Major league baseball owners announced an eight-point proposal yesterday that includes a salary capsimilar to that used in the National Basketball Association.
But Don Fehr, executive director of the Major League Players Association, said, "What this proposal does is functionally eliminate the free-agent market for players."
And what of the union's recent threats to strike? "This doesn't advance the ball," Fehr said. "(A strike) is certainly no less likely now than it was 24 hours ago."
The owners' proposed payroll plan, announced yesterday in New York at a meeting with the union, would establish negotiated salary caps for all 26 clubs based on their aggregate 1985 player payroll, but would not freeze individual salaries. It would not affect the salaries of players already on the 40-man rosters, but would limit what teams could spend on players subsequently acquired.
The owners, who said last week that major league clubs lost $42 million last year and could lose $155 million by 1988, suggested letting free agents negotiate with all clubs, a point the union wants. The owners said they'd eliminate professional players as compensation to teams that lose high-ranking free agents, which was a major issue in the strike in 1981. The owners also offered to raise the minimum player salary from $40,000 to $60,000.
"The reasoning (for the salary cap) is the great concern we have for the financial state of baseball," said Lee MacPhail, president of the owners' Players Relations Committee. "We feel strongly that something has to be done to slow down the increase in player salaries. We're not talking about rolling them back or freezing them. But we have to give revenue a chance to catch up with costs, or else we'll be in serious trouble."
Of the eight-point plan, he said, "It's a balanced proposal which is fair to both parties." He said player salaries in 1985 average "between $263,000 and $285,000."
But Fehr said, "My immediate reaction is that Lee knows better than that. Basically what they are saying is is that they will control salaries and there won't be a market for free agents. What this means is they will tell baseball players 'You will be denied the right to seek your value on the free market' . . . It's not ordinarily the way one does business in this country."
MacPhail explained the salary cap proposal by saying, "We would figure an average payroll for clubs based on 1985 player salaries. The clubs' own payroll, in relation to the average payroll level, would determine what they could and could not do" in terms of future player signings.
He said that if the plan is put into effect "clubs well above the level would be given a grace period -- some time to get down -- or they could stay where they are. There is no prohibition to remain above the average payroll level but there would be restrictions on what clubs could do about acquiring players not on their 40-man payroll."
"This will just make the rich clubs richer," Fehr said. "It will depress salaries."
MacPhail noted, "There were eight points on our schedule. The first seven, of course, are player-oriented proposals, things they wanted. It's an attempt to meet their needs. The eighth (salary cap) is our attempt to find a system that is fair."
"The short answer," Fehr said, "is that the other seven pale in significance (to the salary cap)."
"If they look at it with an open mind," MacPhail said, "they will realize there are financial problems in major league baseball and they will help us find a solution."
Fehr said he will present the proposal to the players' union executive committee later this week. "At this point, I don't expect a favorable reaction," he said.