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Agreement to Sell Team Could Be Reached Soon

Times Staff Writer

The Walt Disney Co. could announce an agreement to sell the Angels within the next few weeks, a high-ranking baseball official said Sunday.

“I think things may accelerate soon,” the official said. “I know they’re anxious to move it along. There could be movement within a short period of time.”

Disney Chairman Michael Eisner, a fixture at Edison Field throughout the playoffs last fall, did not attend Sunday’s season opener.

Any sale agreement is subject to lengthy scrutiny by major league owners, so Disney is expected to run the team through this season.

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Of the three suitors believed to be finalists -- the Nederlander family, Boston real estate developer Frank McCourt and an unidentified bidder -- the Nederlanders are considered the favorites. The theater impresarios got a head start by negotiating with Disney last year, before the company hired an investment bank to manage the bidding.

McCourt, who bid unsuccessfully for the Boston Red Sox two years ago, is believed to have toured Edison Field and met with Angel officials. It is uncertain whether McCourt is leading an investment partnership, as he did when pursuing the Red Sox.

If a new owner insists upon breaking even, the Angels and their fans might look back upon this time as their Camelot.

The Angels raised their first World Series championship flag Sunday, in recognition of a glorious 2002 season.

However, the Angels project a loss in the range of $10 million this year, even with record ticket sales at record ticket prices. That could force an incoming owner, possibly saddled with debt from purchasing the team, to choose between slashing payroll or subsidizing heavy losses.

The Angels sold a club-record 20,560 season tickets by opening day, senior vice president Kevin Uhlich said. Based on sales projections, he said the Angels could sell out 35 games this year, smashing the record of 14 set last year. If the Angels contend all summer, they could draw 3 million fans for the first time.

“That’s my goal,” Uhlich said. “I want to hit 3 million.”

With ticket prices up 25% and with the Angels locked into a 10-year cable deal with Fox Sports Net, a new owner would probably be precluded from using the traditional ways of boosting revenue. Still, Uhlich said incremental increases could be available in several areas, including Spanish broadcasts, projected to turn a profit for the first time this season.

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“If the team plays well, there will be some revenue opportunities,” he said.

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Disney approved an $84-million player payroll this season, but General Manager Bill Stoneman assembled an opening-day roster for $76 million. That makes the Angels one of the few teams able to add salary as circumstances warrant, and Stoneman said he would feel free to approach his Disney bosses with such a request.

“If something’s available that is of value, then I would go to them,” he said.

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Jarrod Washburn made 93 pitches over 7 1/3 innings of a minor league exhibition game Sunday in Arizona. The minor league game started at 10 a.m. rather than 1 p.m. so that he could fly to California and join his teammates in the flag-raising ceremony.

“It was a great feeling to be out there and get recognized for what we accomplished,” he said. “I’d rather have been standing in the bullpen, warming up for the game.”

Washburn believed he could have started as planned on opening day, but coaches decided he needed an extra exhibition appearance after a shoulder sprain limited his spring workouts. He is scheduled to make his season debut Saturday at Oakland.

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Aaron Sele is scheduled to make the first of five minor league rehabilitation starts Sunday, for Class-A Rancho Cucamonga. The Angels have targeted May 1 for his return to the starting rotation.... With third baseman Troy Glaus fighting tendinitis in his right wrist, Manager Mike Scioscia temporarily dropped Glaus to No. 6 in the batting order. Designated hitter Brad Fullmer, who hit .370 in spring training, batted fifth.


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