MLB, players union settle potential collusion claims

NEW YORK -- Baseball players and owners settled potential claims that management may have conspired against free agents following the 2002 and 2003 seasons as part of an agreement that also dealt with about 40 grievances.

The settlement, made with no admissions of guilt, was agreed to last month at the same time the sides signed off on a five-year labor contract through the 2011 season.

Under the deal, a lump-sum $12 million payment from money already earmarked for players will be made to settle unfiled claims of collusive activity from those two offseasons along with many of the backed-up grievances that were pending.

While several agents accused teams of acting in concert with free agents after the 2002 and 2003 seasons, the clubs denied those allegations and formal grievances were not filed. The sides previously reached an interim settlement in which the commissioner's office both continued to provide advice on free agents and reminded clubs that they had to act individually.

"As part of the overall agreement, there was competitive-balance tax money left over from the last agreement, and we saw an opportunity to clean up the grievance procedure," Rob Manfred, baseball's executive vice president for labor relations, said Monday. "It put us in position to go forward without a lot of old disputes hanging around."

It will be up to the union's executive board to determine how much of the $12 million to allocate to any unfiled collusion claims as well as the other grievances. The union has not started the process, but some agents familiar with the case speculated about $9 million could be set aside. Union head Donald Fehr said the union staff will discuss any recommendations with the board.

These collusion allegations played out behind the scenes, unlike the collusion cases of the 1980s. In decisions that received much public attention, arbitrators ruled owners conspired against free agents following the 1985, 1986 and 1987 seasons, and in 1990 management settled those cases for $280 million.

A drawn-out series of union hearings followed to allocate the money, and the final distribution to players was not made until 2005. Since 1990, the sides agreed there would be triple damages in future collusion cases that went to an arbitrator's decision.

Fehr said these allegations didn't require grievances.

"It wasn't necessary to do that. We were able to work it out," he said. "In any sorts of cases or claims, if you can reach an equitable settlement it has to be seriously considered."

Money to pay the $12 million settlement will come from the approximately $25 million in unspent funds collected from the luxury tax from 2003-06 that had previously been designated for player benefits.

Two high-profile cases were not included in the settlement: Sidney Ponson's claim that Baltimore owed him about $11 million when his contract was terminated in 2005 and Carl Everett's grievance against the Boston Red Sox, who fined him twice in 2001.

Some aspects of the settlement were first reported by the New York Daily News.