MILWAUKEE -- The sale of the Houston Astros has apparently passed through the final hurdles and is on the agenda Thursday for a full vote of the owners at their final quarterly joint meeting of the year, current owner Drayton McLane told a group of reporters on Wednesday evening.
McLane said the sale to a group headed by Houston businessman Jim Crane for $610 million had presumably sailed through the ownership committee and the executive council, the last prerequisite for sale of a Major League Baseball franchise. Any sale needs approval of 75 percent of the owners or their representatives.
"I didn't sit in on the meetings, but I didn't hear anything contrary to that," McLane said. "I talked to the Commissioner, and he said the ownership meeting went very well. I haven't talked to him since they had the executive council meeting, but hopefully that also went extremely well."
Asked if the sale was definitely on the agenda, McLane responded with a robust, "Yeah, oh yeah!" But neither an MLB spokesman nor Commissioner Bud Selig would confirm that Crane had passed through the process.
Also on the agenda is the transfer of control of the San Francisco Giants from Bill Neukom to Larry Baer, the club's president and chief operating officer, who is poised to become the voting member of the organization at all MLB functions. Neukom, a high-powered attorney, is set to retire at the end of the year.
What may not be attached to Thursday's precedings is the move of the Astros from the National League to the American League beginning in 2013, which was a stipulation of the sale of the franchise. That issue is a matter of collective bargaining and probably will be announced along with the signing of a new Basic Agreement.
Negotiations between MLB and the MLB Players Association have been halted until Friday at the latest so Rob Manfred, MLB's executive vice president of labor relations and human resources, could brief the owners about the progress of the talks.
One high-ranking MLB official characterized the expected five-year deal as "very close." It could be announced sometime before next Thursday's Thanksgiving holiday.
If the owners approve Crane and the new labor deal comes to pass, MLB will realign for the first time since the Brewers moved from the AL to the NL in 1998, ushering in the era of Interleague Play.
That would bring the two leagues into a 15-15 alignment and shift the Astros into the AL West, a division that includes their cross-state rival Texas Rangers. All six divisions would then be inhabited by five teams. How the schedule will work is still a matter of consideration. The Astros expanded into the NL as the Houston Colt .45s, along with the Mets in 1962, and are about to celebrate their 50th anniversary season.
"I've said all along I grew up an Astros fan and I look at the Astros as an NL team, but I understand the desire to balance out the two leagues," Rangers president and Hall of fame pitcher Nolan Ryan said on Wednesday. "From our perspective, having them in our division, I like it, because it gives us another team in our time zone. I think that if both teams are competitive in a given year, it will create a good rivalry within the state. There are a lot of plusses from our perspective about it."Even before the 1962 expansion, Houston was a solid NL city, within the radio territory of the St. Louis Cardinals, so a change to the AL is going to take some digesting for local fans, said John Moores, the Padres' majority owner, who like McLane, calls Houston home. Plus, unlike the Rangers, who gain a local partner in their own time zone, the Astros shift to a schedule in which three of the teams in their own division -- A's, Mariners and Angels -- all are based on the West Coast. "What's difficult as a business arrangement is all those games on the road that begin two times zones away," Moores said. "That's more of a serious problem for them. I think some people are going to like playing Boston, playing the Yankees, the Tigers. There will be a bunch of interesting games that the fans will see. But I grew up being a Cardinals fan. There are many generations of Texans that were born and bred on the NL. So it's going to be traumatic for some people." Crane's purchase of the Astros has been on hold since it was taken off the agenda at the last Owner Meeting this past Aug. 18 in Cooperstown, N.Y. Baseball needed more time to vet Crane and his partners as the collective bargaining talks involving realignment proceeded on a parallel basis. Last May, when McLane and Crane came to agreement, the sale price was announced at $680 million. But when Crane was told the sale was contingent on the Astros changing leagues, he was granted a $70 million credit. That discount reportedly is being split evenly by MLB and McLane, who said Crane is more than ready to take over the team. "I introduced him to a number of the owners today, and he handled himself very well," McLane said. "He's an experienced business man. The concerns about him [and his business practices] happened almost 20 years ago. He'll be a very good owner and very responsible owner. He's ready for the big time." Crane has tried to buy an MLB franchise for the past two years. He and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban teamed last year to try to purchase the Rangers through a bankruptcy court auction, but he lost to the group headed by Ryan. Now he is on the verge of that goal. McLane, 75, is one of MLB's longer term owners, having purchased the Astros in 1992 only months before Selig was named the interim Commissioner. McLane said he was facing Thursday with some seller's remorse. "It's kind of sad," he said. "I was thinking last night that 19 years ago when I bought the team how elated I was. I thought of all the emotions -- elation, excitement. In the end, it was beyond all of my expectations. It's been a wonderful, wonderful ride."
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.