MLB’s investigative area moves slowly. We are a bit over a month from pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training, and we’ve got no decision on Kris Bryant’s five-year-old grievance, nor is there any news from the Commissioner’s office on punishment for the Astros for the sign-stealing scandal about which news broke not long after the 2019 World Series ended.
To recap the issue, here’s a video put together by Jimmy O’Brien, better known as “Jomboy,” that details exactly how the sign-stealing was done in 2017. It includes clips where you can hear the loud banging on the garbage can that was said to be the signal given to hitters:
ESPN’s Jeff Passan says that discipline could come down from Commissioner Rob Manfred soon:
MLB’s coming decisions are twofold: whom to discipline and how harshly to do so.
The targets for discipline will be employees of the team, including the front office and on-field coaching personnel, but will not include the players involved in the scheme, according to three players who have been interviewed. Those who could face discipline include Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow, Astros manager AJ Hinch and other front-office members, sources said. The team also could face a record fine.
I’ve got some thoughts about this. You probably do too.
Here’s how I would approach it. First, disabuse yourself of any notion that MLB is going to “vacate” a World Series championship. The games happened. “Vacating” things played on the field is the same argument that people made years ago that we should ignore the 73 home runs Barry Bonds hit because he allegedly cheated. I don’t think you can do this, ignore things that actually happened in real life and pretend they didn’t because of cheating, alleged or proven. That’s pointless, in my view. Those things happened. We can’t change that. What can be done is to assure that they don’t happen again.
So what MLB can do, and I think will do, is put out punishments so severe that it will indeed make baseball people never want to do it again.
Here are the punishments I would give the Astros.
Lifetime ban from baseball for general manager Jeff Luhnow
It’s clear to me that none of this could have happened without Luhnow’s knowledge and/or approval. He has to go. Period. Remember that MLB issued a lifetime ban to former Braves GM John Coppolella for, in Passan’s words, “bundling signing bonuses with Latin American prospects.” While that’s certainly serious, this is worse. Luhnow should be gone.
Three-year suspension for manager A.J. Hinch
Hinch’s defense is likely along the lines of “I was only following orders.” At best he could say he knew about it, but did nothing. Since it doesn’t appear this was done at his direction, a significant suspension — starting this year — would seem appropriate.
Three-year suspensions for any other Astros front-office people or coaches involved
For the same reasons as the Hinch suspension.
$100 million fine
That seems like a lot of money, but it’s less than the value of a lot of multi-year deals signed by players these days. Still, a nine-figure fine should make even wealthy billionaires think twice before doing something like this again.
This money should go directly toward paying minor leaguers a living wage.
Loss of draft picks in the first three rounds for three years
This will push the Astros back in player development for some time. Sure, they have enough good players now that they can probably be contenders even without banging garbage-can lids, but this will put their farm system down in the lower levels and make it harder for them to contend when their contention window closes.
Those four things, I believe, should be sufficient to dissuade other teams from trying cheating of this nature. Don’t forget that the Astros are likely not the only team involved in this sort of thing. This week, Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich of the Athletic revealed a Red Sox cheating scheme:
Three people who were with the Red Sox during their 108-win 2018 season told The Athletic that during that regular season, at least some players visited the video replay room during games to learn the sign sequence opponents were using. The replay room is just steps from the home dugout at Fenway Park, through the same doors that lead to the batting cage. Every team’s replay staff travels to road games, making the system viable in other parks as well.
The Red Sox had been a very good team in 2016 and 2017, winning 93 games and the A.L. East those two years. Suddenly, they won 108 in 2018, then crashed to an 84-win season in 2019.
What was different for the Red Sox in 2018? Why, they hired Alex Cora as manager. Cora was the bench coach for the allegedly-cheating Astros in 2017.
Circumstantial evidence? Perhaps, but Rosenthal and Drellich wrote in November that Cora was one of the people who helped create the Astros’ sign-stealing system in 2017.
So the Red Sox ought to be punished, too, and Cora is likely looking at a lengthy suspension. I’d say three years, same as Hinch, would be appropriate. The Red Sox should also be fined and lose draft picks, though perhaps not as much money or as many picks as the Astros should.
I suppose it’s good that MLB is taking its time and doing its due diligence to make sure they have all the information they need and punish the appropriate people in the harshest possible manner.
We should have an announcement soon. Let’s hope Rob Manfred does the right thing this time.