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PLAYERS TRY TO ENLIST AGENTS IN STRIKE WAR

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If baseball owners impose a salary cap next week, agents may respond with a signings boycott designed to paralyze teams trying to form their rosters.

Union officials met with about 40 agents Thursday and outlined the proposal they will present to owners Saturday when bargaining resumes in Rye Brook, N.Y.Pitchers David Cone and John Franco also attended the session, the end of the union's annual four-day meeting. They said the plan would address the owners' goal of creating a partnership with players and growing the game.

"The players are putting their money where their mouth is," Cone said. "Well, here it is."

The plan is still being completed. Among its elements:

- A payroll tax, probably between 4 and 6 percent, to generate money for small-market clubs. The exact numbers, however, have not been determined, union head Donald Fehr stressed to agents.

- A multimillion-dollar fund to promote baseball in areas such as international play and inner-city development. The money could come from the union's licensing contracts, which generates more than $50 million a year.

- Player participation in major management decisions, such as choosing a commissioner and expansion. The union will ask to be included in several owner committees, a new concept to baseball.

- No change in eligibility for free agency or salary arbitration.

"The goal was to find something that addressed the concerns of growing the game without retreating on the principles on which this union was built," agent Randy Hendricks said. "If they accept this framework and bargain, this can lead to a deal. If they reject it out of hand, it will show their goal is to defeat the union."

The proposal does not include a salary cap, which teams demand. Owners are likely to say the offer doesn't address their problems and impose a cap when they meet next Thursday in Chicago.

"There is an assumption on the part of the agents that the owners will implement no matter what we do," Fehr said.

If owners do go ahead with a cap, then agents might respond with a boycott. During their 41/2-hour meeting, they discussed a ban on signings that could range from two weeks to the day a settlement is reached.

"If they impose, I'm not opposed to the idea of putting a freeze on all signings," agent Jeff Moorad said. "I'll follow the union's guidelines."

Larry Walker, Jay Buhner and Bill Swift are among the current crop of free agents, a group of more than 150. Should owners go ahead with their cap, about 80 more players would become restricted free agents, meaning their current teams would be able to match offers. Marquis Grissom, Jack McDowell and Jim Abbott would be among that star-studded group.

The owners' negotiating committee planned to gather today at Rye Brook. The union intends to present its proposal first to mediator W.J. Usery tonight or Saturday, then give it to the owners.