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03/28/08 2:07 PM ET

Gibbons, Guillen suspensions on hold

Penalties stayed while MLB, union negotiate new agreement

Major League Baseball has stayed the 15-day suspensions of Kansas City's Jose Guillen and Baltimore's Jay Gibbons as lawyers for the owners continue to negotiate changes in the current drug policy with the Players Association.

The suspensions were set to begin at the start of season, which opens on U.S. soil Sunday as the Braves play the Nationals to inaugurate the new ballpark in Washington. The A's and Red Sox split a two-game regular-season series in Japan earlier this week.

Both sides are on the verge of reaching an agreement to significantly strengthen current rules for performance-enhancing drug use by big league players and could have a deal done as early as Sunday. The parties have been talking since former Sen. George Mitchell released his report analyzing the use of those drugs in MLB this past Dec. 13.

It would be the third time since the drug policy was first collectively bargained in 2002 that the owners and the union reopened the agreement to toughen the rules.

In the report, Mitchell made a bevy of recommendations to strengthen the program, about a half-dozen of which can't be adopted unless the changes were collectively bargained.

Mitchell said that the current penalties -- 50 games for a first positive test, 100 for a second and a lifetime ban for a third with the right to apply for reinstatement after two years -- were adequate. But he advised that the program should be independently administrated, be more transparent, that year-round testing should be increased, and that new and better practices are able to be implemented without having to reopen the program on each occasion.

Guillen and Gibbons were suspended last December by Commissioner Bud Selig after investigations into their alleged performance-enhancing drug use during the period from 2003 to 2005. The union swiftly grieved Guillen's suspension, but as negotiations continued, the matter still hadn't been heard by Shyam Das, baseball's special arbitrator.

The two players were interviewed by Rob Manfred, MLB's vice president of labor relations and human resources, after press reports revealed that they had received drugs through Florida clinics doing business via the Internet that were investigated last year by an Albany, N.Y., district attorney as part of a far-reaching probe.

The penalties were supposed to match those stipulated by the MLB drug policy in 2004 when a first positive test placed a player anonymously into a clinical tract and a second garnered a 15-day suspension.

The suspensions predated the Mitchell Report.

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.