ST. LOUIS - Baseball commissioner Bud Selig denies that teams conspired against free agents after the 2008 season.
As Michael Weiner prepares to take over from Donald Fehr as head of the players’ association, several agents said they are pushing the union to file a collusion grievance against teams over their behavior during the free-agent market last winter.
“That’s fine. They’re entitled to their opinion,” Selig said Tuesday at a meeting of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. “Given the world we live in and what’s happened in the last 18 months, I think this is one sport where I can’t even fathom that anybody could think that.
“Player compensation hasn’t gone down. We have many clubs struggling, and even those that have done remarkably well, remember, are very aggressive in their marketing and their discounting.”
Jeff Borris, an agent whose clients include Barry Bonds, Brian Fuentes and Jason Isringhausen, said a day earlier: “There’s a general level of suspicion in the air.”
The decision on whether to go ahead with a grievance will be one of the first major decisions for the players’ association since Fehr announced his pending retirement last month and its executive board recommended Weiner, the union’s general counsel, for the top job.
“The investigation is ongoing but not complete because of things to review,” Weiner said Monday before the All-Star Home Run Derby. “We’ve had some discussions with the commissioner’s office. I’ll know more I think by the end of the month.”
Halfway through the season, agents also are worried about collusion because no major players eligible for free agency have agreed to contract extensions.
“There are too many things that need to be explained,” said Seth Levinson, who represented nearly a dozen free agents following the 2008 season. “In my experience, there are no coincidences in a monopoly.”
Weiner, who will take over from Fehr between the end of this season and the start of the 2010 schedule, struck a more cautious note.
“The new market will be what it’s going to be,” he said.
The union filed collusion grievances following the 1985, 1986 and 1987 seasons. After arbitrators ruled in the union’s favor, management agreed to a $280 million settlement.
A triple-damages provision was inserted into the sport’s labor contract in 1990. As part of the latest collective bargaining agreement in 2006, players and owners settled potential claims that management may have conspired against free agents following the 2002 and 2003 seasons. The settlement, made with no admission of guilt, called for a lump-sum $12 million payment from money already earmarked for players to settle unfiled claims of collusive activity along with other pending grievances.
Some agents have said the union should have been more aggressive and more public in pursuing those claims.
Rob Manfred, Major League Baseball’s executive vice president of labor relations, said no improper conduct occurred.
“The free-agent market proceeded in a manner that was completely consistent with the requirements of the basic agreement,” he said.
During the offseason, some teams said they were taking a less aggressive approach to free agents because of the recession. Teams cut payroll for their active rosters and disabled lists by $47 million from opening day in 2008 to the first day of this season, according to an analysis by The Associated Press.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
“I think the clubs uniformly felt they were taking the momentum of a national event — that being the economy — and suggesting that that was going to have an impact on their revenues,” agent Scott Boras said. “I think they were attempting to leverage that into a belief structure that the value of players has gone down because there’s a perception that baseball will suffer because of the economy. After experiencing the biggest blow of the economy in the fall of 2008, we know that baseball has stood its ground and still has an extraordinary revenue base.”
Still, the average salary was $3.2 million at the start of this season.
“Some of us, let me be as blunt as I can be, have to live in the real world, not in some make-believe little scenario that doesn’t exist. And I mean that very, very sincerely,” Selig said. “They can say whatever they want to say. I wouldn’t even waste my time reacting to that.”
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