MLB lockdown news: League could cancel more no-deal games by Tuesday

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A club executive was on the line, expressing an objection. Members of the media, he said, were unfairly characterizing an essential part of baseball’s collective bargaining. Nowhere in a previous collective agreement was it stated that the luxury tax thresholds were to increase based on industry revenue.

I had established such a link on February 16. Other authors had made the same link. At the very least, I thought, the spirit of the agreement called for higher incomes to produce higher thresholds. So I contacted two people involved in the negotiations that established the luxury tax in the 1996 CBA – Gene Orza, the union’s former chief operating officer who retired in 2011; and Rob Manfred, union negotiator for the league before becoming commissioner in January 2015.

Orza and Manfred agreed that club management was technically correct: previous CBAs had no specific mention of thresholds increasing with income. But Orza said the union would never have agreed to a luxury tax under any other premise, and Manfred did not dispute that income counts in calculating the thresholds.

Ninety-six days into the owners’ lockout, the thresholds are perhaps the most contentious element of negotiations between the league and the union. Players want the thresholds to rise, believing some teams are treating the initial level as a de facto salary cap. Owners say raising the thresholds will lead to greater payroll disparity and competitive imbalance, even if spending isn’t always correlated with winning.

After a 232-day players’ strike in 1994-95 that stemmed largely from owners’ desire for a salary cap, Orza said he explicitly warned Manfred not to “hijack” with the luxury tax what the league could not complete during the strike.

“He would remember the conversation I had with him. That is, ‘Make sure these things don’t work like a cap,'” Orza said. “And they did. I think last year the Padres topped him by about a dollar and a half. But only one (other) team (the Dodgers) passed him last year.

“It was always expected that three or four teams would cross the level. It would be a priming on salaries, notwithstanding the fact that they paid the penalty. They couldn’t overshoot as much as they otherwise would. But they could ignore it. And they would pass. And if they don’t go over, it’s a salary cap. And they know they are not entitled to a salary cap.

(Photo by Rob Manfred: Graham Morrison/Getty Images)

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