Marlins sale for $150M is reported

Sources say buyer won't move franchise

Baseball

November 23, 2001|By David O'Brien and Sarah Talalay | David O'Brien and Sarah Talalay,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

FORT LAUDERDALE - Florida Marlins owner John Henry has entered into an agreement to sell the team to an undisclosed buyer who plans to keep it in South Florida, baseball sources have confirmed.

The buyer or buyers will pay about $150 million and will continue to pursue a new ballpark that could ensure the franchise's viability in South Florida, the sources said. Sources also said the deal is unrelated to Major League Baseball's plans to fold two teams, and that the buyer has expressed no intention of moving the team out of South Florida.

The new ownership would be the third for the Marlins in nine seasons. Henry bought the Marlins in 1999 for $150 million from H. Wayne Huizenga, who paid a $95 million expansion fee in 1991 for the team, which began playing in 1993. Earlier this year, the team's value was placed at $128 million.

Sources said the would-be purchaser's financial records have been reviewed and approved by Major League Baseball, and that the sale will be finalized if it receives approval from three-quarters, or 23, of the 30 team owners.

That approval could come as soon as Tuesday, when owners are scheduled to meet in Chicago to discuss contraction - baseball's term for disbanding teams - though it's unclear whether the Marlins' sale has been added to the agenda.

While Henry is prepared to sit out next season as an owner, he intends to return with another team in the near future, sources said.

Henry could not be reached for comment. A source close to the negotiations said that this sale agreement was worked out in recent weeks and that Henry is not close to finalizing the purchase of another team, either as an individual or as part of a group.

Sources revealed little about the Marlins' pending new ownership but made it clear the sale is independent of baseball's ambitious plan to fold two teams before next season. That contraction plan has run up against a rash of protests and legal resistance, and many industry insiders think it is not possible for at least another year.

It is widely thought that the Montreal Expos and Minnesota Twins are the primary targets of contraction, but the Marlins also have been mentioned. The agreement to sell the team would suggest the new owner has received assurances the Marlins will not be eliminated.

If new ownership is in place and states an intention to bring back most key members of last season's team, catcher Charles Johnson might not exercise an escape clause in his contract that allows him to become a free agent if ballpark funding isn't secured. Johnson has until Dec. 3 to make his decision.

David O'Brien and Sarah Talalay are reporters for the Sun-Sentinel, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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