CHICAGO – New York Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner said he voted for Major League Baseball’s proposal to lower the luxury tax threshold, a plan opposed by the players’ union with the sport on the brink of its first work stoppage on 26 years.
The luxury tax, formally known as the competitive balance tax, had a threshold of $210 million this year. Owners proposed lowering it to $180 million and adding a $100 million payroll floor. The union long has opposed a floor, fearing it would lead to a hard cap.
Speaking Wednesday at Major League Baseball's regular owners' meetings, Steinbrenner said the CBT proposal was approved by the labor policy committee.
“There’s seven of us on labor policy,” Steinbrenner said. “Boston, me, several mid-markets, a couple small markets. We’re a very diverse group, and when we came up with the proposal, including CBT and luxury tax that we brought to the union, it was a unanimous, on our committee, a unanimous deal.
"And every owner on the committee, there are certainly things in the proposal that we didn’t like, I mean every owner. But we wanted to put together a proposal that address their concerns and come together as a group.”
MLB's five-year labor contract expires at 11:59 p.m. EST on Dec. 1, and Steinbrenner said the owners are having discussions with the players' union “on a continuous basis.”
But negotiations have been taking place since last spring, and there has been no sign of any significant movement toward a deal. If the agreement expires without a new deal in place, Major League Baseball could lock out its players — putting the start of spring training in jeopardy.
Asked whether there was still time to get a deal done, Steinbrenner responded: “Yeah. We have two full weeks, and, like I said, meetings are continuous. So a lot is being discussed.”
Amid the uncertainty, there has been a surprising amount of business completed since the Braves won their first World Series championship since 1995.
The Tigers announced a $77 million, five-year contract with left-hander Eduardo Rodríguez. The Blue Jays and right-hander José Berríos agreed to a $131 million, seven-year deal, pending a physical, a person familiar with the matter told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because there was no official announcement from the team.
Right-hander Noah Syndergaard agreed to a $21 million, one-year contract with the Angels. The 29-year-old Syndergaard had received a qualifying offer from the New York Mets, and he pitched a total of two innings over the past two years because of injuries.
Top free agents still on the market include Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, Freddie Freeman, Trevor Story, Max Scherzer, Marcus Semien and Kris Bryant.
The 27-year-old Correa batted .279 with 26 homers and 92 RBIs in 148 games this year, helping Houston advance to the World Series. But the addition of the talented shortstop could rankle some clubhouses with his connection to the Astros' 2017 championship team, a title tainted by an electronic sign-stealing scandal.
Asked if Correa was a serious consideration for the Yankees even with the sign-stealing controversy, Steinbrenner said he wouldn't get into individual free agents.
“He's obviously a great talent,” Steinbrenner said, “and look, I think, hopefully most people have moved on from that. I mean I think it's only healthy to move on from things like that instead of stewing on it year after year.”
The resolution of Correa's free agency might have to wait until the expected signing scramble following an agreement.
The pace of negotiations is similar to what occurred in 1989-90, when the agreement expired Dec. 31 and owners announced on Jan. 9 that a lockout would begin Feb. 15 without an agreement. A deal was reached March 1 and opening day was delayed a week until April 9, causing 78 games to be postponed and rescheduled.
Teams have proposed eliminating salary arbitration and allowing players to become free agents in the offseason after they turn 29 1/2 rather than the six seasons of major league service in place since 1976.
Concerned with “tanking” by rebuilding teams and a slide in spending on major league payrolls, players want changes in the current deal.
The average major league salary dropped from $4,097,122 in 2017 to $3,881,021 in 2020, before accounting for prorated pay caused by the pandemic, according to the players’ association. Based on this year’s opening-day payrolls, the final figure for 2021 is projected to be about $3.7 million.
Baseball was interrupted by eight work stoppages from 1972-95, the last a 7 1/2-month strike in 1994-95 that wiped out the World Series for the first time in 90 years. The closest the sport has come to another stoppage was in 2002, when an agreement was reached on Aug. 30 about 3 1/2 hours before players had been set to strike. That marked the first agreement without a stoppage since 1969.
AP Baseball Writer Ronald Blum and Associated Press writer Rob Gillies contributed to this report.
Jay Cohen can be reached at https://twitter.com/jcohenap
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