Selig squirms over owners' split

Free-spending Yankees conflict with thrifty teams

February 26, 2011|By Phil Rogers

There had to be smiles at the Major League Baseball Players Association offices last week. For one of the few times in the last decade, management types went public with wildly varying takes on the economic times — showing a distinct absence of lockstep as negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement begin.

The rhetoric of White Sox general manager Ken Williams and Yankees co-owner Hank Steinbrenner was startling. They dropped the kind of verbal bombs that were common in baseball's bad, old days of labor relations, when union lawyers Marvin Miller and Donald Fehr ran roughshod over owners who couldn't agree that the sun set in the west.

Commissioner Bud Selig wasn't pleased. He rebuked Steinbrenner and White Sox Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, reminding them their teams could be subject to fines for violating his standing gag order on labor matters.

On Friday, Reinsdorf declined an interview about Williams' comments. He cited Selig as the lone management voice on labor.

Consider the brush fires extinguished. But assuming one caveat, that Williams was voicing a position Reinsdorf also holds, the comments suggest a massive divide between the Yankees and most of the other 29 teams entering the last season of baseball's current collective bargaining agreement.

While the Yankees had a record payroll of $213 million last season, they also contributed $130 million to MLB's central pool through revenue sharing and luxury taxes. Steinbrenner and Yankees President Randy Levine appear worried that they're going to be asked to divert even more of their revenue in a new CBA.

"We have to do a little something about that, and I know Bud wants to correct it in some way," Steinbrenner told the New York Daily News. "There's a way. Obviously we're very much allied with the Red Sox, Mets, Dodgers and Cubs in that area. At some point if you don't want to worry about teams in minor markets, don't put teams in minor markets or don't leave teams in minor markets. Socialism, communism — whatever you want to call it — is never the answer."

Steinbrenner's thinly veiled reference to the elimination of weak franchises followed a frontal assault from Levine after Rangers owner Chuck Greenberg suggested he somehow helped steer free agent Cliff Lee to the Phillies.

"If he really wants to impress us, then he can get the Rangers off welfare and show how they can be revenue-sharing payers, rather than recipients for three years in row, without financing from Major League Baseball," Levine said. "That would really be something. … I think Chuck is delusional.''

Williams told Comcast SportsNet's Chuck Garfien baseball needs to do more to help smaller markets, calling for a salary cap to even the playing field. He said rising salaries, climbing ticket prices and the need to help low-revenue teams are such serious problems that baseball has reached critical mass.

"Something has to happen," Williams said. "If it means the game being shut down for the sake of bringing sanity to it, to franchises that aren't going to stop the insanity, I'm all for it.''

When MLB instituted its luxury tax in the 2001-02 labor negotiations, the expectation was that it would serve to close the spending gap between the top spenders and the rest of their competition. But the Yankees have proved far more willing to pay the tax than most expected.

A rookie slotting system is expected to be the most contentious point in the upcoming negotiations. But the economic tension between the Yankees and their competition suggests Selig will have to work to keep the union from reverting to the divide-and-conquer playbook left over from the Miller/Fehr years.

Knocking wood: Having failed all winter to land a proven starter, the Yankees are visibly nervous about what's behind CC Sabathia, Phil Hughes and A.J. Burnett. The injury to the Cardinals' Adam Wainwright brought that vulnerability into focus.

"It is a rite of passage in spring training,'' Yankees GM Brian Cashman said. "Sometime in the first seven to 10 days someone big is going down and you just hope it is not your camp."

According to Joel Sherman of the New York Post, the Yankees have identified the White Sox, Braves, A's and Angels as teams that could have starting pitching to trade before July 31.

They also reportedly are watching the Cardinals, with the idea they could consider dealing Chris Carpenter if they fall out of the race. The Cardinals hold a $15 million option on the 36-year-old Carpenter for 2012.

Making magic: Longtime big-league shortstop Royce Clayton landed work in a new field, playing the role of Miguel Tejada in the movie "Moneyball."

Given that Clayton is from California and Tejada from the Dominican Republic, it's fair to say the accent was a bit of a problematic.

"I gave it a whirl," Clayton told the San Francisco Chronicle, "but they told me to lose it after a while."

The last word: "We had a bet, and he has to buy me dinner now. It'll probably be the food court at the mall." — J.T. Snow about managing his team in a Giants intrasquad game to victory over one managed by Shawon Dunston.

progers@tribune.com

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