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Expos, Twins on chopping block

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NEW YORK — Baseball management, its plans for contraction all but over, told the players' association that Montreal and Minnesota were the only teams under consideration for elimination before opening day.

Owners voted on Nov. 6 to eliminate two teams, but did not identify them. But contraction has been on hold since Nov. 16, when a Minnesota judge issued an injunction that forces the Twins to honor their 2002 lease at the Metrodome.

Management negotiators Rob Manfred and Paul Beeston told the players' association last week that if owners succeeded in their plan to eliminate teams for this season, the Twins and Expos were the only candidates, two people familiar with the talks said Monday on the condition of anonymity.

Commissioner Bud Selig has refused to rule out folding franchises for the 2002 season and maintains that no teams officially have been picked for folding.

Manfred and union head Donald Fehr refused comment. Selig and Beeston did not return telephone calls seeking comment.

Lawyers for the Twins and Selig have asked the Minnesota Supreme Court to lift the injunction, but the high court won't decide until Friday at the earliest whether to take the case. Even if the Supreme Court accepts an appeal, it's unlikely to issue a decision on the injunction before Feb. 14, the first day teams can start spring training workouts.

Selig has maintained that contraction is theoretically possible any time before the major league season opener, when Cleveland plays at Anaheim on March 31. If contraction doesn't take place this winter, owners may pick other teams to eliminate for 2003.

The union has filed a grievance, arguing the decision to eliminate teams violated the labor contract that expired Nov. 7, but remains in force. The sides met Monday with arbitrator Shyam Das and agreed that the hearing, which recessed last week, will resume with sessions in New York on Feb. 5 and 6.

The Expos became the last team to release their schedule, and said Monday they will install a new playing surface at Olympic Stadium before the April 2 opener against Florida.

"We are confident that baseball will be back in Montreal in 2002 and I just want to express my sincere appreciation for our fans' patience and support during what has been a very trying offseason," Expos executive vice president David Samson said.

Bob DuPuy, baseball's chief legal officer, said the release of Montreal's schedule was "of no significance" in the contraction process.