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Arbitrator Granted Extension as Talks Resume

Baseball: Das is given until Aug. 1 to rule on contraction, which holds key to other major issues.

July 13, 2002|JASON REID | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Players and owners made progress on the concept of a worldwide draft as baseball labor talks resumed Friday in New York, and an arbitrator ruling on the contraction grievance was granted an extension.

Arbitrator Shyam Das, who heard almost three weeks of testimony from nine witnesses spanning more than four months, had hoped to reach a decision Monday on the grievance filed by the Major League Baseball Players Assn., trying to prevent Commissioner Bud Selig from unilaterally eliminating teams. However, Das requested an extension from the sides, who agreed to give him until Aug. 1.

Selig put off contraction until after the 2002 season after owners were pummeled in the Minnesota courts, which ruled the Twins had to honor their 2002 lease in the Metrodome. Das' ruling could provide either side with a major bargaining chip in negotiations.

As a result of the delay, owners and players agreed to extend until Aug. 15 the deadline for the union to receive a tentative schedule for the 2003 season. The process had been previously pushed back from July 1 to Aug. 1.

Contraction is an important issue in talks centered on increased revenue sharing among the clubs and a luxury tax on teams with high payrolls.

"If we win, [the union is] going to make a proposal designed to stop contraction," said Rob Manfred, baseball's vice president of labor relations. "If they win, we're going to make a proposal designed to authorize contraction.

"One way or another, whenever the ruling comes, someone is going to make a proposal on the topic."

Das has several options, management and player sources said, after deciding whether the owners' attempt to contract was collusive. He could rule that contraction must be collectively bargained, or that owners can move forward without union approval. And he might decline to rule, deciding the issue is moot because the Twins are not going to be eliminated.

Many players believe owners are using the concept of contraction as a negotiation ploy, hoping to scare the union into an agreement with the threat of lost jobs. But Don Fehr, executive director of the union, is not taking any chances.

"I believe there are a lot of owners who think [contraction] is viable," he said. "We have to treat as serious their continued statements at the table that they have every intention to contract. [The public] will have to make its own judgment as to whether that's realistic."

Back at the table, owners and the union did not address increased revenue sharing among the clubs or a luxury tax on teams with high payrolls, instead focusing on revising the amateur draft in the first full negotiation session since June 27. The union agreed to one worldwide draft, but the number of draft rounds is still at issue.

The union had previously proposed conducting a worldwide draft in two phases, international and American, creating two sets of first-round draft picks and more big bonuses. It also wanted to reduce both drafts to eight rounds from the current 50-round format, creating more free agents. Owners are pushing for one 38-round draft.

Currently, amateur players in the United States, including Puerto Rico, and Canada are eligible for the draft in the year their high-school class is graduated. In all other countries, players are eligible to be signed as free agents if they turn 17 by the end of the season they sign for.

"[The union] proposed a single draft, which is a positive," Manfred said. "Unfortunately, they made no move on the number of rounds.

"They just combined the [proposed eight rounds of each draft] to get 16, so we've still got a lot of issues to resolve in the area, but they made a proposal. Obviously, that's a good thing."

Fehr said there "really isn't much change [in reaching an agreement], but we're hopeful our proposal on the draft will be favorably received by the clubs."

The sides are scheduled to return to the table Thursday. Baseball has had eight work stoppages; players could walk out again in August or September if negotiations continue to lag.

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