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Source: Smiley Far From Buying Marlins

Florida Marlins president Don Smiley's 10-month effort to buy the team is on the verge of defeat, and owner Wayne Huizenga is seriously considering an offer from commodities trader John Henry, sources said Monday.

Henry, a Boca Raton millionaire, has offered $150 million for the franchise. Huizenga wants $169 million, but Henry's bid is estimated to be at least $35 million more than the best offer from Smiley's investment group.

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"John Henry is real," said a source close to the negotiations who didn't want to be identified. "Smiley is looking highly unlikely."

Stan Smith, a spokesman for Huizenga, confirmed that Henry's bid is legitimate.

"It was taken very seriously," Smith said.

Henry, 48, didn't return phone calls seeking comment but scheduled a news conference for Tuesday. He earlier said he's willing to privately finance a $300 million domed stadium to ensure the Marlins' future in South Florida, while Smiley has talked of moving the team unless taxpayers finance a new ballpark.

Player agent Joe Cubas also plans to make an offer for the team, and he is expected to submit his list of investors this week to Major League Baseball.

Smiley and Huizenga reached an agreement last November on the sale of the Marlins, and three weeks ago they again appeared to be on the verge of a deal after meeting with lawyers, bankers and National League President Leonard Coleman.

But Smiley has been unable to find enough investors to meet the $169 million purchase price. Huizenga is reluctant to keep a $50 million interest, which Smiley has proposed, and has begun looking elsewhere for a buyer.

"We will entertain all serious offers," Smith said.

Smiley didn't return phone calls seeking comment.

If Henry were to buy the Marlins, he would be forced to sell his 1-percent interest in the New York Yankees. He failed in bids to buy the Miami Dolphins in 1994 and an NHL expansion team in 1990.

The emergence of Henry as a prospective Marlins owners is the latest twist for the struggling franchise. Huizenga put the team on the market in June 1997, then ordered his World Series championship roster dismantled after the season, citing $34 millon in losses.

This year the Marlins have the worst record in baseball, but they're expected to make a profit because their payroll has been reduced to $14 million, the third-lowest in the major leagues.

© 1998 SportsLine USA, Inc. All rights reserved

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