NEW YORK – Baseball’s labor talks hit a snag when negotiators delved deeper into the key economic issues, leaving the union’s executive board on track to set a strike date Friday.
Rob Manfred, the owners’ top labor lawyer, has repeatedly expressed optimism, but even he admitted little headway was made at the bargaining table Wednesday.
“Occasionally in this process, you have bumps in the road. Today probably would be a bump in the road,” he said.
When it met Monday in Chicago, the union’s executive board deferred a decision on a strike date, preferring not to add pressure to talks when they were at a delicate stage.
The board is to hold a telephone call Friday, and without progress probably would set a strike date, most likely Aug. 30, according to a person familiar with the players’ deliberations who spoke on the condition he not be identified.
“I think Friday is a big day,” Seattle pitcher Paul Abbott said. “Setting a date would spark some negotiating.”
Union officials did not comment after the day’s second bargaining session. Players and owners moved only slightly on the key issues, according to several people on both sides of the talks.
The sides met Thursday morning, then broke for internal discussions. It was unclear if they would meet again later in the day.
Management’s proposal for a luxury tax on the payrolls of high-spending teams, as expected, is a divisive issue, one that could cause baseball’s ninth work stoppage since 1972.
Owners have proposed a 50 percent tax that would start with teams over $100 million, including 40-man rosters and benefits, with the full rate phased for the very highest spenders.
The union has discussed a tax that would start with teams over about $140 million — only the New York Yankees project to be above that next year — with a much lower tax rate.
Management wants the tax to restrain spending and salaries, while the union maintains a tax must be looked at in conjunction with revenue-sharing, both part of a system to transfer money from high-revenue teams to low-revenue teams.
“I don’t believe that difference is an impediment to an agreement at this point,” Manfred said.
But the difference in numbers is. Players fear that a large increase among the teams in the amount of shared locally generated revenue, when combined with a stiff luxury tax, would drain so much money from the high-revenue teams that it would cause a significant drop in salaries.
“Negotiations are never easy. You work every day to make steady progress,” said Boston’s Tony Clark, the AL player representative. “I’m cautiously optimistic. It’s touch and go.”
Manfred said the sides moved closer on drug testing Wednesday. While the union has proposed mandatory random resting for steroids only, owners also want testing for nutritional supplements like the testosterone-booster androstenedione and for “recreational” drugs such as cocaine.
The sides, who spent part of Wednesday discussing licensing rules, also have unresolved differences on changes owners want in the amateur draft and salary arbitration, plus management’s desire for a $45 million minimum payroll — a figure only Montreal and Tampa Bay were below this year.
“They have been opposed philosophically to the minimum club payroll and have maintained that position,” Manfred said.
On Tuesday, Manfred had said he thought an agreement was possible “in the next several days.”
“My overall view has not changed,” he said Wednesday, “despite that I recognize that today was somewhat of a bump in the road.”
Fehr has refused to gauge the daily mood of the talks.
“I know Rob is out there preaching whatever he preaches,” Fehr said Wednesday. “When I have something to say, everyone will know.”