Sources: Union officials break news to players

Expos players were told this week that a decision on their 2005 home is near, that it won't be Montreal and that there is a strong likelihood they will be living in the Washington, D.C., area.

Sources familiar with the Expos' relocation process told ESPN.com on Thursday that union leaders Donald Fehr and Gene Orza met Wednesday with Montreal player representative Brian Schneider and assistant rep Brad Wilkerson.

The player reps were informed by the union that there is now an overwhelming probability that they will wind up in either Washington or Northern Virginia -- although there is still a small chance that baseball could opt to move the franchise to Las Vegas.

The players now believe Washington is the favorite, with Northern Virginia looming as a compromise choice if Orioles owner Peter Angelos attempts to block Washington's bid. Either way, the players were told that the union is very confident this is, finally, their last season in Montreal.

They also came away with the impression that San Juan, Puerto Rico, where the Expos have been playing a portion of their home schedule, and Monterrey, Mexico, also are no longer being seriously considered.

Relocation candidates such as Portland, Ore., and Norfolk, Va., were pictured as being extremely unlikely.

Players were not given a specific deadline for an announcement to be made, but it is expected to be sometime in August. Owners have a meeting scheduled in Philadelphia Aug. 18-19, which appears to be a new, though informal, target date for a decision.

Commissioner Bud Selig said last week that a decision would be announced "sometime this summer."

But for scheduling reasons, and to provide as much time as possible to refurbish RFK Stadium as a temporary home for either a Washington or Northern Virginia team, several sources have been predicting an announcement by mid-August.

Orza declined comment, other than to confirm he met with the Expos' player reps. Pat Courtney, a spokesman for Major League Baseball, said only that baseball is still in the midst of evaluating candidates, and that "no conclusions have been reached."

Senior writer Jayson Stark covers Major League Baseball for ESPN.com.