It’s always laughable when a sports league tries to pretend that it cares about player and free agent tampering.
Tampering rules can be so circuitous and nebulous that it’s almost impossible to pin down in all but the most egregious of cases. After all, is it a crime if a cousin’s best friend’s roommate floats to an athlete that a certain team/player wants him to join?
Or, if you’re looking for a real-life example, was it tampering for the New York Knicks to hire Rick Brunson, father of then-Dallas Mavericks free agent guard Jalen Brunson, before signing Jalen to a lucrative offer in the offseason? The NBA is investigating the latter case, but it certainly feels like “legal” tampering.
So it’s with a chortle and a snicker that reports of MLB investigating a potential tampering situation began to circulate.
Just like the Knicks, the two MLB teams involved in this play in the Big Apple: the New York Yankees and New York Mets.
The player in question is standout slugger Aaron Judge, who, if you need a frame of reference for the type of contract he must be expecting, turned down a seven-year, $213 million extension before this past season began.
In this specific incident of alleged tampering, as The Athletic reported Wednesday, both Steven Cohen and Hal Steinbrenner, owners of the Mets and Yankees, respectively, are under investigation for potential violations in their communications about Judge.
The consternation appears to stem from a SportsNet New York article published Nov. 3.
In it, SNY writer Andy Martino said there appeared to be some discussion between the Mets and Yankees about Judge’s pending status as a free agent after he turned down that seven-year deal.
“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,” Martino wrote.
That “mutually respectful relationship” between Cohen and Steinbrenner appears to be the impetus for the MLB investigation.
“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,” Martino added in his report.
Well, it turns out the gentlemen’s agreement not to act too hastily on Judge’s free agency might have violated part of MLB’s collective bargaining agreement.
In it, there is a clause that says “Clubs shall not act in concert with other Clubs” when it comes to a player’s free agency or contract status.
The MLB Players Association asked the league to look into this potential muzzling of Judge’s earning potential.
For what it’s worth, neither the Mets nor the Yankees are afraid to spend money. Only the Los Angeles Dodgers fielded a higher payroll last year, with the Mets and Yankees coming in with the second- and third-highest payrolls coming into Opening Day last year.
It’s also worth pointing out that some fans believe Martino’s SNY report was deliberately worded and put out there to sabotage the Mets.
“Everyone knows that Martino is a hack whose only sources are the Wilpons and people loyal to them still in the organization,” a long-suffering Mets fan and former Western Journal editor said.
The Wilpons are the former owners of the Mets, who were notorious for not spending money. Compare that with Cohen, whose lavish spending sparked a rule in MLB’s new CBA, nicknamed the “Steve Cohen Tax,” that’s specifically meant to deter owners from blatantly outspending their competition.
“He’s never right on this stuff,” the former Western Journal editor said of Martino. “So either the Wilpons or one of their holdovers leaked fake news to Martino in an attempt to get the Mets investigated.”
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