Expos' deal to play in San Juan finalized

Updated: December 17, 2003, 6:51 PM ET

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- Now that the Montreal Expos are returning to San Juan for 22 games next season, the Puerto Rican promoter would like to bid for a permanent team.

"The primary goal in doing this is to bring a major league team to Puerto Rico in the future," Antonio Munoz said Wednesday at a news conference with major league officials. "We can show that Puerto Rico is an adequate site, and that we can compete with any city in the United States."

Munoz is guaranteeing the commissioner's office $10 million for the games at Hiram Bithorn Stadium under an agreement with the commissioner's office, up from $6.6 million last season.

The Expos were bought by the other 29 teams before the 2002 season, and the commissioner's office has spoken about a permanent moves with groups from Northern Virginia; Portland, Ore.; and Washington, D.C. Baseball owners want funding for a ballpark in place before deciding on a relocation.

John McHale Jr., major league baseball's executive vice president for administration, said the commissioner's office received a proposal from Munoz and his son, Antonio Munoz Grajales, to permanently relocate the team to the Caribbean island.

"We take them seriously," McHale said.

He said San Juan's proposal lacks a plan for a new ballpark -- Hiram Bithorn Stadium's maximum capacity will be about 20,000 with expansions planned for next season. Baseball officials still need to determine whether Puerto Rico can support a franchise for a full season.

"Across baseball there is still some unfamiliarity with the demographics of the San Juan market," McHale said.

The Expos will play home games next year against the New York Mets (April 9-11), Florida (April 13-15), Milwaukee (May 18-20), San Francisco (May 21-23), Toronto (July 2-4), Atlanta (July 5-7) and Pittsburgh (July 8-11). The commissioner's office pushed for the games in San Juan to increase revenue.

Gene Orza, the No. 2 official of the players' association, said the union's agreement with the commissioner's officer calls for the Expos to have a "slightly higher" budget than the one received in 2003. Montreal players were angered that the team was not allowed to make September callups, and they threatened not to allow San Juan games in 2004.

"Both whether to call up players in September as well as whether to exceed or fall short of the budget number is committed, in writing, to the sole discretion of the GM and president of the club, in their reasoned discretion," Orza said in an e-mail sent to The Associated Press.

Expos general manager Omar Minaya said the uncertainty over the team's future and its budget restrictions make it difficult to attract top level free agents.

"When a free agent wants to make a decision for more than a year, he wants to make it knowing what the future will hold," Minaya said.

Monterrey, Mexico, also had bid for the Expos' games in 2004, but players preferred a return to Puerto Rico.

"The clubs' proposal to play again in Puerto Rico was, under all the circumstances, a reasonable one, especially against the backdrop of the warm reception given the players last year in San Juan," union head Donald Fehr said.

Baseball commissioner Bud Selig called the Mexicans' proposal "formidable."

"We determined that San Juan, being the incumbent, was the most suitable choice to stage these series of games in 2004," Selig said in a statement. "We will continue to consider Monterrey should other opportunities arise."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index

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