Are teams’ statements crossing line?
Though labor peace in baseball is assured through 2016, occasional skirmishes between the players and owners are inevitable.
The clubs’ conduct during the free-agent market, historically a source of conflict between the two sides, again is creating tension.
The players’ union, sources say, believes that some recent statements by club officials and other baseball employees violate the collective-bargaining agreement.
Rules in the CBA state that team officials cannot communicate through the media the substance of economic terms discussed by players and clubs – the facts of an offer, or whether the club will decline to make an offer.
The rules, designed to prevent clubs from influencing a free agent’s market value, were adopted after the 2010-11 offseason as part of the "anti-collusion" language in the CBA.
The union, sources say, had concerns about potential violations the past two offseasons, and already has taken exception with a number of specific comments attributed to management representatives in media reports this fall:
Those comments include:
* A “high-ranking,” anonymous Texas Rangers official telling USA Today that the team does not plan to offer free-agent outfielder Josh Hamilton more than a three-year contract.
* Former manager Tony La Russa saying on ESPN’s “First Take” that any contract longer than six years is “scary and dangerous” for a club.
La Russa, who now works as an assistant to commissioner Bud Selig, was responding to a question about whether Hamilton merited a contract similar to Albert Pujols’ 10-year, $240 million free-agent deal with the Angels.
* New York Yankees president Randy Levine citing agent Scott Boras’ request for a four-year, $60 million contract for free-agent closer Rafael Soriano – a request that Boras said he never made.
“We really like Raffy,” Levine told CBSSports.com. “But Scott Boras told the player he could get $60 million for four years. Let’s see if he can do it.”
* Detroit Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski saying that the team would not bring back two free agents, closer Jose Valverde and left fielder/designated hitter Delmon Young.
While the union does not plan to file a formal grievance against management at the present time, it is monitoring the situation closely and will decide on a response, sources say.
In the 1980s, independent arbitrators ruled three times that the baseball owners were guilty of conspiring to hold down free-agent salaries, and the owners agreed to pay the players $280 million to settle the cases.
The players again accused the owners of collusion in 2002 and ’03, and the owners agreed to pay the players $12 million, but with no admission of guilt.