New year to bring new MLB-Angelos talks


It's the one remaining loose end - but, boy, is it a big one.

Major League Baseball has completed the move of the Montreal Expos to Washington. It has dealt with D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp and tweaked the deal agreed to in September. It has named the team. It is in the process of picking an owner. D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams has signed the legislation that will enable a stadium to be built.

Next up: Peter Angelos.

MLB president and chief operating officer Bob DuPuy will travel to Baltimore early next week to continue negotiations over how the Orioles will be protected financially from the effects of competition in the region for the first time since 1971.

Despite his bitter opposition to a second team in the region, Angelos in late September said he might be persuaded to go along if a deal were struck to protect his franchise and the state's investment in Oriole Park.

"If those two goals can be accomplished, and I feel the franchise would be secure and the revenue stream is protected and the asset value is secure, it might be possible to make a deal," Angelos said at the time.

The sides have held numerous negotiating sessions over the past three months, with DuPuy coming to Angelos' Charles Center law offices at least three times and the Orioles owner flying to Milwaukee to meet with commissioner Bud Selig at least once.

But no deal has been struck.

MLB has reportedly agreed to assure Angelos his franchise's value won't slip below $365 million, and that number would increase on a sliding scale at the same rate as baseball's overall revenues increase. Angelos and his partners paid $173 million for the team in 1993.

MLB also is reportedly offering assurances that the Orioles' locally derived annual revenue - ticket sales, concessions and other non-broadcast revenue - won't fall below a benchmark of about $130 million.

And the two sides are discussing creation of a regional sports network that would televise the games of the Orioles and the Washington Nationals. The Orioles, who have had the Baltimore-Washington market alone since the end of the 1971 season, want to ensure themselves of at least a 60/40 split in the network's profits.

The sticking point, according to major league sources, has been how long the financial protections would last. MLB originally offered to make the deal good only for as long Angelos owned the Orioles. But Angelos has targeted an undisclosed term, perhaps 15 or 20 years.

As negotiations have worn on - DuPuy has been sidetracked with other issues, including the playoffs and World Series, a trip to Japan with a team of MLB all-stars, the steroid controversy and then with Cropp and the D.C. Council - rumors that Angelos' patience has worn thin have bubbled up.

In late November, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said in a radio interview that Angelos was prepared to sue MLB, and Angelos later said he was "certainly not unhappy" the governor made the statement.

Among the issues Angelos could raise in a lawsuit is whether he had been given assurances by baseball's leaders that he would not face competition inside the Washington-Baltimore market. The state of Maryland, too, could make a claim that the security of the debt it issued to construct Oriole Park could be put at risk.

Angelos' law offices were closed yesterday, and he could not be reached for comment.

DuPuy, who did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment yesterday, said at the time that Angelos had not threatened a lawsuit.

Major League Baseball owners are scheduled to gather in Scottsdale, Ariz., on Jan. 12-13 for a quarterly meeting.

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