Nats sale set for approval; owners begin looking at CBA

NEW YORK -- With baseball owners set to approve the $450 million sale of the Washington Nationals on Thursday, they started turning their attention to the next hot topic: Collective bargaining.

The Nationals' sale to Theodore Lerner and Stan Kasten won unanimous endorsements Wednesday from the sport's ownership committee and executive council, and all owners are to vote on it Thursday. Approval is a foregone conclusion, and Bob DuPuy, baseball's chief operating officer, said he expects the Nationals will be transferred between June 15 and the All-Star Game on July 11.

"They have been immersed in stadium discussions and planning," he said of the incoming owners.

Baseball's other 29 teams purchased the Montreal Expos for $120 million in 2002 from Jeffrey Loria, who bought the Florida Marlins from John Henry, the head of a group that took over the Boston Red Sox. The Expos, plagued by poor attendance, moved to Washington for the 2005 season and were renamed.

"We did not want to be in the business of owning the Nationals. Everyone wanted to see the team get transferred," DuPuy said. "This was an extraordinary circumstance. There's no expectation it will happen again."

DuPuy said there was no talk Wednesday of the quests by the Marlins, Minnesota Twins and Oakland Athletics for new ballparks or of the potential sale of the Atlanta Braves from Time Warner Inc. to Liberty Media Corp.

But he there was a lengthy discussion of labor. Baseball's collective bargaining agreement expires Dec. 19, and there have been several meetings between management and the union that DuPuy described as "informational" rather than negotiations.

Revenue sharing and the luxury tax appear to be the biggest items. In the labor contract agreed to in 2002, the sides established a tax that inhibits spending on players above specified payroll figures and specified that teams split 34 percent of their locally generated revenue, after deductions for ballpark expenses.

Those rules have cost the Red Sox and New York Yankees most, and some owners want even more revenue to be shared.

"There are some inequities in the revenue-sharing system right now that we think need to be addressed," DuPuy said, refusing to go into details.

The players' association has questioned whether teams that receive money are spending it to improve themselves.

"There's an issue as to whether or not clubs are using revenue-sharing receipts in an appropriate way," union head Donald Fehr said during spring training.

Rob Manfred, baseball's top labor lawyer, gave a presentation on the subject to the council, and DuPuy cited the improvement in the farm systems as proof that the rules are being followed properly.

"We have contended all along that the money has been put to good use," DuPuy said, "that the increased level of competitive balance that you see throughout the industry over the last three to five years has been an indication of how that money is being used."

DuPuy said there has been "zero discussion" of a possible lockout after the contract expires.

"Our goal is to get an agreement as quickly as possible," he said. "We have a framework now that we can build on."

Fehr, who did not respond to an e-mail Wednesday, said in spring training that the condition of the industry had improved, a possible prelude to the union asking that the luxury tax be either removed or raised considerably.

"Whatever else we can say, the fiscal and economic landscape is not at this point equivalent to what it was in 2001 and '02," he said then. "And obviously, when you go into bargaining, you deal with what is not with what used to be."

DuPuy said that the steroids investigation by former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell was mentioned only briefly. Commissioner Bud Selig hired Mitchell in March to head the probe.

"The commissioner has, I think, not spoken to George Mitchell at all," DuPuy said.