At the request of the MLB Players Association, Major League Baseball is investigating whether owners of the New York Yankees and New York Mets had improper communications regarding free agent Aaron Judge, reports The Athletic. MLB is expected to request text, phone, and email records between Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner and Mets owner Steve Cohen.
The MLBPA’s request stems from a Nov. 3 SNY article which cited Mets sources and stated Steinbrenner and Cohen “enjoy a mutually respectful relationship, and do not expect to upend that with a high-profile bidding war.” The union is always on alert for anything that could possibly constitute collusion between clubs to drive down player salaries.
On Thursday, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred addressed the matter with reporters. Here’s what he said, via Evan Drellich:
“I’m absolutely confident that the clubs behaved in a way that was consistent with the agreement. This was based on a newspaper report. We will put ourselves in a position to demonstrate credibly to the MLBPA that this is not an issue. I’m sure that’s going to be the outcome. But obviously we understand the emotion that surrounds that word [collusion] and we’ll proceed accordingly.”
The Athletic also notes a separate comment by Houston Astros owner Jim Crane regarding free agent Justin Verlander could also draw scrutiny from the MLBPA., meaning a high-salaried three-year deal. The collective bargaining agreement strictly prohibits clubs from publicly discussing contract negotiations.
Here’s more from The Athletic:
The union maintains the right to file a grievance over either or both situations. To win a grievance, the union would need to prove that the markets for Judge and/or Verlander were damaged, which could be difficult considering they are two of the offseason’s most coveted free agents. But the union remains sensitive to the threat of the owners conspiring to hold down free-agent salaries, as they did more than 30 years ago in the sports’ biggest collusion cases.
If the union files a grievance over the situation with the Mets and Yankees, an arbitrator will determine whether collusion occurred. The union separately would need to prove Judge was harmed. He would stand to receive triple damages.
The MLBPA filed three collusion grievances in the 1980s and independent arbitrators ruled the owners worked together to prevent free agent bidding wars. MLB and the MLBPA later agreed to a $280 million settlement. The owners also agreed to pay $12 million without an admission of guilt in 2006 following collusion claims in 2002 and 2003.
. Judge is the overwhelming favorite to be named AL MVP on Thursday following his 62-homer season. .