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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

58 mins ago - Health

CDC panel: COVID vaccines should go to health workers, long-term care residents first

Hospital staff work in the COVID-19 intensive care unit in Houston. Photo: Go Nakamura via Getty

Health-care workers and nursing home residents should be at the front of the line to get coronavirus vaccines in the United States once they’re cleared and available for public use, an independent CDC panel recommended in a 13-1 emergency vote on Tuesday, per CNBC.

Why it matters: Recent developments in COVID-19 vaccines have accelerated the timeline for distribution as vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna undergo the federal approval process. States are preparing to begin distributing as soon as two weeks from now.

Obama: Broad slogans like "defund the police" lose people

Snapchat.

Former President Barack Obama told Peter Hamby on the Snapchat original political show "Good Luck America" that "snappy" slogans such as "defund the police" can alienate people, making the statements less effective than intended.

What he's saying: "You lost a big audience the minute you say it, which makes it a lot less likely that you're actually going to get the changes you want done," Obama told Hamby in an interview that will air Wednesday morning at 6 a.m. EST on Snapchat.

Nasdaq's ultimatum

Photo: Kelly Sullivan/Getty Images

New diversity and inclusion rules are on the table for some of America's most powerful corporations, courtesy of one of its most powerful stock exchanges.

What's new: Nasdaq is threatening to delist companies that won't move toward having at least one woman and at least one underrepresented minority or LGBTQ person on their corporate boards.

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