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MLB players' union formally challenges A's, Marlins, Pirates and Rays

The winter of discontent between owners and players in Major League Baseball has turned even chillier, with the players' union filing a grievance that asserts four teams have so seriously limited their spending that they have violated the terms of the collective bargaining agreement.

If the union position is upheld in arbitration, the teams — the Oakland Athletics, Miami Marlins, Pittsburgh Pirates and Tampa Bay Rays — could have to repay their revenue-sharing money from the 2017 season and forfeit their revenue-sharing money from the 2018 season.

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The league does not announce the amounts of revenue-sharing payments, but the Marlins received about $60 million last season and the Rays about $45 million, according to the Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times, respectively.

The Marlins and Rays have been particularly active in shedding salaries.

The Marlins traded all three members of one of the league's most dynamic outfields — Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna — as well as Dee Gordon, who is being used as an outfielder by the Seattle Mariners. The Rays traded their franchise player, third baseman Evan Longoria, as well as outfielders Corey Dickerson and Steven Souza Jr. and pitchers Brad Boxberger and Jake Odorizzi.

The collective bargaining agreement requires teams to use revenue-sharing income "in an effort to improve its performance on the field." The agreement also puts the burden of proof on any club with a payroll less than 25% higher than its revenue-sharing income, although it is unclear that the payroll any of the four teams cited in the grievance will be so low.

Although this winter's free-agent freeze has triggered the union unrest, teams need not use revenue-sharing money to improve the major-league payroll. However, the most recent collective bargaining agreements have limited opportunities for teams to spend heavily in the draft or on the signing of international amateurs.

There is no precedent for a team to refund or forego revenue-sharing money. In 2010, the league and union resolved a grievance against the Marlins when the team committed to spend more money on its major-league payroll.

The union also would like some sort of compensation for players that might have been affected by the allegedly improper spending.

A union spokesman said the grievance was filed Friday but declined to confirm any details within the grievance or comment on it. A league spokesman said only that the league had received the grievance and believed it had "no merit."

Follow Bill Shaikin on Twitter @BillShaikin

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