Players, owners near deal that would delay contractionPosted: Monday December 10, 2001 7:41 PM
Updated: Tuesday December 11, 2001 1:21 AM
BOSTON (AP) -- Players and owners were close to an agreement Monday night that would delay eliminating teams until at least 2003, officials on both sides said.
The deal would ensure that the Minnesota Twins and the Montreal Expos, the teams most likely to be targeted, would survive one more season and that the jobs of approximately 60 major leaguers would be saved next year.
Owners would gain the union's acknowledgment that management unilaterally had the right to fold franchises. Owners have maintained they must bargain merely over the effects of contraction, such as a dispersal draft of players.
"There have been ongoing discussions for several days on this topic," said Sandy Alderson, executive vice president for baseball operations in the commissioner's office. "A deal, if it comes, could come at any time."
Talks were recessed Monday night, and the sides agreed to meet again Tuesday in an attempt to finalize a deal. Both sides said the sides were close together.
"Negotiations are ongoing," said Rob Manfred, the owners' chief labor lawyer.
Union head Donald Fehr and Twins president Jerry Bell did not return telephone calls seeking comment. Expos owner Jeffrey Loria, reached in New York, declined comment.
The hearing on the union's grievance was to have resumed Monday, but the sides instead spent the day negotiating an agreement.
Several officials in the commissioner's office, speaking on the condition of anonymity, have said in recent days that it is too late to eliminate teams before next season, but commissioner Bud Selig kept on saying he intended to press ahead with folding two teams.
Management discussed the possibility of a settlement last week in general terms, but the talks in New York became more serious Monday, one of the officials said.
The Minnesota courts have put contraction on hold, with a district judge issuing an injunction that forces the Twins to play next year at the Metrodome. Selig's lawyers failed to get an accelerated review by Minnesota's Supreme Court, and the injunction stands until at least Dec. 27, when the Minnesota Court of Appeals is to hear the case.
In a separate lawsuit Monday, baseball asked a federal judge in Tallahassee to issue a restraining order that would stop an investigation by Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth, who says he is concerned the Florida Marlins and Tampa Bay Devil Rays are targets for elimination.
The players' association is concerned Selig's stance has created uncertainty in the free-agent market.
Owners worry that delay is costing them money, because the lack of a schedule has blocked teams from issuing schedules and selling tickets.
Arbitrator Shyam Das began hearing the grievance last week with two days of testimony by Gene Orza, the union's No. 2 official.