MLB investigating Mets, Yankees over possible improper communication regarding Aaron Judge, per report

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At the request of the MLB Players Association, Major League Baseball is investigating whether the owners of the New York Yankees and New York Mets had inappropriate communications regarding free agent Aaron Judge, The Athletic reports. MLB is expected to request text, phone and email records between Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner and Mets owner Steve Cohen.

The MLBPA request stems from a Nov. 3 SNY.com article that cited Mets sources as saying Steinbrenner and Cohen “enjoy mutual respect and don’t expect to erode that with a high-profile bidding war.” The union is always on the lookout for anything that could represent collusion between clubs to reduce players’ wages.

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The Athletic also notes a separate comment from Houston Astros owner Jim Crane regarding free agent Justin Verlander that may also attract the attention of the MLBPA. Crane recently said that Verlander is looking to sign Max Scherzer, which means a three-year contract with a high salary. The collective agreement strictly prohibits clubs from publicly discussing contract negotiations.

Here’s more from The Athletic:

The union reserves the right to file a grievance for either or both situations. To win the lawsuit, the union would have to prove that the markets for Judge and/or Verlander were harmed, which could be difficult given that they are two of the most coveted free agents this offseason. But the union remains sensitive to threats that owners will conspire to reduce free agent salaries, as they did more than 30 years ago in the biggest collusion cases in sports.

If the union files a grievance over the situation with the Mets and Yankees, an arbitrator will determine whether collusion occurred. In particular, the trade union would have to prove that the judge was harmed. He would receive triple damages.

The MLBPA filed three collusion complaints in the 1980s, and independent arbitrators ruled that the owners worked together to prevent free agent wars. MLB and the MLBPA later agreed to a $280 million settlement. The owners also agreed to pay $12 million without admitting guilt in 2006, following allegations of collusion in 2002 and 2003.

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Verlander was unanimously named the AL Cy Young winner on Wednesday. Judge is the heavy favorite to be named the AL MVP on Thursday after his 62-homer season. Our own RJ Anderson ranked Judge as the No. 1 available free agent and Verlander as No. 6.

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