NEW YORK -- Lawyers for baseball players and owners hope to reach an agreement on changes in their drug agreement before most teams start the regular season, culminating talks that began following recommendations in December's Mitchell report.
The sides planned to talk this week in Arizona during the final week of spring training. This would be the third time players and owners toughened drug rules since their initial agreement in August 2002. The sides also made changes in January 2005, when sanctions for first offenders were instituted, and in November 2005, when the penalty for an initial positive test was increased from 10 days to 50 games.
If they strike a deal, the 15-day suspensions imposed on Kansas City's Jose Guillen and Baltimore's Jay Gibbons in December after being linked to performance-enhancing drugs most likely would be rescinded as part of an overall amnesty for players mentioned in the report, two people familiar with the talks said Monday.
Mitchell, a Boston Red Sox director, recommended commissioner Bud Selig not punish players implicated in his report "except in those cases where he determines that the conduct is so serious that discipline is necessary to maintain the integrity of the game."
If there isn't an agreement, arbitrator Shyam Das probably would be asked to decide whether to stay Guillen's suspension pending a grievance hearing. The players' association filed a grievance on behalf of the outfielder, but no hearing dates have been scheduled.
Most teams start the season next Monday.
Commissioner Bud Selig adopted most of the recommendations made by former Senate majority leader George Mitchell but could not address those that were subject to collective bargaining.
Mitchell said the sides should have the ability to remove the independent program administrator only for "good cause," that there be "adequate year-round unannounced testing" and that regular aggregate data on the drug tests be made public.
Guillen and Gibbons were suspended Dec. 6, a week before Mitchell issued his report.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported in November that Guillen bought human growth hormone, two types of testosterone and the steroids stanozolol and nandrolone from 2002-5, allegations Guillen has declined to address.
Although baseball's drug agreement says players who file grievances following a first positive drug test receive automatic stays, the text doesn't address suspensions stemming from non-analytical positives.
Gibbons admitted receiving a HGH shipment in January 2005. The Baltimore outfielder apologized and didn't contest the penalty.