frank Robinson being brought in to run the franchise or manage the team -- or both.

"The commissioner will decide the outside date by which contraction becomes impractical for 2002, and no decision has been made," DuPuy told The Post late Friday. "The commissioner told the players' association two days ago that he . . . has not established an outside date."

Selig is expected to delay contraction even if the players win the grievance. However, he would have some powerful ammunition going into talks with the union over a new collective bargaining agreement, which expired last November.

The players' association filed a grievance saying that owners had already approved a 30-team schedule for 2002, and that they are obligated to negotiate contraction in collective bargaining. Baseball, on the other hand, contends it can contract teams unilaterally and needs only to negotiate the effects of contraction with the union.



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