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Exclusive: MLB Execs Say There’s no Collusion in Aaron Judge Free Agency

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Major League Baseball (MLB) executives tell TIME that the league had finished its inquiry into potential collusion between two owners to suppress the free agent market for superstar slugger Aaron Judge. MLB says it found no collusion in this instance.

“We’ve completed our investigation,” a senior MLB executive told TIME. “And we’ve notified the MLBPA that there is no basis for any claim of collusion.”

An MLBPA spokesperson did not immediately return a request for comment. The players association could still file a grievance; an independent arbitrator would handle that case. To win in front of an arbitrator, the MLBPA would have to prove that communications between the Yankees and Mets hurt Judge’s free-agent market.

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An early November article on SNY.com, headlined “Mets will not be fighting Yankees for Aaron Judge,” stated that the New York Mets “see Judge as a Yankee, uniquely tailored to be an icon in their uniform, stadium and branding efforts. [Mets owner] Steve Cohen and [Yankees owner] Hal Steinbrenner enjoy a mutually respectful relationship, and do not expect to upend that with a high-profile bidding war.” The piece prompted the MLB Players Association to request that the league investigate communication between Cohen and Steinbrenner.

Judge enthralled sports fans down the stretch of this season, with his ultimately successful quest to set a new American League home run record—Judge, 30, finished with 62 dingers. Earlier this month, Judge became this off-season’s biggest catch when he filed for free agency. Judge, who was named American League MVP on Nov. 17, had turned down a $213.5 million contract offer in April, making a bet on himself that will almost certainly pay off handsomely. He beat out Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Angels for the MVP award, which was no easy feat: Ohtani is a top-five hitter and pitcher in the game, surpassing Babe Ruth as baseball’s best-ever dual threat.

Judge will likely command north of $300 million in the free market. A native of Linden, Calif.—a small town about 75 miles east of San Francisco—who attended Fresno State University, the San Francisco Giants could be an attractive hometown option. Judge arrived in the San Francisco area on Monday. “Visiting some family and friends; that’s about it,” Judge said in a video when asked what he was doing in the Bay Area. He winked at the camera.

Staying with the Yankees, however, comes with great perks. He could finish his career with the most recognizable franchise in the sport, in the media capital of the world. Some of the game’s all-time greats, like Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig, and Derek Jeter, distinguished themselves in sports lore by spending their entire career in Pinstripes. The Yankees have made the American League Championship Series four times in Judge’s six seasons, losing to the Houston Astros each time. The Yankees have not reached, or won, a World Series since 2009. Judge arguably has some unfinished business in the Bronx. But will he be there for the job?

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