Manfred sure Mets-Yanks collusion query will find no issue

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NEW YORK – 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.”

Texas Rangers ink free-agent ace Jacob deGrom to 5-year deal

Jacob deGrom
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ARLINGTON, Texas — Jacob deGrom is headed to the free-spending Texas Rangers, who believe the health risk is worth the potential reward in trying to end a six-year run of losing.

The two-time Cy Young Award winner agreed to a $185 million, five-year contract Friday, leaving the New York Mets after nine seasons – the past two shortened substantially by injuries.

“We acknowledge the risk, but we also acknowledge that in order to get great players, there is a risk and a cost associated with that,” Rangers general manager Chris Young said. “And one we feel like is worth taking with a player of Jacob’s caliber.”

Texas announced the signing after the 34-year-old deGrom passed his physical. A person with direct knowledge of the deal disclosed the financial terms to The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the club did not announce those details.

The Rangers were also big spenders in free agency last offseason, signing shortstop Corey Seager ($325 million, 10 years) and second baseman Marcus Semien ($175 million, seven years).

The team said deGrom will be introduced in a news conference at Globe Life Field next week following the winter meetings in San Diego.

“It fits in so many ways in terms of what we need,” Young said. “He’s a tremendous person. I have a number of close friends and teammates who played with Jacob and love him. I think he’s going to be just a perfect fit for our clubhouse and our fans.”

Texas had modest expectations after adding Seager, Semien and starter Jon Gray ($56 million, four years) last offseason but still fell short of them.

The Rangers went 68-94, firing manager Chris Woodward during the season, and then hired Bruce Bochy, a three-time World Series champion with San Francisco. Texas’ six straight losing seasons are its worst skid since the franchise moved from Washington in 1972.

Rangers owner Ray Davis said the club wouldn’t hesitate to keep adding payroll. Including the $19.65 million qualifying offer accepted by Martin Perez, the team’s best pitcher last season, the Rangers have spent nearly $761 million in free agency over the past year.

“I hate losing, but I think there’s one person in our organization who hates losing worse than me, and I think it’s Ray Davis,” Young said. “He’s tired of losing. I’m tired of losing. Our organization is tired of losing.”

After making his first start in early August last season, deGrom went 5-4 with a 3.08 ERA in 11 outings. He helped the Mets reach the playoffs, then passed up a $30.5 million salary for 2023 and opted out of his contract to become a free agent for the first time.

That ended his deal with the Mets at $107 million over four years, and deGrom rejected their $19.65 million qualifying offer in November. New York will receive draft-pick compensation for losing him.

The fan favorite becomes the latest in a long line of ace pitchers to leave the Mets for one reason or another, including Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden and David Cone.

The Rangers visit Citi Field from Aug. 28-30.

When healthy, deGrom is perhaps baseball’s most dominant pitcher. His 2.52 career ERA ranks third in the expansion era (since 1961) behind Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw (2.48) and Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax (2.19) among those with at least 200 starts.

The right-hander is 4-1 with a 2.90 ERA in five career postseason starts, including a win over San Diego in the wild-card round this year that extended the Mets’ season. New York was eliminated the next night.

A four-time All-Star and the 2014 NL Rookie of the Year, deGrom was a ninth-round draft pick by the Mets in 2010 out of Stetson, where he played shortstop before moving to the mound. He was slowed by Tommy John surgery early in his career and didn’t reach the majors until age 26.

Once he arrived, though, he blossomed. He helped the Mets reach the 2015 World Series and earn a 2016 playoff berth before winning consecutive NL Cy Young Awards in 2018 and 2019.

But injuries to his elbow, forearm and shoulder blade have limited him to 26 starts over the past two seasons. He compiled a career-low 1.08 ERA over 92 innings in 2021, but did not pitch after July 7 that year because of arm trouble.

DeGrom is 82-57 with 1,607 strikeouts in 1,326 innings over nine big league seasons. He gets $30 million next year, $40 million in 2024 and 2025, $38 million in 2026 and $37 million in 2027. The deal includes a conditional option for 2028 with no guaranteed money.

The addition of deGrom gives the Rangers three proven starters along with Gray and Perez, who went 12-8 with a career-best 2.89 ERA in his return to the team that signed him as a teenager out of Venezuela. Young didn’t rule out the addition of another starter.

With several holes on their starting staff, the Mets have shown interest in free agents Justin Verlander and Carlos Rodon to pair with 38-year-old Max Scherzer atop the rotation.

Now, with deGrom gone, signing one of those two could become a much bigger priority.