When there are hundreds of millions of dollars at stake, you can’t get too careless with your words. It can become a big problem.
Enter the report from Ken Rosenthal, which raises the specter of one of baseball’s big, bad C words. Collusion:
Comments from Mets sources, in a Mets publication, talked about not wanting to pursue Aaron Judge in free agency because they didn’t want to bid against the crosstown Yankees. At first blush, it doesn’t seem like much of anything. But if you’re the Players Association, and you’re wondering why a team publication would be noting a team talking about not wanting to drive the price up on a particular free agent, that might raise an eyebrow. You might wonder … where did that information come from? What does it imply about private conversations that might have taken place?
The at-issue SNY article mentions how the owners of the Mets and Yankees enjoy a mutually-respectful relationship, and don’t want to upend that with a bidding war. Yeah, in hindsight, that doesn’t sound so good when you start thinking about it through the collusion lens.
As you may recall, the CBA prohibits teams and owners from working together in concert to hold player salaries down (there have been MAJOR grievances in the past on this topic – the late-1980s were rife with collusion). So this is something the players will be looking into, as the possibility of two major market owners effectively working together to limit the possible rise in a player’s price tag in free agency – even if they didn’t think of it exactly like that – would be pretty bad.
Also mentioned in Rosenthal’s article? Houston Astros owner Jim Crane’s recent comments about Justin Verlander perhaps looking for a Max Scherzer type contract (Scherzer got three years and $130 million). That one is a little less obviously thorny, but owners shouldn’t be out there telling other teams what a player is looking for, because that can also wind up holding down the ultimate salary. If Crane’s comments spilled over into the territory where he was publicly stating that a player wanted a certain value, that’s a no-no in the CBA.
In both cases, if the Players Association eventually decided to file a grievance, they would have to demonstrate that the players were harmed (i.e., received less money than they otherwise would have), and then the damages to be paid would be tripled.
We can’t really know how this is going to play out until long after these guys sign, but now you wonder if there’s a modestly-increased incentive for the Yankees to pay a little more on Judge, for the Mets to get seriously involved on Judge, and for the Astros to make sure to re-sign Verlander to a surprisingly healthy contract.
UPDATE: Commissioner Manfred spoke to the issue and, unsurprisingly, he is not worried about it, even as he says the league will take it seriously:
“Two of my bosses did nothing wrong.”