Aaron Judge is this offseason's biggest free agent prize, but the New York Mets reportedly aren't interested.
That is apparently enough to trigger an MLB investigation.
According to The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal, the league has opened an investigation whether comments from Mets sources in an SNY article about the Mets' hesitance to bid against the Yankees for Judge's services constitute a violation of its collective bargaining agreement.
The article in question was published to the website of the Mets' television affiliate on Nov. 3 and reportedly caught the interest of the MLB Players Association, which requested the Commissioner's Office investigate whether improper communication occurred between Mets owner Steve Cohen and Yankees co-owner Hal Steinbrenner.
The relevant text of the article:
On [April 8, the day Judge rejected the Yankees' final extension offer], Mets sources said that they did not plan to fight the Yankees this offseason for Judge. With free agency set to begin next week, that has not changed.
Talking to Mets people about this all through the year, the team in Queens sees Judge as a Yankee, uniquely tailored to be an icon in their uniform, stadium and branding efforts. Owners Steve Cohen and Hal Steinbrenner enjoy a mutually respectful relationship, and do not expect to upend that with a high-profile bidding war.
The only way people involved can see the Mets changing course and pursuing Judge would be if the Yankees somehow declared themselves totally out of the bidding.
One MLB owner having an agreement with another to not pursue one of their team' free agents, or even sharing information about players, would constitute illegal collusion, but it will be up to MLB to determine if that "mutually respectful relationship" falls in that category.
The league is reportedly expected to request Cohen and Steinbrenner provide records of all phone, text and email conversations between them during the period in question. The MLBPA has the right to file a grievance over the situation as well.
Fortunately for Judge, he figures to have a big-time market even if the Mets' checkbook is closed. He is coming off a historic 62-homer season expected to win him his first MVP award on Thursday and should see interest from pretty much any contender that has the budget for what will likely be a very large contract.