As part of an organized probe into Houston’s alleged use of technology to steal signs, investigators under the direction of commissioner Rob Manfred met with “15-20” Astros personnel this past week, according to Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated. Members of the club’s 2017 coaching staff, including manager A.J. Hinch, were among those to interview with investigators, with a source familiar with the investigation telling Verducci that Mike Fiers’ description of the club’s sign-stealing operation has proven accurate. According to Verducci’s report, the scheme–which is said to have relied upon a center-field camera, dugout televisions, and trashcans to signal forthcoming pitches to club hitters–was used for a period of “about three months” in 2017, but investigators are still trying to determine whether the club deployed this system during the playoffs.
A separate investigation is looking into a directive from a Houston front office employee, Kevin Goldstein, to club scouts that suggested the use of cameras to surveil opposing dugouts in 2017. As Verducci’s piece notes, these investigations could have a wide-ranging impact on the broader role of technology in today’s game, where laptops, monitors, and cameras are omnipresent in team clubhouses and video rooms.
A few other items of note from around the game…
- Speaking of the commissioner, Manfred spoke with reporters Thursday at the owner’s meetings in Arlington, with several interesting comments on the league’s proposed reorganization of Minor League Baseball, as relayed by Baseball America’s Kyle Glaser. As Manfred tells it, the league’s overture toward the contraction of 42 minor league affiliates was made in response to four key problems plaguing their system–namely, poor facilities, long travel times, low pay, and a lack of realistic opportunity for many players to make the majors. Manfred doesn’t take kindly to the response issued by minor league officials to the league’s suggested plan–which reportedly would include not only contraction but also the creation of a “dream league” for undrafted players–but he still feels bullish about the ability of both parties to conclude a new working arrangement. “But at the end of the day Minor League Baseball needs to make an agreement with us and I’m sure we probably will make an agreement at some point,” said Manfred. MiLB President Pat O’Conner may not take as rosy of an outlook to this ongoing process, with his recent comments conveying suspicion in regard to the league’s plan. In quotes relayed by The Athletic’s Evan Drellich on Oct 19, O’Conner characterized the plan as a “death sentence” for the 42 teams affected, while also suggesting that the league’s proposed restructuring represents an attempt by MLB to exert more control over the minor leagues.
- Meanwhile, also in Texas, an offseason event allowed Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News to speak with several Rangers players, including Taylor Hearn and Nomar Mazara (Twitter links). Hearn, who just wrapped an injury-wrecked 2019 that included an inflamed UCL and a fracture underneath his elbow, told Grant that he threw four bullpens in October, followed by a few weeks of rest. Hearn has resumed his throwing program and should be ready to prep for 2020. The 25-year-old lefty appeared in just four minor league games this season, also making his MLB debut in an April 25 start that lasted one-third of an inning. As for Mazara, club officials apparently told the 24-year-old during his 2019 exit interview that he should prepare to play some first base next season. Mazara told Grant that he is prepared to do some work at first, but he is still expected to be used primarily as an outfielder moving forward. Mazara has generally graded out as a slightly below-average defensive option on the grass, recording -2.7 UZR and -4 DRS figures in right field last season. The Rangers have been connected to outfielder Marcell Ozuna this winter, while trade rumors connected Mazara’s name to several teams in advance of this past season’s July 31 trade deadline.