Management's Manfred sees some positive signs

No union reply on revenue, but other progress noted

Baseball

August 23, 2002|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

The Major League Baseball Players Association has yet to respond to an ownership concession on revenue sharing, but management lawyer Rob Manfred expressed guarded optimism yesterday that the negotiations are headed in the right direction.

"I'm more optimistic about it moving forward," he said, after reporting progress on several lesser issues. "We had a better day today."

The owners and players have one week left to reach a new labor agreement before the Aug. 30 strike date set by the players a week ago. They remain $43 million apart on the revenue-sharing component after the owners reduced the amount they hope to transfer through revenue sharing to $268 million.

There has been no significant progress on management's luxury tax proposal (the owners call it a competitive balance tax) and no serious negotiations on the issue in several days, but negotiators moved ahead on several lesser fronts, including scheduling, interleague play and the amount of debt each team will be allowed to carry.

"We had a productive day on those topics," Manfred said. "With respect to the core issues, we continue to have discussions on how and when the union would respond. It did not happen today."

Though the talks clearly hinge on revenue sharing and the luxury tax plan, the Basic Agreement is a complex document that covers virtually every aspect of the relationship between the players and owners.

There is an array of issues that have to be worked out, including final agreements on a worldwide draft and a steroid-testing plan, but the sides have come to terms on a 50 percent increase in the minimum salary and some of the more mundane benefit and waiver provisions.

If a week doesn't seem like much time to settle the core issues and work out the rest of the contract language, Manfred said that he isn't yet worried.

"We've got plenty of time to resolve what we need to resolve if we all go about it with the right attitude," Manfred said. Union lawyer Steve Fehr, brother of MLPBA executive director Donald Fehr, also indicated that there was plenty of time to make a deal.

"The issues have been narrowed sufficiently that it would not take very much time to conclude an agreement," he told the Associated Press yesterday.

Of course, attitudes can change from day to day. The situation looked grim after Donald Fehr sent memos to players and agents that characterized the ownership bargaining stance as a "wholesale attack on the salary structure," but face-to-face negotiations apparently have been cordial since a testy luxury tax session last week.

Though it should have come as no surprise that the union views a heavy luxury tax as a de facto salary cap, Manfred dismissed the memos as standard operating procedure.

"I don't believe that Don thinks this is a salary cap," he said. "I know he understands that it is something other than a salary cap. I think the memo was written to give the players an issue they would be willing to strike over."

If there is reason to believe that a work stoppage can be averted, it is rooted in the apparent ability of both sides to agree on the structure of the revenue sharing and tax proposals. The owners and players are no longer arguing over a straight or split revenue-sharing pool (they have essentially agreed on a straight pool) and the owners have agreed to defer to the players on the structure - but not the percentages or thresholds - of the luxury tax.

In short, they are speaking the same language for a change. Now, it's a matter of finding the right numbers.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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