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12/15/09 2:27 AM EST

Crane appears to be front-runner for Rangers

Houston businessman reportedly submitted highest proposal

ARLINGTON -- Houston businessman Jim Crane appears to have emerged as the leading contender to be awarded exclusive negotiating rights to purchase the Rangers from owner Tom Hicks.

Industry sources said that Crane's second proposal to buy the Rangers is currently the highest bid to buy the team, but the team has made no comment on the negotiations and Crane would need to be confimred by the Commissioner's Office, which has yet to occur. The National Hockey League and the New York bankers who hold the debt on Hicks Sports Group would also need to sign off on Crane.

Hicks has put some or all of the team up for sale to pay off all or part of the debt accrued by Hicks Sports Group, which owns the Rangers and the NHL's Dallas Stars. Major League Baseball has set a Tuesday deadline for Hicks to decide with whom he wants to engage in exclusive negotiating rights to buy the Rangers.

Crane represents one of three groups to have submitted multiple proposals to buy the team. The other groups are led by Pittsburgh sports attorney Chuck Greenberg and former players' agent Dennis Gilbert.

All three submitted proposals just before Thanksgiving and were given a chance to submit a second before the Tuesday deadline. Gilbert and Greenberg submitted their second proposals last Monday, and Crane submitted his last Thursday.

It's up to Hicks to identify what proposal he believes best suits the Rangers' situation, and a high-ranking industry source has made it clear that economics "will drive this deal." That means a front-running offer likely would have to do the most to address the HSG debt.

Crane's candicacy appeared to be in doubt because of a handshake agreement to buy the Astros in the fall of 2008 that fell apart in the final hour, and that seemed to cast doubt among Major League officials if he would ultimately gain approval to buy the Rangers. But that could be a moot point if he is deemed the highest bidder in this situation.

Crane is expected to try to retain Nolan Ryan as club president. Ryan has made it clear that he is aligned with Greenberg's group, which is made up of 80 percent local investors. Gilbert's group consists mainly of investors out of Chicago, and Ryan has made it clear that he would unlikely stay with the team under those circumstances.

Hicks' selection does not signify who will buy the team, only who will gain exclusive negotiating rights.

No agreement has been announced as to who would be selected, but a source, referring to Crane having the upper hand, said, "All signs point strongly in that direction."

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.