The Major League Baseball Players Association presented a new proposal in the labor negotiations yesterday, offering for the first time to provide another major-league player as compensation for the loss of a free agent.
The plan, which would create a pool of players from each of the 26 teams that a club losing a free agent could select from, was rejected by the owners.
Ray Grebey, the owners' chief negotiator, said the proposal had "certain conceptual elements of irreconcilable differences and it doesn't provide the basis for an agreement. What they came up with doesn't provide a framework for a settlement."
Grebey said the plan was unacceptable, in part, because "a club which does not even sign a free-agent player could be forced to give up a player as compensation."
The timing of the proposal, coming only two days before Judge Henry F. Werker has said he may rule on the National Labor Relations Board petition for an injunction, could be significant. Clearly, the players are looking for a settlement. Clearly, it doesn't hurt for the judge and the 26 owners to know that.
Marvin Miller, the executive director of the players' union, said, "The owners' argument for compensation has been you've got to fill the hole left by free agents leaving their teams. We've tried to accommodate them from this standpoint. If the problem is filling the hole, then the pool concept works.
"Their objection is that this plan is not in their format of requiring the signing club to lose something of value," he added. "It's not good enough to just fill the hole. They must fill the hole from the signing club. They did not say it, but that reduces the bargaining power of the free agent."
The players have previously indicated a willingness to accept a form of compensation that does not penalize either the free agent or club signing him. And they have previously proposed the pool concept, using money instead of players. In informal talks Monday, Grebey sent a message to Miller through federal mediator Kenneth E. Moffett, asking, "What other format (of compensation) do you have in mind?"
The answer came yesterday in the form of the new proposal. The plan calls for compensation for quality free agents in the form of another major-league player (or an amateur draft pick), which has been one of the owners' demands of all along. Each club would designate for the pool a player, or players, who would then be available to be selected by the club losing a quality free agent. The team selecting a player from the pool would then pay the player's former team $20,000 if the team finished in the top half of the league standings, or $40,000 if it finished in the bottom half.
The proposal defines a quality free agent as any player who has been a regular over the previous three seasons and who has been selected by 10 or more clubs in the reentry draft (previously the union has used a standard of 12 or more clubs).
For batters, regulars would be those who had a minumum of 502 plate appearances (the number needed to qualify for the battling title) for the last year before free agency and an average of 502 plate appearances for the three previous years. Starting pitchers would be considered regulars if they pitched a minimum of 162 innings over the same time period. "Regular" relief pitchers would be those who made at least 45 appearances.
Don Fehr, general counsel for the players' association, said that the union would be flexible on the particulars of the plan if the concept was acceptable to the owners. That is questionable, given that the owners have maintained that compensation for a quality free agent must be paid by the club signing him, and must be not less than the 16th player on the roster.
The players have maintained that by fixing the price that high, and tying it directly to the club signing the free agent, the bargaining power of the player would be significantly reduced.
The owners, however, in essence, say, "Why should you get only the 40th player on the roster in exchange for, let's say, Reggie Jackson?"
Fehr replied, "We asked how many players each club would have to out in the pool to make it palatable and got no answer. If it's 30 out of 40 (on the major-league roster), it's garbage. But significant expansion is palatable to us if the concept is okay.
"This answers everything they have said they wanted. It buys into their original definition of a regular player. It gives compensation in the form of a professional player. It provides something for the club that has to give up a player to the pool."
"What it does not do," he added, "is cut salaries" or "affect bargaining power, which they say they don't want to do."
Asked whether he thought today's proposal might ultimately provide a basis for a settlement, Fehr said, "We have no indication that they're treating it as a serious basis for a settlement now. Last year, we made the proposal for the study committee, they rejected it and look what we ended up with."
Negotiations with resume Monday afternoon in New York.