The Major League Baseball Players Association filed a grievance against the Miami Marlins, Oakland Athletics, Pittsburgh Pirates and Tampa Bay Rays, 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.
Pittsburgh traded star outfielder Andrew McCutchen and ace Gerrit Cole. President Frank Coonelly called the grievance "patently baseless" and said the team spent revenue-sharing money consistent with the rules in baseball's labour 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 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. Miami has traded 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 post-season since 2003 and has gone eight seasons without a winning record," Marlins CEO Derek Jeter said in a statement.
Tampa Bay has traded Evan Longoria, Steven Souza Jr., Jake Odorizzi and Corey Dickerson.
"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."
The A's did not immediately comment.