By LARRY FLEISHER
NEW YORK (AP) — Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred confirmed Thursday that Major League Baseball is looking into potentially improper communication between the New York Mets and Yankees regarding star free agent Aaron Judge and said he is confident the inquiry will find no issues.
“I’m absolutely confident that the clubs behaved in a way that was consistent with the agreement,” Manfred said Thursday, referring to baseball’s collective bargaining agreement between players and owners.
“This was based on a newspaper report. We will put ourselves in position to demonstrate credibly to the MLBPA that this is not an issue. I’m sure that’s going to be an outcome, but obviously we understand the emotion that surrounds that word (collusion) and we’ll proceed accordingly.”
The Athletic first reported MLB was investigating the teams after a story on SNY.com, the website for the Mets’ television network, said a “mutually respectful relationship” between Mets owner Steve Cohen and Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner would prevent a “high-profile bidding war” for Judge. The 30-year-old slugger could command more than $300 million in free agency.
“I just really saw the reports really today, kind of reading a couple articles on it. I’m going to let the PA and MLB kind of figure that one out,” Judge said on a conference call Thursday night after winning the AL MVP award.
“When you get to be a free agent, you kind of look forward to the opportunity to talk to every single team and kind of have an opportunity to see if a team wants you, that you can go there.”
Judge turned down a $213.5 million, seven-year offer from the Yankees before opening day, then hit an AL record 62 home runs.
According to the report, the union requested MLB look into communications specifically between Cohen, who purchased the Mets from the Wilpon family for $2.4 billion in 2020, and Steinbrenner, who took over as the Yankees’ managing general partner following the 2008 season.
Manfred, speaking at the end of this week’s owners’ meetings, said he will not directly be involved in the investigation.
“It’s kind of a developing story for me, but looking forward to seeing what happens with that,” Judge said.
There is also concern from players about comments made recently by Houston owner Jim Crane. Speaking to MLB.com, Crane said AL Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander “is seeking a deal similar” to the $130 million, three-year contract Max Scherzer signed with the Mets shortly before a three-month lockout began last year.
After the lockout, Manfred said one of his goals was to improve relations with players following contentious labor battles around restarting play during the coronavirus-shortened 2020 season and the expiration of the CBA after the 2021 season.
“I think those conversations were instructive, positive, helpful in terms of building a better relationship, which always begins with better communication,” Manfred said of his meetings with players. “I was encouraged by players to continue the practice, and I do intend to continue that practice.”
The last time collusion came up as an issue between players and owners was five years ago, when the union considered filing a grievance. Ultimately, the union to declined to file a grievance, though the slow pace of free agency in subsequent seasons led agents to believe collusion may be occurring.
In 2006, MLB paid $12 million in claims pertaining to the 2002-03 offseason. Owners also agreed to pay $280 million to players for violations following the 1985, ’86 and ’87 seasons.
Manfred was also asked Thursday about the league’s relationship with FTX, a cryptocurrency exchange being investigated by state and federal authorities for allegedly investing depositors funds in ventures without their approval.
Manfred admitted the recent news of a class-action lawsuit against FTX, along with celebrities, athletes and teams who promoted it, was “jarring.” MLB was not named as a defendant.
Manfred said FTX would not return as a sponsor for the league in 2023.
“We had been really careful in moving forward in this space,” Manfred said. “We’ve been really religious about staying away from coins themselves as opposed to more company-based sponsorships. We think that was prudent particularly given the way things unfolded. We will, I think, proceed with caution in the future and of course how much we have to worry about it’s going to depend on when this exactly lands, as well.”
MLB signed a long-term deal with FTX in 2021. The agreement with the third-largest cryptocurrency exchange included all umpires wearing the FTX logo on their uniform sleeves during games along with advertising on nationally televised games, MLB.com, MLB Network and MLB.TV and social media platforms
Among those named in the lawsuit were Angels’ two-way star Shohei Ohtani along with Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady and Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry.
“I think we have been careful about the scope of involvement with crypto companies,” Manfred said. “We have a full understanding of the uncertainties and legal risk in that landscape and we’re going to continue to be careful in that area. Obviously individual players, they take advice from people other than us on those topics.”
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