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Wednesday, July 31
Updated: August 1, 10:30 AM ET
Ruling possible today, but union lawyer thinks not

Associated Press

NEW YORK -- An arbitrator's decision on whether baseball owners could fold franchises may be known as early as Thursday, according to a management lawyer, but a top union official thought it might be delayed again.

Rob Manfred, baseball's top labor lawyer, said he thought arbitrator Shyam Das's contraction decision was imminent. Das originally said he would try to rule by July 15, then asked for a delay until Aug. 1.

But Gene Orza, second in command of the players' association, said he wasn't sure when Das would rule.

''My sense is that in an absence of a call from the arbitrator today, the decision will not be issued tomorrow,'' Orza said. ''He was told to use his best efforts to issue a decision on or about Aug. 1. He isn't duty bound by it.''

Players filed a grievance, claiming the Nov. 6 decision by owners to fold two franchises -- later identified by management lawyers as Montreal and Minnesota -- violated the rules of the previous labor contract, which remains in force.

Owners said they had the right to shut down teams and needed to bargain with players only on the effects of contraction, such as a dispersal draft.

Negotiators for players and owners met for about an hour Wednesday to discuss benefits and minimum salaries, and both sides said they were close to agreements on those topics.

While players and owners remain far apart on the key issues of revenue sharing and a luxury tax, they are making slow progress during negotiations in recent weeks. That is a sharp contrast from 1994, when the sides didn't hold any substantive negotiations until three months after players struck on Aug. 12.

The players' executive board could set a strike date as soon as next week, after union head Donald Fehr completes his round of meetings with players throughout the leagues. He met Wednesday with the New York Yankees and Texas Rangers; the Chicago Cubs are on his schedule for Thursday. After that, only one team is left -- Boston.

''We hope we don't have to set a date. It has not yet been considered by the board. The greatest hope is that it gets settled before we get to that point,'' Fehr said. ''I'm hopeful that we'll find a way to get a deal.''

Players seem reluctant to establish a deadline but the union is convinced that without a deal, owners would lock them out or change work rules after the postseason. Players prefer to have a work stoppage now than during the offseason and spring -- when it would hurt owners less. The union has considered dates from mid-August to mid-September for a walkout.

''The main thing is we have to avoid setting a date and get everything settled,'' the Rangers' Todd Van Poppel said.

Fehr has been upbeat in his briefings with players.

''I left the meeting very positive and optimistic after listening to what Don had to say,'' Yankees pitcher Steve Karsay said. ''We don't want a work stoppage. We want both sides in a room trying to hash it out.''

Manfred said there was ''good progress'' in discussing benefits and minimum salary. ''Certainly closer to an agreement in those areas than we were previously,'' he said.

Owners previously proposed raising the minimum from $200,000 to $285,000, with cost-of-living adjustments. Players had proposed raising it to $300,000, with $25,000 annual increases.

''We're close, but we're not quite there yet,'' Orza said. ''We still have some differences but they appear to be of a dimension that can be worked out.''

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