NEW YORK -- Major League Baseball put the suspensions of Baltimore's Jay Gibbons and Kansas City's Jose Guillen on hold for 10 days, giving lawyers for players and owners more time to reach an agreement toughening their drug rules.
The outfielders were suspended for 15 days each by commissioner Bud Selig on Dec. 6, following media reports linking them to performance-enhancing drugs. The penalties were to start Sunday, when the U.S. portion of the major league season begins.
"Pretty surprising," Gibbons said after Friday's announcement. "Put it this way: I'm cautiously optimistic -- at least they're talking."
Negotiators are close to an agreement that would call for more frequent drug testing and would strengthen the authority of the independent program administrator. If there is an agreement, the suspensions of Gibbons and Guillen would most likely be eliminated as part of an overall amnesty for players implicated in the Mitchell report.
Guillen said he is optimistic things are moving in the right direction.
"I think they are," Guillen said before the Royals' exhibition game in Milwaukee on Friday. "Again, we'll see when that decision comes. We've just got to let those people make their own decision."
The suspensions would start April 9 if an agreement isn't reached and no other actions are taken.
"There's no guarantees that they don't stay it again after 10 days if they think they're close and don't have an agreement," Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail said.
Players and owners would be strengthening drug rules for the third time since their initial agreement in 2002. The sides also made changes in January 2005, when sanctions for first offenders began, 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 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."
The San Francisco Chronicle reported in November that Guillen bought human growth hormone, two kinds of testosterone and the steroids from 2002-05, allegations the Royals outfielder wouldn't address.
"All I know is I'm going to play Opening Day, and I'm going to try to do my best for those 10 days to help this team to win -- and hopefully for the rest of the season without taking a day off," Guillen said. "So that's what I'm hoping."
Gibbons admitted receiving an HGH shipment in January 2005. The Orioles outfielder apologized and didn't contest the penalty.
"I was fully prepared to serve my suspension," Gibbons said in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., before the Orioles broke camp. "If it doesn't happen, it doesn't happen."