The Major League Baseball Players Association released a statement on Wednesday, saying it is launching an investigation after Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos made a comment in a conference call earlier this week which described coordination between clubs approaching free agency. Anthopoulos said, “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.”
Executive director Tony Clark said in response, “The statements made by Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos call into 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.”
The collective bargaining agreement states, “Players shall not act in concert with other Players and Clubs shall not act in concert with other Clubs.”
There has been tension between ownership and the union for the last couple of years as the balance of power seems to have swung heavily in favor of ownership. The union has been unhappy with the recent slowness of free agency and the qualifying offer system, for example. This statement is just the latest as the two sides battle for power.
The comment Anthopoulos made is certainly sketchy, and certainly worth looking into, but it is not clear evidence of collusion. The phrase, “we’ve had time to connect with 27 of the clubs,” is vague. What does it mean? Is it simply contacting other clubs to see which players might be available via trade? Or is it specifically asking them about specific free agents and dollar amounts of offers?
That being said, we can certainly add it onto the pile of questionable things that could potentially point to collusion. Back in February, lefty Francisco Liriano was unsigned when all of a sudden he received nine minor league contract offers, including seven on the same day for “pretty much the same money,” The Athletic’s Rob Biertempfel reported.
The Athletic’s Jayson Stark reported earlier that month that Mark Reynolds went through a similar experience, receiving no offers then getting four minor league contract offers on the same day. It was, according to Stark, a free agent tale “I’ve heard a lot.”
Reliever Brad Brach said he was told by teams that they were using algorithms to judge players. He, too, received minor league contract offers around the same time, MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian reported. Brach ended up having to wait until March to sign a major league deal with the Cubs.
Let’s also not forget that the owners were found to have colluded in the 1980’s as the MLBPA filed three grievances. There have been many rumblings of collusion since then, but nothing substantive. It is a notoriously difficult offense to prove. Additionally, the Braves’ front office was embroiled in a scandal not all that long ago as former GM John Coppolella broke rules concerning the signing of international players. Coppolella resigned from his position, then a month later was banned for life from Major League Baseball following an investigation.
Again, what Anthopoulos said isn’t evidence of collusion. It is, however, suspicious and the union is doing its due diligence looking into the matter. That’s all that can really be said at the moment.
Update (10:48 PM ET): Anthopoulos has released a statement: