Major League Baseball has determined that owners of the New York Yankees and New York Mets did not collude to suppress the market for free agent slugger Aaron Judge, the New York Post reports. MLB's findings, however, do not put an end to matter, as the MLBPA is still free to file a grievance to have a hearing before an arbitrator.
At the request of the MLB Players Association, Major League Baseball undertook the investigation into whether the Yankees and Mets had improper communications regarding Judge.
The MLBPA's request stemmed 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.
Commissioner Rob Manfred shut down any speculation about the teams working together to deprive Judge of a fair free agency. 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 noted a separate comment by Houston Astros owner Jim Crane regarding free agent Justin Verlander could also draw scrutiny from the MLBPA. Crane recently said Verlander is seeking a Max Scherzer contract, 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.
Verlander was unanimously named the AL Cy Young winner last week, a day before Judge was named AL MVP following his 62-homer season. Our R.J. Anderson ranked Judge the No. 1 available free agent and Verlander No. 6.