PARADISE VALLEY, Ariz. -- The chairman of the Chicago Cubs said on Wednesday that he not only hopes to have an owner designate for the franchise by Opening Day, but he hopes the transaction will be finalized by Major League Baseball. "I'd actually like to be finished by Opening Day, have the deal done," Cubs chairman Crane Kenney told writers as the first day of the two-day owners' meetings here got under way. "We're anxious to get the season started and have a new owner in place. That would mean being able to move forward with some things that have been idling for the last two years." To achieve that goal, Kenney will have to have the prospective owner for a franchise vetted by its ownership committee. Once approval is given by that body, it is passed on to the executive council and then to a 75-percent vote of the 30 owners. The next owners meetings are not until May.
"I think we probably can get some help from the Commissioner to [speed up] the vetting process, and then there would be a full vetting with the ownership group," Kenney said. "I think everyone wants this to come to a conclusion, including the Commissioner. If we can get a little assistance, then maybe we can get there by April." Picking a prospective buyer is now in the hands of the Tribune Co., which extended a deadline for final bids at the end of last week. "I know they're in the final stages," said Kenney, who told reporters in early December that he hoped the team would be sold by the start of Spring Training, which is now only a month away. "Their goal would be to have someone negotiate final terms to a deal sometime before early February." Kenney confirmed the three potential buyers picked by the Tribune Co., which owns the Cubs, Wrigley Field and a 25-percent stake in a regional sports network: Tom Ricketts, chief executive of Chicago investment bank Incapital LLC and the son of the founder of TD Ameritrade Holding Corp. Marc Utay, a managing partner with New York-based private equity firm Clarion Capital Partners LLC. Chicago real estate executive Hersh Klaff. Complicating matters is the fact that the Tribune Co. filed for bankruptcy reorganization in December. Though the Cubs were not part of that filing, a bankruptcy judge will determine whether the sale of the Cubs is considered an asset to pay off creditors. Kenney said he hopes that the court wouldn't intervene. "[The court] could [order last-minute bids]," Kenney said. "But we've had such a long and open process with originally 10 bidders that I don't know that the court, especially in this economy, will have to do sort of a market check to see if there's a higher bidder than the one that results from the Tribune process. There have been enough bumps in this road." Realtor Sam Zell purchased the Tribune Co. in August 2007, and almost from that moment made it be known that the baseball franchise and all its component parts would be sold. Forbes Magazine valued the Cubs at $642 million last year, but bids have reportedly come in as high as $1.3 billion. Kenney said that the sale would allow management to move forward on a ballpark village adjacent to Wrigley Field and a complete retrofitting for the stadium, which will turn 100 years old in 2014. "We want to take Wrigley into this generation," Kenney said. "The design and financing of that really depends on a new owner. For us to move forward on that without the new owner is really impossible."
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.