MLB investigating whether Mets, Yankees communicated improperly about Aaron Judge: Sources

Major League Baseball is investigating whether the team’s failure to pursue free agent outfielder Aaron Judge violated baseball’s collective bargaining agreement, according to Mets sources.

An article published on the Mets Television Network website on November 3 stated that the Mets would not compete against the Yankees judge. The details of the story have caught the attention of the players’ union, which has asked the commissioner’s office to investigate whether there were improper connections between club owners, sources briefed on the matter said.

Astros owner Jim Crane’s separate comments on his team’s website Tuesday that Justin Verlander is seeking a contract similar to Max Scherzer’s could also lead to a players’ union investigation if the association is found to be in violation of the CBA.

The Association has the right to appeal in either or both cases. In order to win an upset, the league will have to prove that the markets for Judge and/or Verlander are intact, which could be difficult as they are two of the most coveted free agents this offseason. But the union has raised concerns that owners are plotting to freeze free agent salaries, as they did in the sport’s biggest franchises 30 years ago.

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Recent CBAs specifically prohibit the sharing of information on player contracts, stating that “players must not cooperate with other players and clubs must not cooperate with other clubs.” The league, which is under investigation, is expected to ask Mets owner Steve Cohen and Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner to provide records of any phone, text and email conversations between them during the period in question.

According to the SNY.tv article, the Mets’ position on Judge hasn’t changed since April, with team sources saying the club won’t fight the Yankees if he becomes a free agent during the playoffs. The article also said Cohen and Steinbrenner “enjoy mutual respect, and don’t expect to cement that in a high-profile bidding war.”

Officials from MLB, the players’ union and the Mets declined to comment, and the Yankees and Astros did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

On Thursday, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred addressed the report at the owners meetings.

“I am absolutely confident that the clubs will behave in accordance with the agreement,” Manfred said. “This is based on a newspaper report. We commit ourselves to faithfully demonstrating to the MLBPA that this is not the case. I am sure it will be the result. But obviously, we understand the sentiment around that term and will proceed accordingly.

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In the late 1980s, three independent arbitrations resulted in the owners working together to prevent competition from free agents. In the settlement of the three cases, the owners agreed to pay the players $280 million. The players later revealed that the owners also agreed in 2002 and 2003 that the owners agreed to pay the players $12 million as part of the 2006 CBA.

In addition to specific language in the CBA, the agreement outlines details that the parties are not permitted to publicly disclose about contract negotiations. Both provisions remain applicable in the new CBA, which the parties are formally codifying.

If the union files a complaint against the Mets and Yankees, an arbitrator will decide whether to refer it. The association must independently prove that the arbitrator was injured. He stands to take triple damage.

Crane’s opinion is in a different category. Representatives say that a club official speaking publicly about contract negotiations can influence the market, using the media effectively to create a bank of information clubs have employed during the lead-up period. The CBA includes a pledge from the league that clubs will not “bank data on free agents”.

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According to MLB.com, “Crane’s says Verlander wants a deal similar to Max Scherzer, who signed a three-year, $130 million deal with the Mets a year ago.” The CBA said that neither players nor clubs “can comment to the media about the value of an unsigned free agent regardless of discussions.” It also lists “non-exhaustive” banned comments, including “Player X wants more than Player Y received.”

“I know him very well,” Crane said of Verlander. “He’s looking at a comp that I think is only one or two … JV probably has a few years left in him, and he wants to make the most of it. Besides, I think it will test the market.

In theory, Crane’s comments could scare off Verlander’s suitors and upset the market. Since the Astros were fined for illegal electronic sign theft in January 2020, Crane has taken on a larger role in baseball operations, according to sources familiar with the club’s operations. The team is currently without a GM following Crane’s decision to part ways with James Click last Friday.

Ivan Drelich of The athletics He contributed to this story.

(Photo: Daniel Shire / MLB Photos via Getty Images)



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