- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 11, 2001

BOSTON Players and owners were close to an agreement last night that would delay eliminating teams until at least 2003, officials on both sides said at the owners' winter meetings.
The deal would ensure that the Minnesota Twins and the Montreal Expos, the teams most likely to be targeted, would survive one more season and that the jobs of approximately 60 major leaguers would be saved in 2003.
Owners would gain the union's acknowledgment that management unilaterally had the right to fold franchises. Owners have maintained they must bargain merely over the effects of contraction, such as a dispersal draft of players.
"There have been ongoing discussions for several days on this topic," said Sandy Alderson, executive vice president for baseball operations in the commissioner's office. "A deal, if it comes, could come at any time."
Talks were recessed last night, and the sides agreed to meet again today in an attempt to finalize a deal. Both sides said the sides were close together.
"Negotiations are ongoing," said Rob Manfred, the owners' chief labor lawyer.
Union head Donald Fehr did not return a telephone call seeking comment.
The hearing on the union's grievance was to have resumed yesterday, but the sides instead spent the day negotiating an agreement.
Several officials in the commissioner's office, speaking on the condition of anonymity, have said in recent days that it is too late to eliminate teams before next season, but commissioner Bud Selig kept on saying he intended to press ahead with folding two teams.
Management discussed the possibility of a settlement last week in general terms, but the talks in New York became more serious yesterday, one of the officials said.
The Minnesota courts have put contraction on hold, with a district judge issuing an injunction that forces the Twins to play next year at the Metrodome. Selig's lawyers failed to get an accelerated review by Minnesota's Supreme Court, and the injunction stands until at least Dec. 27, when the Minnesota Court of Appeals is to hear the case.
In a separate lawsuit, baseball asked a federal judge in Tallahassee to issue a restraining order that would stop an investigation by Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth, who says he is concerned the Florida Marlins and Tampa Bay Devil Rays are targets for elimination.
The players' association is concerned Selig's stance has created uncertainty in the free-agent market.
Owners worry that delay is costing them money, because the lack of a schedule has blocked teams from issuing schedules and selling tickets.
Arbitrator Shyam Das began hearing the grievance last week with two days of testimony by Gene Orza, the union's No. 2 official.
The winter meetings are known for crowded lobbies filled with general managers, agents and swirling rumors. Yesterday, however, was a day of little talk and a lot of waiting.
In the few transactions that were finalized, the St. Louis Cardinals signed free-agent closer Jason Isringhausen and the Chicago Cubs acquired shortstop Alex Gonzalez from Toronto in the only trade.
On the second day of the five-day meetings, teams and agents also seemed to be waiting for the top of the market to be set. The Yankees and first baseman Jason Giambi moved closer to a seven-year deal that would be worth $118 million to $120 million, a lawyer familiar with the talks said on the condition he not be identified.
While the deal wasn't finalized, the Yankees began making arrangements for Giambi to take a physical, one of the necessary steps.
Oakland general manager Billy Beane, arriving at the meetings, said he hadn't heard recently from Giambi, the heart of his lineup. The Athletics haven't moved from their $91 million, seven-year offer, making the Yankees confident Giambi will sign with them.
Oakland did lose a player, when Isringhausen finalized a $27 million, four-year contract with the Cardinals. The A's already had replaced him, acquiring Billy Koch from Toronto on Friday for a pair of minor leaguers.
The 29-year-old Isringhausen had 67 saves over the past two seasons. He is from Brighton, Ill., a short drive from St. Louis.
Isringhausen was 4-3 with 34 saves in 43 chances and 2.65 ERA last season.
On the trade front, the Cubs acquired Gonzalez from Toronto for left-hander Felix Heredia and a player to be named. Gonzalez replaces free agent Ricky Gutierrez, who was not offered salary arbitration by the Cubs before last Friday's deadline.
"He will be an outstanding defensive player for us," Cubs general manager Andy MacPhail said. "He's quicker and runs better than Gutierrez and he has good power for a shortstop."
The 28-year-old Gonzalez, who signed a $20 million, four-year contract during last year's winter meetings, batted .253 with career highs of 17 homers, 76 RBIs and 79 runs scored last year for Toronto.

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