Fortune Magazine is reporting that the cable network that helps feed the Yankees’ machine, the YES Network, , fueling speculation that the team itself may be next.

It has become a pretty poorly kept secret that the health of current owner George Steinbrenner has been failing for quite some time. In 2003, the Yankee owner fainted while attending the funeral of his friend and football great, Otto Graham. A similar incident happened  in 2006 when he “fell ill“, this time while attending his granddaughter’s stage performance at the University of North Carolina. Earlier this year,  New Yorker Magazine ran a piece about P.R. man extra-ordinaire and Yankee spokesman, Howard J. Rubenstein, in which Rubenstein casually mentions that Steinbrenner is suffering from Alzheimer’s. Furthermore, the planned line of ownership succession was broken soon after that New Yorker issue hit the newsstands, when his daughter Jennifer filed for divorce from Steve Swindal, chairman of Yankee Global Enterprises and Steinbrenner’s annointed heir-apparent, in March 2007.

With the new Yankee Stadium scheduled to open in 2009 and with it the promise of additional revenue, this revelation that the YES Network is potentially for sale seems odd. While Yankees President Randy Levine refused to acknowledge that YES is being shopped, another Yankee Board member, Gerry Cardinale, has confirmed the rumor saying, “We’re testing the waters with a limited universe of quality buyers… We would consider selling only if we receive a full and fair price.”

So what does this mean? Fortune is giving a rough evaluation of a “full and fair price” for YES at $3 billion, which is worth far more than the franchise itself, which was estimated by Forbes Magazine at $1.2 billion in April. There is the hypothesis that this potential sale could give the Steinbrenner family the necessary capital to maintain control of the team after George. But speculation regarding a sale of the team is much louder today than it was yesterday. In the Fortune article, an unnamed minority owner of the organization states, “If I were handicapping it, I think we’re looking at a sale of the team within three or four years.”

This could get very interesting…

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