Major League Baseball yesterday kicked off the process of selling the team formerly known as the Montreal Expos, while the president of the franchise said it might have a new name soon after the World Series.
Groups that are interested in spending upward of $300 million for the team must let MLB know by Nov. 1 and pay a $100,000 application fee. Baseball will then vet the groups and take bids from those that qualify.
MLB spokesman Pat Courtney said the "easy answer" on a timeline for a new owner for the franchise was "as soon as possible."
"But you have to do your due diligence on the makeup of the ownership group," he said. "It depends on how complicated the ownership structure is."
Major League Baseball bought the Expos for $120 million from Jeffrey Loria in early 2002.
"We are looking forward to the process," said Winston Lord, executive director of the Washington Baseball Club, which has been trying to get a team for the nation's capital since 1999. "I think baseball will want it to be as competitive as possible. But we're certainly ready for that."
Despite the head start that Lord's group has, MLB is under no obligation to sell the team to it.
Others who have publicly acknowledged their interest in buying the franchise include New York real estate investor Mark Broxmeyer and Memphis, Tenn., investment banker Brian Saulsberry. And Bill Collins, who spent $10 million and 10 years trying to bring a team to Northern Virginia, has said he is contemplating a bid.
Even as it starts the search for an owner for the Washington franchise, Major League Baseball has yet to reach an agreement with Orioles managing partner Peter Angelos that would protect his team financially from the effects of sharing the market.
"I have had no conversations with Mr. Angelos as a result of my travels during the past week," Bob DuPuy, MLB's president and point man in the talks, said in an e-mail yesterday. "Our goal is to resolve the situation as soon as possible. There is no hold on the discussion or any announcement as a result of the playoffs."
Angelos declined to comment.
In Washington, Expos president Tony Tavares has set up temporary offices in the Washington Hilton as he attempts to organize things in the team's new home.
"We have been running pretty fast and hard here, but we think we're getting a lot accomplished," he said on a conference call with reporters.
When asked how he planned to market the team, Tavares said he was "inclined to call it the Washington baseball team at the moment."
"But," he added, "I'm hopeful of having an answer to [the name] question right after the World Series."
Speculation has centered on Senators or Nationals - both used by former Washington teams. D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams has said he favors Grays, which would honor the Negro leagues' Homestead Grays, who won nine championships in Washington in the 1930s and 1940s.
Rich Levin, another MLB spokesman, said baseball is looking into the possibility of choosing a name, but said no decisions will be announced until after the World Series.
"Obviously, when the new owner takes over after a certain amount of time, he will have the right to rename the team if that's what he wishes, but we think it's important to have a name sooner rather than later," he said.
Tavares also said he would like to have a general manager hired shortly after the World Series. The new GM would then decide the fate of manager Frank Robinson and the coaching staff.
"As anxious as you all are to find out whether these people have jobs, I promise you they are more anxious than you are," Tavares said. "They are worried about whether they're getting their next paycheck."
Tavares said he is optimistic that sales of season tickets can begin by the middle of next month, followed by mini-plans and individual games. The team will use a list of potential ticket buyers that is being compiled by the Washington Baseball Club, he said.
As far as improvements at the team's temporary home, Tavares said he was confident the $13 million earmarked for bringing RFK Stadium up to major league standards would be sufficient.
"We sort of have an `A' list of things that must be done, and then we have a wish list of things that we'd like to get done," said Tavares, who estimated seating capacity would be 44,000 to 44,500. "We're really focusing on the `A' list at the moment."
He also said he expects to begin negotiations for the new team's radio rights as early as next week. Television decisions - both cable and over-the-air - will be driven by the new regional network that is being discussed as part of the Orioles' talks with MLB, Tavares said.