Major League Baseball's return to Washington might be for one year only. The District of Columbia Council voted last night to require private financing for at least half the cost...

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WASHINGTON — Major League Baseball’s return to Washington might be for one year only.

The District of Columbia Council voted last night to require private financing for at least half the cost of a new ballpark for the Expos, a move that could cause the commissioner’s office to reopen the search for a long-term home for the team.

Capping an 11-1/2-hour session filled with contentious debate, the council voted 7-6 to approve legislation to finance construction of a ballpark. But the bill contained the amendment on private financing, a provision not contained in the September agreement between the Expos and Washington Mayor Anthony A. Williams.

“We will review the amendments and the legislation as passed and have a response tomorrow,” said Bob DuPuy, baseball’s chief operating officer.

If the law stands, baseball’s likely response would be to have the team play the 2005 season at Washington’s RFK Stadium, where it would be known as the Nationals, while baseball’s search committee resumes negotiations with cities that desire the team.

From the start, baseball owners insisted a publicly financed stadium for the team be a component of any move.

Martinez says he’ll become a Met

NEW YORK — Pedro Martinez confirmed that he has agreed to join the New York Mets.

“I only hope to honor my contract and to fulfill the expectations,” Martinez said on television in the Dominican Republic. “We got what we wanted. The team and I are happy with everything.”

His agent, Fernando Cuza, told the Mets on Monday that he would attempt to work out a deal with them after New York guaranteed a fourth year. The deal for the pitcher who helped Boston win the World Series will be worth more than $50 million.

“The bigger the contract, the bigger the responsibility,” Martinez said.

Martinez said the sides still must determine the distribution of the money, and that he needs to pass a physical.

New York has not announced the deal, choosing to wait until an agreement is signed and the physical is passed.

A day after finding out Martinez was leaving Boston, the World Series champions learned they might open next season without Curt Schilling, too. Schilling’s right ankle isn’t recovering from surgery as quickly as he expected.

“I’m going to be late, I think, starting the season,” Schilling told WEEI-AM.

Schilling, who had surgery Nov. 9, had a cast removed from the ankle last weekend and learned for the first time that he wouldn’t be able to rotate his ankle for four to five weeks.

David Wells, who finalized an $8 million, two-year contract, could be Boston’s opening-day starter.

Arizona, which had talked to the Yankees about trading Randy Johnson to New York, hasn’t given up on dealing the Big Unit.

“What we’re prepared to do is to listen to anyone, and there have been other clubs who have expressed interest in Randy,” managing partner Ken Kendrick said. “We’re going to continue to do that, but it’s an ultimate decision — if ever made — that needs we and Randy to get together and discuss it and get his representatives involved. And we’re not at that point yet.”


• A majority of fans say players who test positive for steroids or other performance-enhancing drugs should be banned from baseball and think such players should be barred from the Hall of Fame, according to the nationwide poll released by Quinnipiac University in Connecticut. Sixty-one percent of the 865 baseball fans polled said players who test positive should be banned from the game, while 33 percent oppose such a move.

• The players’ association filed a grievance in an effort to overturn the Colorado Rockies’ termination of Denny Neagle‘s contract. Neagle, 36, is owed $19 million under the $51 million, five-year deal agreed to in December 2000. Colorado terminated the agreement Dec. 6, three days after the oft-injured pitcher was cited for solicitation. Police said a woman in his car told them he had paid her $40 for oral sex.