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Collusion IV? The union is getting annoyed at ownership

Nov 14, 2012, 9:20 AM EDT

Major League Baseball Players Association Executive Director Michael Weiner speaks at news conference to announce new collective bargaining agreement in New York

Once upon a time, baseball owners illegally conspired to keep free agent salaries down. Then they did it again. And again. And they were busted for it, hard.

Then, according to the union, they did it again, and again and again.  They were not busted for it in those instances — baseball owners are a lot more careful about those things these days and, admittedly, sometimes the players just don’t like it when the market isn’t insanely overheated and look for reasons why that is — but the union still watches them closely.

And, as Ken Rosenthal reports, they’re watching the owners again:

The players’ union, sources say, believes that some recent statements by club officials and other baseball employees violate the collective-bargaining agreement. Rules in the CBA state that team officials cannot communicate through the media the substance of economic terms discussed by players and clubs – the facts of an offer, or whether the club will decline to make an offer.

At issue are team officials are signaling through the media what players are asking for and what teams are willing to give them, thereby tipping off other teams about how high they need to go or, alternatively, how low they can go in making offers. Examples include Randy Levine’s comments about the kind of contract Rafael Soriano wants and unnamed executives’ comments about Josh Hamilton‘s demands and how long a contract the Rangers would be willing to offer him. Rosenthal has many other examples.

I suspect that a lot of that is intended to signal stuff to other teams and constrain players’ markets. But I also suspect that there is no real way to make a case that it’s some coordinated effort like it was back in the bad old days of the 1980s.

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