Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred announced an unprecedented level of discipline against the Astros organization Monday in the wake of the sign-stealing scandal that many feel has called into question the legitimacy of their 2017 World Series victory. President of baseball operations/general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch will both be suspended, without pay, for one year — beginning today and running through Jan. 13, 2021.
[RELATED: Astros Fire Jeff Luhnow, A.J. Hinch]
The Astros will also lose their first- and second-round picks in each of the next two seasons and be fined the maximum $5MM that is allowable under the league’s constitution. If the team does not have a first- or second-round selection in either draft — due to draft forfeitures for signing a free agent, for instance — they’ll lose that pick in the subsequent year’s draft. Per Manfred’s report on the investigation, the Astros “will forfeit two regular first round selections and two regular second round selections in total,” whether they come in 2020-21 or in later seasons.
Punishment stemming from the 2017 sign-stealing scandal won’t stop with the Astros organization, either. ESPN’s Jeff Passan reports that “harsh” punishment will be levied against Red Sox manager Alex Cora as well for the role he played in the now-infamous “trash can” setup. Cora was the Astros’ bench coach at the time but was hired by the Red Sox in the 2017-18 offseason, and Manfred’s report leaves little doubt that he’ll be sanctioned heavily.
Manfred’s report outlines the role that Luhnow, Hinch, Cora and the Astros’ players had not only in the trash-can scheme but also in improperly utilizing the reply review room to decode opponents’ signs. Manfred’s report also explains the rationale for the punishment (or, in Cora’s case, the surely forthcoming punishment).
Beginning with Luhnow, Manfred details that the president/GM was “adamant” in denying knowledge of the ongoing sign-stealing scheme. However, the report cites “both documentary and testimonial evidence” which indicates that Luhnow had “some” knowledge of the operation but “did not give it much attention.” Manfred makes clear that he holds Luhnow accountable for the action of all employees, both in the front office and in the dugout, and he goes out of his way to explain that Luhnow largely neglected the memo sent out by the Commissioner’s Office regarding further disciplinary measures for improper use of technology:
Luhnow did not forward the memoranda and did not confirm that the players and field staff were in compliance with MLB rules and the memoranda. Had Luhnow taken those steps in September 2017, it is clear to me that the Astros would have ceased both sign-stealing schemes at that time.
Manfred’s report goes on to suggest that under Luhnow, the Astros’ baseball operations department has developed a “problematic” and “insular” culture that has lacked “sufficient oversight” — all of which is reflected in Luhnow’s punishment:
[W]hile no one can dispute that Luhnow’s baseball operations department is an industry leader in its analytics, it is very clear to me that the culture of the baseball operations department, manifesting itself in the way its employees are treated, its relations with other Clubs, and its relations with the media and external stakeholders, has been very problematic. At least in my view, the baseball operations department’s insular culture – one that valued and rewarded results over other considerations, combined with a staff of individuals who often lacked direction or sufficient oversight, led, at least in part,to the Brandon Taubman incident, the Club’s admittedly inappropriate and inaccurate response to that incident, and finally, to an environment that allowed the conduct described in this report to have occurred.
As far as Hinch is concerned, Manfred indicates in his report that the manager was aware but not supportive of the trash-can system. That system, it seems, was largely put into place by Cora and newly hired Mets skipper Carlos Beltran. Hinch, according to the league’s investigation, actually expressed frustration with the operation and damaged the hallway monitor to the point of needing replacement on two occasions, but he also never brought the issue to the attention of Luhnow or anyone in the Commissioner’s Office. “As the person with responsibility for managing his players and coaches, there simply is no justification for Hinch’s failure to act,” the report reads.
Furthermore, the report leaves little doubt that harsh punishment indeed is nigh for Cora. Manfred indicates that it was Cora who “arranged for a video room technician to install a monitor displaying the center field camera feed immediately outside of the Astros’ dugout.” Says Manfred of the impending discipline for Cora:
Cora was involved in developing both the banging scheme and utilizing the replay review room to decode and transmit signs. Cora participated in both schemes, and through his active participation, implicitly condoned the players’conduct. I will withhold determining the appropriate level of discipline for Cora until after the DOI completes its investigation of the allegations that the Red Sox engaged in impermissible electronic sign stealing in 2018 while Cora was the manager.
As for the players themselves, the Commissioner’s Office will not be seeking out punishment against them. That seemingly includes Beltran, who is being treated as a player (as he was in ’17) rather than his newfound role as a Major League manager. Manfred explains that in 2017, he made the decision that he “would hold a Club’s General Manager and Field Manager accountable for misconduct of this kind” and has no plans to deviate from that line of thinking. He’s also clear to note that multiple players acknowledged they were keenly aware that they were crossing a line and would have stopped had Hinch or another authority figure cracked down on the behavior — a reality that surely factored into the decision to suspend Hinch.
As for owner Jim Crane, the report indicates that he was “unaware” of any wrongdoing and will not face punishment outside of the reported $5MM fine and loss of two years’ worth of first- and second-round draft selections.
Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich of The Athletic first reported the news.