The Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) has announced that it will undertake an investigation into the current environment for free agents following some comments from Atlanta Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos. Per a union press release, Anthopoulos made the following remark during a recent conference call with members of the media:
"Every day you get more information. And we've had time to connect with 27 of the clubs -- obviously the Astros and (Nationals) being in the World Series, they were tied up -- but we had a chance to get a sense of what the other clubs are going to look to do in free agency, who might be available in trades."
On Wednesday, MLBPA executive director Tony Clark released the following statement in regarding the Anthopoulos quotation:
"The statements made by Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos call into the question the integrity of the entire free-agent system. The clear description of Club coordination is egregious, and we have launched an immediate investigation looking into the matter."
Hours after the MLBPA released its statement, Anthopoulos released his own statement through the team to clarify his remarks:
"In advance of the General Managers meetings, I called around to Clubs to explore the possibility of potential off-season trades. At no time during any of these calls was there discussion of individual free agents or the Braves' intentions with respect to the free agent market. To the extent I indicated otherwise during my media availability on Monday, I misspoke and apologize for any confusion."
The implied issue at hand is whether teams are colluding when it comes to free agents and the offers they'll eventually receive -- i.e., sharing information about, for example, which free agents they're targeting and how much they would be willing to offer them. That practice is expressly forbidden by the collective bargaining agreement (CBA), which is agreed upon by players and clubs. Here's the relevant portion of Article XX-Section B of the 2017-21 CBA:
E. Individual Nature of Rights
(1) The utilization or non-utilization of rights under Article XIX(A)(2) and Article XX is an individual matter to be determined solely by each Player and each Club for his or its own benefit. Players shall not act in concert with other Players and Clubs shall not act in concert with other Clubs.
Obviously, the substance and specifics of Anthopoulos' conversations with other clubs insofar as free agency is concerned will determine whether anything untoward took place. Clark's statement suggests that the union is not inclined toward a charitable reading of Anthopoulos' words.
That's certainly understandable, given that MLB owners have on multiple occasions in the past perpetrated collusion against free agents. For three successive offseasons (1985-86, 1986-87, and 1987-88), teams colluded to artificially depress the free-agent market. Eventually, arbitrators ruled that the owners did collude, and the owners and players agreed upon compensation for the clubs' rule-breaking -- $280 million plus interest and distribution costs. The final tab would be $434 million. In October 2006 the owners once again settled a collusion claim, this time before it made it to arbitration. Per the agreement, the owners settled by paying the MLBPA $12 million but did not have to admit guilt.
The slowly developing free-agent markets of the past two offseasons have again given rise to talk of collusion, and Anthopoulos' words -- whether indicative of something in violation of the CBA or merely poorly phrased -- will no doubt lead to a vigorous probe by the union.