Baseball negotiators are on the verge of a new labor deal that will dramatically alter the landscape of the sport, multiple sources told ESPN.com on Tuesday.
Two sources with knowledge of the negotiations gave almost identical descriptions of those discussions Tuesday, one saying that a deal was "within striking distance" and a second saying that the sides were "on the verge of an agreement."
Negotiations are on hold temporarily, until the conclusion of MLB's quarterly owners meetings on Thursday. But sources said it's possible that negotiations could resume as soon as Thursday evening and could reach a quick conclusion shortly thereafter.
Both sides still need to sign off on the details that have been agreed to by negotiators. And the particulars of several issues remain to be negotiated. However, one source said that, barring unexpected setbacks, they are "in position to reach an agreement in short order."
As baseball officials and players watch from afar as labor warfare threatens to devour the NBA, they are well aware that this agreement will ensure two full decades of continuous labor peace for the first time since the formation of the Major League Baseball Players Association in the 1960s.
This deal, however, figures to be especially historic, as baseball positions itself for the 21st century. Among other things, it will pave the way for realignment of the sport into two 15-team leagues, adding a second wild-card team in each league, spreading interleague play throughout all six months of the regular season and making significant changes to the draft, free agency and the so-called "Competitive Balance Tax."
In recent days, the sides have found ways to come to a meeting of the minds on the last of the major issues that have prevented them from reaching an agreement earlier -- in particular, a plan for curbing spending on the amateur draft and a revamped draft-pick compensation system for teams that lose top free agents.
Details of those changes have yet to emerge. But contrary to reports that compensation picks could be eliminated entirely, some clubs are now saying they've been told to expect that in the future, teams will only have to give up a first-round draft choice if they sign one of a handful of "elite" free agents.
Under the current system, teams are required to give up a top pick in return for signing all "Type A" free agents, as long as their previous club offers them arbitration. Under the new agreement, the formula for classifying players would change to limit compensation only to a select few stars -- i.e., CC Sabathia, but not Grant Balfour.
Sources said that some changes in the new agreement would take effect immediately, while others will have to wait until 2012. The sides had hoped to have a deal in place by the end of the World Series so that the new rules could apply to the current offseason. But now that the offseason is well under way, certain aspects of the agreement will have to be phased in.
The sources wouldn't predict how soon an agreement could be finalized. But one source told ESPN.com it's "possible" that negotiations could conclude by the end of this week.
Senior writer Jayson Stark covers Major League Baseball for ESPN.com.