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What's Changed with Jim Crane and the Sale of the Astros? PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Maury Brown   
Monday, 28 March 2011 13:49
Jim Crane
Houston, we have lift off? Jim Crane is
being talked of as having (another) shot
at owning the Houston Astros

Here’s something to chew on as the season is about to begin: unless there is a dramatic change, both Texas MLB clubs will see new ownership in less than one year.

The twist to the story is, the one that appears headed to own the Houston Astros very nearly wound up owning the Texas Rangers.

Of course, he nearly owned the Astros once before.

When Richard Justice of the Houston Chronicle reported last week that Jim Crane was the one who is close to – if not sown up – the sale from Drayton McLane, the word bandied about was “shocked”. After all, word was that when Crane stiffed McLane at the 11th hour in 2008 when he tried to initially sell it, he was furious.

And then there was the Rangers auction sale.

Those within the league had made it adamantly clear Crane, and Mark Cuban, who he partnered with just days before the auction sale, were not wanted, and likely would not have been approved by 75 percent of the league’s owners to have the sale completed.

So, what changed?

Let’s start with the Rangers. In that instance, while Crane certainly made no friends by ditching McLane at the last minute (rumor was, the Astros had already worked up a press release saying the sales agreement had been reached), with the Rangers it may have been more about wanting Nolan Ryan in The Lodge more than it was about Crane backing out.

So, what’s different with the State of Astros Nation now compared to 2008?

This one is harder to know, at least without being a close confidant of McLane. Maybe time healed the wounds, but a betting man would say it’s about Drayton wishing to get out of the baseball business, and having the value of the club increase due to not only the Rangers auction, but the capacity to leverage being part owner in a regional sports network, the newly formed CSN Houston.

Finally, this deal is being brokered behind closed doors, so here’s an aspect that will be harder to come by: how much of the sale will be leveraged?

If there’s one thing that’s giving Bud Selig real heartburn these days it’s the likes of Tom Hicks, Frank McCourt, and the dealings around the Mets that have clubs getting themselves into serious amounts of debt. With the financial markets easing back up on granting loans, Crane’s ability to have a cash component in the deal that might be labeled “hefty” would be more on the order of what the Commissioner’s Office wants to see.

The bottom line is the bottom line. No one is certain how Crane will run the team any differently than McLane. In that, he’s been quiet in the media. This isn’t to say that if Crane stays as such, he would be the first owner to act that way as heaven knows the Lerners with the Washington Nationals are about as “blank slate” as you can get.

So, if it comes to fruition, it’s surprising that Jim Crane will wind up with the Houston Astros, except when you dwell on it further it’s only surprising if the past influenced the present. When it comes to business, it can all change depending on the seller and the buyer. Now, about how MLB’s  owners will vote to approve the sale? If it’s gone this far, Selig has already held a straw vote. If Crane’s the man for McLane, then Crane appears to be the next owner of the Houston Astros. Of course, in business, the deal’s not done till the deal’s done. McLane could always be the one leaving Crane at the altar this time, rather than visa-versa.

"There is no agreement with anybody, and there are at least three that are far along in the process," McLane said Friday from Temple, Texas. "Jim Crane is certainly one of them. There are several others. There is no agreement, and it's a wide-open field. It's a long process."

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Maury BrownMaury Brown is the Founder and President of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey, as well as a contributor to FanGraphs and Forbes SportsMoney. He is available for hire or freelance. Brown's full bio is here. He looks forward to your comments via email and can be contacted through the Business of Sports Network.

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