Jayson Stark writes that the latest so-called "bump in the road" in the labor negotiation process might prove to be more of a "line in the sand." He doesn't go into specifics but the players' union counterproposal on the luxury tax was met with disapproval on the owners' part. ESPN reports that their proposals were not all that far apart:
Owners have proposed a 50 percent tax that would start with teams over $100 million [actually $98], including 40-man rosters and benefits, with the full rate phased for the very highest spenders. The union has discussed a tax that would start with teams over about $140 million -- only the New York Yankees project to be above that next year -- with a much lower tax rate.
Howver, the players' proposal ($140 M) would only affect one team (the Yankees) while the owners' would have affected six teams last year (Arizona, Boston, Cleveland, Los Angeles, New York Yankees, and New York Mets). That's the top fifth of baseball payrolls, very close to the Quartile I (the top fourth) that MLB's Blue Ribbon Panel is always prattling on about. I would say that a 50% tax on salaries for the top fourth or fifth of teams comes pretty close to constituting a salary cap.
The funny thing is that with teams cutting back on salary, only four opening day payrolls (Yankess, Boston, Texas, and Arizona) would be over the proposed threshold. These salaries can go up as the season progresses but they appear to still be going down from last year on their own. In other words, self-censure and self-restraint on the part of the management of these teams are working. The total 2002 opening day payroll for MLB declined about $117 million from last year. That's about $4 million per team.