Delays stall auction of Rangers baseball team

By Ben Klayman

DETROIT (Reuters) - The auction of the Texas Rangers was delayed several hours on Wednesday as officials in the Major League Baseball team's bankruptcy case weighed which of two bids was preferred.

Judge Russell Nelms said attorneys for the team and the court-appointed chief restructuring officer approved two groups for bidding.

The auction at the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Forth Worth, Texas, has a group led by former all-star pitcher and current Rangers president Nolan Ryan and Pittsburgh attorney Chuck Greenberg competing with one led by Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and Houston freight executive Jim Crane.

The Rangers, currently fighting for a playoff spot, filed for bankruptcy protection in May. The filing had been considered a procedural move to close a sale backed by the league to the Ryan-Greenberg group, which had been picked as the preferred buyer in January.

The Rangers' problems began long before that, however, when creditors declared owner Hicks Sports Group in default on $525 million in loans in April 2009.

Those creditors, led by distressed debt investor Monarch Alternative Capital LP and including JP Morgan Chase, have said the Ryan-Greenberg offer was not the highest and the deal did not give them enough money. They have fought the Greenberg-Ryan deal from the start, pushing for the auction.

Identifying a winning bidder may not end the drama, as any sale agreement requires approval by league owners and could draw lawsuits.

The last auction of an MLB team in bankruptcy took place in 1993 with the Baltimore Orioles.

A baseball official, who asked not to be named in a discussion of the sale process, said the league would work with the top bidder regardless of which group wins. Seventy-five percent of league owners must approve any sale.

Earlier on Wednesday, the Ryan-Greenberg group and MLB challenged the qualification of the Cuban-Crane group's bid, delaying the start of deliberations of the two bids.

Cuban and Crane had been separate bidders, but joined forces for the auction. They separately bid for the Chicago Cubs team that was sold last year.

(Reporting by Ben Klayman)