Talks progress as season nears end
No major sticking points appear to have arisen
PHOENIX -- Three Major League Baseball franchise owners and a long-time league player representative said recently that negotiations with the players association for a new Basic Agreement continue to progress "positively." And while time is growing short, there's still some hope that a deal can get done by end of the regular season, now a little more than three weeks away."From what I've heard, the discussions have been positive," said Tony Clark of the Diamondbacks after his club dropped a 6-2 decision to the Cardinals on Thursday night at Chase Field. "I hadn't heard that the timeline of getting it done before the end of the season had come and gone, although I understand at this point that it would be extremely difficult. Nevertheless, hopefully we'll get it done sooner rather than later." The owners, who all wished to remain anonymous, continued to stress that there seems to be no controversial issues inhibiting talks this time around. The four-year agreement expires on Dec. 19, giving both sides ample time to reach an agreement. "While there are some areas of the CBA that are matters for concern, there's no single issue that will mean taking the game off the field," Bob DuPuy, MLB's president and chief operating officer, said earlier in the summer. Clark, who along with Boston's Mark Loretta fill the positions of what used to be known as American League and National League representatives for the union, said that because talks are ongoing, but moving slowly, there seems to be no stress about getting an agreement done. Key issues like medical, scheduling and minimum Major League salary that usually get done before the big ticket items like revenue sharing and the competitive balance tax, have yet to be finalized, Clark said. "I haven't had any confirmation that any of those issues have been resolved," he said. Asked if the Dec. 19 date could come and go without a new agreement, Clark said: "If discussions are going well, but slowly, you'd like to think that any timeframe would be flexible in order to get a deal done." As is normally the case, the 2002 talks in New York went right to the edge of an Aug. 30 strike deadline called by the players. But the contract was settled for the first time without a strike or lockout. There had been eight such work stoppages from 1972 to the strike that wiped out the 1994 postseason. The last deal included a competitive-balance tax, increased revenue sharing and MLB's first random testing for performance-enhancing drugs. Since then, MLB's annual revenue has risen to $4.7 billion last season while the average player salary reached a record $2.8 million a year in 2006. Since then as well, the owners and the union twice renegotiated the Major League's drug policy and seem to have reached a level of zero tolerance this season for the use of performance-enhancing drugs. Thus far, no player on the 25-man roster of any big league club has tested positive and been suspended for the requisite 50 games on a first offense. Increased revenue sharing and the competitive-balance tax are left as this year's most compelling issues. "The usual suspects," Clark said. Major League clubs now share 34 percent of local revenue, a figure that will exceed $300 million distributed from the richer clubs to the poorer ones this season. And only two teams over the course of the current agreement have consistently exceeded the competitive-balance tax threshold, the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. This year, there is no tax levied on any club that isn't a repeat offender under the current formula. Another positive sign is that the usual points of rancor have been missing from the talks, which have been accomplished this summer behind a consistent veil of silence. For instance, the union and MLB have already announced plans for the bi-annual All-Star tour of Japan to be staged in Tokyo, Osaka and Fukuoka from Nov. 2-8. In 2002, all postseason plans were put on hold during the summer in anticipation of a possible strike. The Japan tour, which is played in even-numbered years, was hastily put together in September that season after the sides had reached a tentative agreement. Also during the tumultuous years, the union normally set a strike deadline and Don Fehr, its long-time executive director, led a well-publicized in-season tour of the 30 clubs to judge the temperature of the players and share information from the talks. Although that hasn't formally happened this year, it doesn't mean that the players aren't being kept in the loop, Clark said. "We have a large number of players that are very interested in being well-informed, which is very exciting," he said. "Therefore, there are a lot of discussions individually and team-wise to make sure that everyone is on the same page and has an understanding of what is being discussed."
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.