NEW YORK – The baseball players' union told commissioner Bud Selig (search) on Monday that it was willing to talk to him about his call for harsher steroids penalties.
"We will look forward to discussing the points you raised," union head Donald Fehr (search) said in a letter to Selig.
Last week, Selig wrote to Fehr, asking players to agree to even tougher penalties than the ones that took effect at the start of the season. Selig now wants a 50-game suspension for first-time steroid offenders, a 100-game ban for a second offense and a lifetime suspension for a third violation.
Earlier in the day, Minnesota Twins reliever Juan Rincon (search) was suspended for 10 days after testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance. He was the fifth player banned under the Major League Baseball policy, and the most well-known.
Under current rules, the first offense draws a 10-day suspension. The penalties increase to 30 days for a second positive test, 60 days for a third violation and one year for a fourth. The penalty for a fifth failure is at the commissioner's discretion.
Along with stiffening the penalties under his "three strikes and you are out approach," Selig also wants the union to ban amphetamines, to increase random tests and to pick an independent person to handle the big league drug-testing program.
Fehr noted in his letter that the union agreed in January to tougher penalties and said the program was working, adding, "You now request that we further modify our agreement."
"Given the players' demonstrated commitment to make certain that the goals of our program are met, and their desire to continue to strive to make sure that is done, we are willing to discuss the matter with you," he wrote.
Fehr suggested that the sides "negotiate at the table, and not in the media."
"Accordingly, I will not here otherwise respond to your letter," Fehr wrote. "We will look forward to discussing the points you raised, and other appropriate matters."
Players agreed in the offseason to reopen the drug agreement, which was set to run through December 2006.
Along with Rincon, four other players have been suspended for 10 days: Tampa Bay outfielder Alex Sanchez, Colorado outfielder Jorge Piedra, Texas minor league pitcher Agustin Montero and Seattle minor league outfielder Jamal Strong.
Baseball does not have any penalties for amphetamine use by players on 40-man major league rosters. Amphetamines, however, are banned for players with minor league contracts.