The Major League Baseball Players Association filed a grievance against the Tampa Bay Rays, Miami Marlins, Oakland Athletics and Pittsburgh Pirates accusing the teams of failing to appropriately spend revenue-sharing money.
Union spokesman Chris Dahl, speaking Tuesday at the union's training camp for free agents, said the grievance was filed Friday. Union head Tony Clark declined to comment.
"We have received the complaint and believe it has no merit," Major League Baseball said in a statement.
If the case is not settled, it would proceed to a hearing before Mark Irvings, baseball's independent arbitrator. The grievance was first reported by the Tampa Bay Times.
Tampa Bay was 27th in payroll last year for its 40-man roster, according to MLB's final figures. Miami was 20th, Pittsburgh was 25th and Oakland 28th.
Tampa Bay has traded Evan Longoria, Steven Souza Jr., Jake Odorizzi, Brad Boxberger and Corey Dickerson during the offseason.
"I think we're beyond what compliance is," Rays owner Stu Sternberg said. "We're very judicious in how we spend our money, but it's spent in a lot of forms and payroll is one of them."
Pittsburgh traded star outfielder Andrew McCutchen and ace Gerrit Cole during the offseason. Pirates President Frank Coonelly called the grievance "patently baseless" and said the team spent revenue-sharing money consistent with the rules in baseball's labor contract.
"Our revenue-sharing receipts have decreased for seven consecutive seasons while our major league payroll has more than doubled over this same period," Coonelly said in a statement. "Our revenue-sharing receipts are now just a fraction of what we spend on major league payroll. We also have made significant investments in scouting, signing amateur players, our player development system and our baseball facilities."
Baseball's collective bargaining agreement states "each club shall use its revenue-sharing receipts ... in an effort to improve its performance on the field" and prohibits use of that money to service debt related to franchise acquisition and service to debt not related to improving on-field performance.
The players' association expressed concern about the Marlins and the revenue-sharing provision a decade ago. While the Marlins denied any violations, the team, the union and the commissioner's office announced in January 2010 an agreement covering three seasons.
The Marlins raised their 40-man payroll from $38 million in 2009 to $47 million in 2010 to $62 million in 2011 to $90 million in 2012, the year Marlins Park opened. Miami cut back to $42 million in 2013 but rose to $117 million last year. Miami has traded NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna, Dee Gordon and Christian Yelich since Bruce Sherman's ownership group bought the team in October.
"As we have done since the day we took over in October, we will continue to do everything we can to build a foundation for sustained success and improve this organization — which has not made the postseason since 2003 and has gone eight seasons without a winning record," Marlins CEO Derek Jeter said in a statement.
Oakland will be disqualified from receiving revenue-sharing money starting with the offseason after the 2020 season, according to the collective-bargaining agreement, The A's issued a statement that said merely ""We support Major League Baseball's statement on the matter."