The District of Columbia Council voted 7-6 yesterday to approve legislation that clears the way for the Montreal Expos to move to Washington next season and be renamed the Nationals...

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WASHINGTON — The District of Columbia Council voted 7-6 yesterday to approve legislation that clears the way for the Montreal Expos to move to Washington next season and be renamed the Nationals.

The measure allows the city to sell up to $584 million in bonds for construction of a 41,000-seat stadium about a mile south of the Capitol and renovations to RFK Stadium, where the team will play next year.

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Ticket and team merchandise sales were to resume today after being suspended because of uncertainty caused by changes the council made last week in the city’s agreement with the team.

“The Nationals are finally rounding third and heading for home,” said Mayor Anthony A. Williams, who negotiated the move with major-league baseball officials.

Williams said he will sign the bill as soon as it gets to his desk, leaving only commissioner Bud Selig’s approval of the RFK renovations for the move to become final.

A week earlier, the council amended the deal Williams negotiated to require that half the construction costs be privately paid. If not, the law would be voided.

Baseball officials balked at the provision and threatened to look for another home for the team if the original deal wasn’t approved by the Dec. 31 deadline set in the September agreement.

The final legislation calls for the city and baseball to split the cost of insurance that would limit the city’s liability on cost overruns or construction delays.

The amendment, introduced by council chair Linda W. Cropp, also reduces compensatory damages for the first year if the stadium is finished late. Instead, the Nationals would not have to pay $5.3 million in rent if the ballpark is not ready for the 2008 season.

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On Monday, 41 players became free agents when their teams failed to offer 2005 contracts. Several agreed yesterday to stay with their teams, moves that got around baseball’s maximum cut rule. Those who agreed to re-sign included Chicago White Sox catcher Ben Davis ($1 million) and Philadelphia reliever Amaury Telemaco ($600,000).

Colorado agreed to one-year contracts that kept catcher Todd Greene ($750,000) and right-hander Jamey Wright ($550,000) with the Rockies. And a flurry of players agreed to re-sign just before the deadline, including Minnesota second baseman Luis Rivas ($1,625,000) and designated hitter Matthew LeCroy ($750,000).

Others who agreed to re-sign late Monday included Cincinnati infielder D’Angelo Jimenez ($2.87 million); Baltimore outfielder Jay Gibbons ($2.6 million) and pitcher Bruce Chen ($550,000); Pittsburgh first baseman Daryle Ward ($950,000); New York Mets catcher Vance Wilson ($760,000); Los Angeles infielder Olmedo Saenz ($650,000) and pitcher Giovanni Carrara ($550,000); and St. Louis pitcher Mike Lincoln ($360,000).


• 3B Joe Randa agreed to a one-year contract with the Reds, ending Cincinnati’s plan to move RF Austin Kearns to the position next season.

• Former All-Star pitcher Jeff Zimmerman agreed to a minor-league contract with the Texas Rangers, pushing ahead with his comeback attempt from elbow problems that sidelined him the last three seasons.

• The average baseball salary fell 2.5 percent this year to $2,313,535, the first drop in a decade according to the Major League Baseball Players Association. The average was $2,372,189 in 2003.

There was no spending drop for the Yankees, who established a record with a $6.38 million average. The $2.67 million gap between them and second-place Boston was greater than the averages for 20 of the 30 major-league teams.

Seattle dropped from fifth ($3,440,751) to 16th ($1,932,790).