Major League Baseball is investigating whether comments attributed to Mets sources about the team’s reluctance to pursue free agent outfielder Aaron Judge violate the baseball collective bargaining agreement.
An article posted on the Mets Television Network website Nov. 3 said the Mets would not bid against the Yankees for Judge. The details of the story caught the attention of the Players Association, which asked the Commissioner’s Office to investigate whether miscommunication had occurred between the clubs’ respective owners, according to sources briefed on the situation.
A separate comment from Astros owner Jim Crane on his team’s website on Tuesday that Justin Verlander was seeking a contract similar to Max Scherzer’s may also prompt the Players’ Association to carefully consider whether the union perceives that this is a violation of the ABC.
The union retains the right to file a grievance on either or both situations. To win a grievance, the union would have to prove that Judge and/or Verlander’s markets were damaged, which could be difficult given that they are two of the most coveted free agents of the offseason. But the union remains sensitive to the threat that owners will plot to keep free agent salaries, as they did more than 30 years ago in the biggest collusion cases in sport.
Recent collective agreements specifically prohibit the sharing of player contract information, saying: “Players must not act in concert with other players and clubs must not act in concert with other clubs”. In its investigation, the league is expected to ask Mets owner Steve Cohen and Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner to provide records of all phone conversations, text messages and emails that took place between them during the reporting period. question.
The SNY.tv article said the Mets’ stance on Judge hadn’t changed since April, when team sources said the club wouldn’t fight the Yankees for the outfielder if he became a free agent during the offseason. The article also said that Cohen and Steinbrenner “enjoyed a mutually respectful relationship and did not expect to upset it with a high-profile bidding war.”
MLB and Players Association officials declined to comment, and the Mets, Yankees and Astros did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
On three occasions in the late 1980s, independent arbitrators ruled that owners were working together to avoid making competitive bids on free agents. A settlement of the three cases led to the owners agreeing to pay the players $280 million. The players later alleged that the owners also engaged in collusion in 2002 and 2003, and the owners agreed to pay the players $12 million without an admission of guilt as part of the 2006 CBA.
In addition to specific CBA language regarding collusion, the agreement sets out details that the parties are not permitted to disclose publicly about contract negotiations. Both stipulations remain in effect in the new CCT, which the parties are in the process of formally codifying.
If the union files a grievance about the situation with the Mets and Yankees, an arbitrator will determine whether there was collusion. The union separately would have to prove that the judge was injured. He would risk receiving treble damages.
Crane’s comment falls into a different category. Agents say a club official who speaks publicly about a contract negotiation is potentially influencing the market, effectively using the media to create the kind of information banks used by clubs in the era of collusion. The ABC includes a league commitment that clubs “will not operate a bank of information regarding free agents”.
As reported by MLB.com, “Crane said Verlander is looking for a deal similar to Max Scherzer, who signed a three-year, $130 million contract with the Mets a year ago.” The ABC says neither players nor clubs “can comment to the media on the value of an unsigned free agent, whether or not discussions have taken place.” It also lists a “non-exhaustive” list of prohibited comments, including: “Player X is asking for more than Player Y has received.”
“I know him well, so we were pretty candid,” Crane said of Verlander. “He looks at the composition, which I think only has one or two…JV is probably still a few years old, and he wants to make the most of it. I think he’s going to test the market on that.
In theory, Crane’s remarks could scare off potential suitors for Verlander, depressing his market. Crane has taken on a bigger role in baseball operations since the Astros were penalized in January 2020 for illegally stealing electronic signs, according to sources close to his club operation. The team is currently without a general manager following Crane’s decision last Friday to part ways with James Click.
Evan Drellich from Athleticism contributed to this story.
(Photo: Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
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