By Lewis Gould

“Collusion” is a word that we are sick of, thanks to the Special Counsel’s investigation into a possible conspiracy between the Russians and the Trump campaign in 2016.

That’s hard to prove.

But collusion among major league baseball owners is not hard to prove.

It’s hiding in plain sight.

As the New York Times has pointed out, the Cubs, the Yankees, the Dodgers, the Giants, the Cardinals, the Braves, the Rangers and the Angels — all have apparently passed on making a bid for free agents Bryce Harper and Manny Machado.

Each franchise is owned by a wealthy man (or family) in a wealth-laden sport and all could presumably find a place in the lineup for one of these young stars.

And yet for the second season in a row, at a time of the off-season when the best free agents typically would have already signed handsome new contracts, most owners have tucked away their wallets and claimed to need no more talent.

Harper last season hit 34 home runs, walked 130 times, scored 103 runs and knocked in 100. He is a former rookie of the year and league MVP, and he’s all of 26.

Machado and Harper are not the only quality free agents who have attracted virtually no public interest.

Dallas Keuchel, a good starting pitcher, and Mike Moustakas, a fine third baseman who hit 28 homers last year, have elicited little interest.

Craig Kimbrel (above), that world champion Red Sox closer with 42 saves? Give him a call, he’d probably like to chat.

Yasmani Grandal, the best catcher on the market, was expected to command a multiyear contract. He could scrounge up no better than a one-year, $16 million deal with the Milwaukee Brewers.

The Major League Baseball Players Association projects at least 12 of baseball’s 32 teams will start 2019 with a “substantially lower payroll” than 2018. Only four or five are expected to show a significant increase. “Players are well past ‘concerned,’” Bruce Meyer, the union’s director of collective bargaining, told me. “At a time when industry revenues and club valuations are growing for the second straight off-season, an alarming number of clubs are declining to compete for the many talented players.”

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