Baseball owners on Saturday immediately criticized a new labor proposal from players, saying the plan on the key issues of revenue sharing and a luxury tax was a backward step.
"We could not have been more disappointed in the proposal we received," said Rob Manfred, the owners' chief labor lawyer. "This is raw regressive bargaining."
Six days before the union's Aug. 30 strike deadline, the sides appear to be on a collision course for baseball's ninth work stoppage since 1972.
Players' union head Donald Fehr defended the proposal.
"We have now moved substantially in the clubs' direction in most of the issues they thought were significant to them," Fehr said.
But Manfred accused players of backtracking on increased revenue sharing, which the union proposed Saturday should be phased in.
In 2006, the final year of the proposed deal, the sides are relatively close. Owners have proposed transferring $268 million, using 2001 revenue figures for analysis, from the wealthiest teams to the poorer ones; the union moved to $240 million, a $5 million increase.
While owners want $268 million transferred next year, up from about $169 million under the current formula, Manfred said the union proposed transfers of $172 million in 2003, $195 million in 2004, $217 million in 2005 and $240 million in 2006.
"The parties have discussed for a long time that when agreements are eventually reached, changes will have to be phased in over time," Fehr said. "The phase-in proposal was not what he had hoped for."
The union also moved $5 million toward the owners on the luxury tax, designed to slow spending by high-payroll teams, but Manfred said that was far short of what owners want because it would affect only two teams next year, based on this season's salaries.
Players said they thought their plan would move talks forward.
"We never expected them to accept it, but at least it's a move, and it's a significant move," Arizona's Mark Grace said.
"Any kind of dialogue and any kind of movement is good. They moved a few days ago, and we moved today, so the gap was narrowed. If we continue to do this, pretty soon the gap will be small enough that we can avoid a work stoppage."
By Ronald Blum
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