Sources: Tigers strapped for cash

In addition to Devil Rays, Detroit is identified as second team in trouble

Baseball

July 12, 2002|By Laura Price-Brown | Laura Price-Brown,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

One day after commissioner Bud Selig fired another cannon over baseball's battered bow, the Detroit Tigers found themselves in the unenviable position of defending their ability to pay players.

Selig told the media the day after the All-Star Game that one team would not be able to meet its payroll Monday and another might not finish the season because of mountains of debt. He said one of those teams "will surprise you."

Sources told Newsday yesterday the team in danger of not being able to pay was Detroit, but Major League Baseball executive vice president of administration John McHale said, "A solution was reached consistent with the principles outlined by the commissioner."

Selig said Wednesday that 20 teams had maxed out the $72 million credit limit established for each team and that he wasn't about to bail anyone out. McHale said the club in question is "in compliance with all of baseball's rules, even in the solution of this problem." But for how long?

Even though the Tigers were able to meet their payroll this time, the sources said concerns remain about subsequent paydays. The Tigers apparently are not the only team riffling through its pockets for spare change. The Chicago Tribune reported the other team in trouble is the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

"There are clubs which are reporting to us that they are having some stress in meeting payroll obligations," McHale said.

Spokesmen for the Devil Rays and Tigers denied their teams are in dire straits. "It's not true," Tigers communications director Jim Anderson said. "We don't know where people are reporting it got it. We're in fine shape."

Major League Baseball has identified neither team it says is in economic distress, although one official said in May that the forced folding of teams might be the only way for the union to believe the industry is in trouble.

"I'm not sure that the answer isn't just one or two teams going under," the official said. "If all of a sudden these older players, who have a bunch of deferred compensation, realize they are unsecured creditors in a bankruptcy and deferred compensation may be worth two cents, four cents, 10 cents on the dollar, it may get their attention. Is that a good thing for the game? Of course not."

Representatives from Major League Baseball and the Players Association were supposed to resume negotiations yesterday for the first time since the union's executive board announced Monday it would not set a strike date at that time. The sides postponed talks and instead met internally. They might get together in New York today and are supposed to convene another seven times this month.

Also, arbitrator Shyam Das is expected to issue his ruling Monday on the players' grievance over contraction.

The main issue, however, remains the economic structure of the game. The union wants no part of artificially suppressing salaries. It views ownership proposals such as 50 percent revenue sharing, an $85 million commissioner's discretionary fund, an up-to-50 percent luxury tax on payrolls over $98 million, changes to salary arbitration and debt-control provisions as backdoor ways to create a salary cap.

Laura Price-Brown is a reporter for Newsday, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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