Never did Tony Clark utter the word. He didn’t have to. Every question he asked, every implication he made, dripped with its presence. Early last week, as top officials from Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association met and discussed the sport’s debilitated free-agent market, Clark, the executive director of the union, wanted to establish a few things for the record. Does baseball’s labor-relations department give advice on free-agent contracts? No, he was told. Was free-agent strategy discussed at the most recent owners’ meetings? No again. Clark continued. The answer never changed.
Diplomacy kept him from uttering that word, the most loaded in the baseball lexicon, one with a sordid history of imperiling past offseasons: collusion. In the minds of those who see every other rationalization for the frozen market as little more than an excuse, the notion of teams working with one another to suppress free-agent prices had crept from paranoid delusion to entirely possible.
With no smoking gun, it, too, is merely a theory, one the league rejects. In a statement to Yahoo Sports, MLB said: “There are a variety of factors that could explain the operation of the market. We can say that without a doubt collusion is not one of them. It’s difficult to pinpoint a single cause, but it certainly is relevant that an agent who has a long track record of going late into the market controls many of the top players.”