Owners appeared set to put off realignment until 2002 and might even discuss getting rid of the Montreal Expos and another team when they meet Friday.
Colorado owner Jerry McMorris first discussed so-called contraction a year ago, but commissioner Bud Selig played down the idea.
When asked the question on national TV last weekend, Selig said: "I don't want to rule anything out today, because there's no question that we do have to solve that problem, because (disparity) is getting worse by the day."
Owners gather Friday to receive the sport's latest economic study report, and to be briefed on the format of next year's schedule and the negotiations for new national TV contracts.
While contraction may not be on the formal agenda, two owners, speaking on the condition they not be identified, said the idea is being given increased attention by team heads because of Montreal's inability to get a new ballpark and probably will be discussed in the hallways.
"It is being taken more seriously," McMorris said Thursday night. "It's just because of disparity and how do we find our way out of difficult situations."
If the major leagues ever decide to shrink, its central fund, which gets money from national broadcasting and licensing contracts, could be used to buy back the Expos along with one other team, one of the owners said.
While there is no obvious choice for a second team, Florida, Minnesota and Oakland have failed to get new ballparks.
As for realignment, Texas had been pushing hardest in order to get out of the AL West. But the Chicago White Sox, Kansas City and Minnesota were against the plan to place six teams in the AL Central and just four in the AL East and AL West.
In addition, Arizona objected to the plan, under which it would move from the NL West to the AL West.
Selig, several owners said, does not appear ready to call for a vote on realignment any time soon, effectively putting it off until the 2002 season at the earliest.
"Nothing seriously has been debated in the last few months," Houston Astros owner Drayton McLane said. "I think most likely significant realignment will be put off a year."
The two owners who spoke on the condition of anonymity confirmed McLane's assessment that no realignment would take place for 2001.
The one change owners will hear Friday is the format for next season's schedule: Teams will play division rivals 18 times each instead of 12 or 13.
And in another new twist, the Astros and Texas Rangers wilmeet in interleague play for the first time.
"We're the last natural rivals who haven't played yet," McLane said.
On Thursday, owners on the executive council met and discussed Friday's agenda, which includes the report of the "Blue Ribbon Task Force on Baseball Economics," appointed by Selig on Jan. 13, 1999.
The committee's four outside members former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, former Federal Reserve board chairman Paul Volcker, Yale president Richard Levin and political commentator George Will are set to appear before owners Friday and then hold a news conference to discuss their findings.
Small market teams have complained in recent months of the increasing disparity. When the Yankees add Denny Neagle to their roster Friday, their payroll will be about $107 million more than six times Minnesota's payroll of about $16.5 million.
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