© St. Petersburg Times, published August 23, 2002
NEW YORK -- With a week to go, negotiators for players and owners expressed optimism Thursday they have enough time to reach a deal and avoid another strike.
The sides had three bargaining sessions Thursday, completing an agreement on debt regulation that eased the union's concerns the rules would restrict spending on players. The union didn't respond to the owners' latest revenue-sharing proposal but said it will soon.
"The issues have been narrowed sufficiently that it would not take very much time to conclude an agreement," said union lawyer Steve Fehr, the brother of union head Donald Fehr.
While the sides are apart on their revenue-sharing proposals and disagree on the levels of a proposed luxury tax on the payrolls of baseball's biggest spenders, they agree on much of the framework.
Next week, the sides must decide whether they want to compromise or try to outlast each other during a strike.
"We have plenty of time to resolve all of the issues that are outstanding between the parties," said Rob Manfred, the owners' top labor lawyer. "It's just a difference of numbers. ... Seven days is plenty of time to resolve those numerical differences."
At times, it seems as if too much time remains. Pressure has not built enough to force compromises on the big issues.
Much of Thursday, according to Manfred, was devoted to scheduling, interleague play and the assignment of player contracts.
The debt regulation agreement resolved a potential problem with the owners' 60-40 rule, the Associated Press reported.
The 60-40 rule, established in the mid 1970s but enforced only periodically, requires each team to have at least 60 percent of its value in assets and no more than 40 percent in debt. In March, commissioner Bud Selig told teams the rule would be enforced again, and said all unpaid money owed players in long-term contracts would be counted as debt.
Players claimed that was a new interpretation, and owners said it always had been part of the rule. Selig's interpretation could have affected some teams, including the World Series champion Diamondbacks, who owe large amounts of deferred salaries.
Under the agreement Wednesday, money owed players will not be counted as debt.