Players, owners close to agreement to toughen drug policy

NEW YORK -- Lawyers for baseball players and owners were close to an agreement Wednesday on changes to toughen their drug rules, and the sides hoped to strike a deal by Sunday.

An agreement likely would lead to the elimination of 15-day suspensions imposed in December on Kansas City's Jose Guillen and Baltimore's Jay Gibbons after they were linked to performance-enhancing drugs.

Negotiators discussed changes this week in Arizona and neared a deal, two people familiar with the talks said Wednesday, speaking on condition of anonymity because talks were ongoing. The agreement would make testing tougher and strengthen the authority of the independent program administrator.

Lawyers were awaiting the return from Japan of officials who attended the season-opening series between Boston and Oakland. The sides hoped to complete talks before Sunday, when the U.S. portion of the season opens with Washington hosting Atlanta at the Nationals' new ballpark.

Players and owners would be toughening drug rules for the third time 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.

In his Dec. 13 report on drugs in baseball, former Senate majority leader George Mitchell recommended commissioner Bud Selig not punish players implicated by his investigation "except in those cases where he determines that the conduct is so serious that discipline is necessary to maintain the integrity of the game."

Selig told ESPN on Tuesday from Japan that "all of Sen. Mitchell's recommendations, I have every confidence, will be adopted."

Guillen and Gibbons were suspended Dec. 6. The San Francisco Chronicle reported in November that Guillen bought human growth hormone, two types of testosterone and the steroids from 2002-05, allegations the Kansas City outfielder wouldn't address.

Gibbons admitted receiving an HGH shipment in January 2005. The Baltimore outfielder apologized and didn't contest the penalty.

Information from The Associated Press is include din his report