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Union boss encouraged about talks

Players union chief Don Fehr said he knows better than to even think about predicting what will happen when baseball's labor agreement expires after this season.

What he does know is this:

There is now a more "business-like" relationship between the players and owners that includes "a fairly frequent and ongoing level of contact."

"Hopefully, that will be an advantage for everybody when we get into bargaining," Fehr said.

Also encouraging, Fehr said, though no date has been set for the formal start of negotiations, there already have been preliminary talks about beginning the initial information exchanges.

The union is withholding players' licensing fees and will instead put the money - reportedly about $33,000 for each player who spent all of 2005 in the majors - into a contingency fund. But Fehr said, "That is standard preparation for negotiations as we've done in the prior years."

Fehr said he does not expect contraction, realignment, the scheduling format or changes to the drug testing agreement to be major issues. He said he does expect to have numerous discussions on revenue sharing.

Fehr met with the Devil Rays players for more than 90 minutes Tuesday afternoon as part of his annual spring training tour.

"They updated us on a lot of issues," Rays player representative Rocco Baldelli said. "It was good because it's information we really can't get anywhere else."

With the game enjoying record revenues, attendance strong and a drug-testing agreement in place, there would seem to be the potential to reach a deal without the threats, much less the legitimate possibility, of a work stoppage.

"I'm out of the prediction business," Fehr said. "I'm wrong as often as I am right, and that's not a very good batting average for somebody in my business. We have to wait and see."

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