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Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Baseball fans line up to get into AT&T Field before the Chattanooga Lookouts' season opener against the Birmingham Barons on April 5, 2018.

NEW YORK — The tone of talks for a new agreement governing the relationship between baseball's major and minor leagues took a positive turn this week, when the bickering sides met electronically for about an hour and later issued a joint statement that termed the session "constructive."

Negotiators for the governing body of the minor leagues asked questions during Wednesday's session about what the administrative structure would be if Major League Baseball takes over their operation next year, a person familiar with the talks told The Associated Press.

MLB deputy commissioner Dan Halem did most of the talking during the one-hour electronic meeting, said the person who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because no statements were authorized.

"The parties are continuing their discussions, with the goal of concluding a mutually beneficial long-term agreement in the near future," the sides said in a joint statement released Thursday.

No date was set for the next meeting.

The sides did not address MLB's proposal to cut the minimum total of affiliated minor league teams to 120, the person said. That is the most contentious issue in talks to replace the Professional Baseball Agreement that expires after this season.

The minor leagues are prepared to agree to MLB's proposal, two people familiar with the talks told the AP on Tuesday, a development first reported by Baseball America. What that means for the Southern League's Chattanooga Lookouts is still uncertain.

The Times Free Press has reported extensively on the possible contraction of the Lookouts, the Class AA affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds, since they were mentioned last November in a New York Times article as one of 42 minor league teams at risk. Major League Baseball later said that list was inaccurate, but Baseball America this week wrote that 42 teams still could be contracted due to a pair of independent league teams being added to affiliated ball.

"Once again, we know nothing at all," Lookouts president Rich Mozingo told the Times Free Press on Tuesday. "We've read the same article that you've read, and nobody has come to us saying that we are on or off the list. By reading the article and just doing the math, it seems like we're on the right side of it."

Until now, the concept of a joint statement in these talks was inconceivable. The National Association hired lobbyists to push Congress to support minor league teams in their fight to keep affiliations. But the coronavirus pandemic, which has shut down most organized sports in the United States, cut off revenue and changed the dynamic of a long-term fight.

A radical overhaul of minor league governance would change the relationship between the majors and the minors that was established in September 1903 by the National Agreement for the Government of Professional Base Ball Clubs. That deal called for National League, American League and National Association teams to respect each other's contracts.

The Lookouts' 2020 season is set to be the second of a two-year player development contract with the Reds, but all of baseball has been delayed and Chattanooga's team is sidelined during what would normally be a busy time at AT&T Field.

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