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Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

Major League Baseball is the only major U.S. professional sport without a salary cap. But with free agency moving at a glacial pace for the second straight offseason, there is growing concern among players that the league's "luxury tax" has morphed into one.

Be smart: Each season, clubs that exceed a predetermined threshold ($197 million last year, $206 million this year) must pay a "luxury tax" on each dollar spent above that threshold.

What's happening: Last winter, an increasing number of front offices made it a priority to stay below the tax, and it's been more of the same this year.

By the numbers: Just two teams — the Boston Red Sox and the Washington Nationals — paid the luxury tax in 2018, down from five in 2017 and six in 2016.

  • Those two teams paid a combined $14.4 million in taxes, the lowest amount ever paid under the current system (put in place in 2002).
  • After paying the tax for 15 straight years, the New York Yankees avoided it last season. Same with the Los Angeles Dodgers, who had paid it five straight times.

The big picture: Some players believe the owners are using the luxury tax as a convenient excuse to keep payrolls down, with front offices going out of their way to talk about the tax publicly like it's this horrible thing when, in reality, it's peanuts.

  • Proof: For going nearly $50 million over last year's $197 million limit, the Red Sox were taxed just under $12 million. That's nothing.
  • The other side: Repeat luxury tax "offenders" see their tax rates increase exponentially. Therefore, it does make financial sense for teams to dip under the threshold and reset their tax rates like the Yankees and Dodgers just did.

The bottom line, via Sports Illustrated's Jon Tayler:

  • "When MLB instituted the luxury tax ... the idea was simple: keep teams from spending too much. Ostensibly, that helps the little fish keep up with the big ones, but in reality, it was an owner-approved plan to lower spending across the game."
  • "[So] let's call this what it really is. ... It's not a luxury tax. It's a salary cap. And with teams cutting spending by over $100 million in 2018, it's a cap that's getting harder and harder with every passing year."

Go deeper: MLB's "riches of free agency" no longer exist

Go deeper

CCP releases two jailed Canadians after Huawei CFO deal with DOJ

Photo: Sheldon Cooper/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Two Canadians imprisoned by the Chinese government for over 1,000 days have been released and are expected to arrive in Canada on Saturday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday.

Why it matters: Their release comes hours after Huawei Technologies CFO Meng Wanzhou reached a deal with the U.S. Department of Justice that resolves the criminal charges against her and could pave the way for her to return to China.

Updated 22 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Arizona GOP's private recount of 2020 election confirms Biden's win

Contractors working on behalf of the GOP examine and recount 2020 ballots at Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix in May. Photo: Courtney Pedroza/Getty Images

In an odd coda to the 2020 election, private contractors conducting a GOP-commissioned recount in Arizona confirmed President Biden’s win in Maricopa County.

Why it matters: The unofficial, party-driven recount has been heavily covered on cable news as part of former President Trump's continued effort to sow doubt about the election result.

Del Rio bridge camp empty following Haitian migrant surge

A boy bathes himself in a jug of water inside a migrant camp at the U.S.-Mexico border on Sept. 21 in Del Rio, Texas. Photo: John Moore/Getty Images

The last migrants camping under the Del Rio International Bridge, which connects Texas and Mexico, departed on Friday, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced during a White House press briefing.

Driving the news: Thousands of migrants, mostly from Haiti, had arrived to the makeshift camp after crossing the southern border seeking asylum. Roughly 1,800 migrants will now head to U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing centers.

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