If you missed it yesterday, the Astros sign-stealing scandal reached a breaking point. The organization was fined $5MM and lost its top two draft choices in each of the next two drafts. The club canned GM Jeff Luhnow and skipper A.J. Hinch after each received one-year league suspensions. Individual players were not punished. Former bench coach and current Red Sox manager Alex Cora awaits his fate.
We ran some polls on the punishment. You can add your opinion there. But don’t expect to hear from other organizations at this time. We also covered an apparent leaguewide gag order on the controversy that emerged last night through a curious club announcement from the Dodgers.
Let’s run through some other notes and reactions …
- Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper explains how the draft situation will be resolved. Rather than simply striking the Astros’ picks from existence, and reducing the overall spending pool by a significant figure, MLB will bump every other team up a peg in the slotting system. That’ll result in only a relatively meager reduction in the total draft spending outlay that incoming professionals can receive. Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com looks at the lost prospect value for the Astros. It’s reasonably significant, though it’s important to highlight the fact that the Houston club was already locked into a low choice for the coming season and seems highly likely (barring a change in organizational direction) to select down the line again in 2021. While there’s no questioning the impact to the overall slate of talent that the team will be able to pull from these two drafts, it’s not likely that the ’Stros will end up missing out on down-the-line superstars.
- There’s still a lack of clarity regarding the near-term leadership of the Houston baseball ops department and dugout. In the front office, Crane says he’ll run things for the time being (via MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand; Twitter links). He also noted that he still employs someone who was brought in previously for GM interviews by other organizations — clearly, a reference to assistant GM Pete Putila. It stands to reason that Putila will be leaned upon heavily in the near-term, though the long-term plan remains to be seen. Feinsand further tweets that bench coach Joe Espada is “expected” to take over for Hinch. It’s fair to wonder whether these approaches are really set in stone. Crane said he was looking for a blank slate and said the team’s internal assessments were still ongoing. Perhaps there’s a path for Putila and/or Espada to take on expanded roles, but that’ll surely depend in no small part upon whether either ends up being implicated in whole or part in the scandal. And Crane will need to consider whether an immediate outside hire or two would be wise — a tough move at this late juncture of the offseason.
- ESPN.com’s Jeff Passan examines the (still muted) reaction from around the game. It seems that other teams aren’t overly impressed by the seriousness of the sanctions, which were announced by Manfred in a conference call in which he also made clear that there was to be no public whining. But anonymous complaints are perhaps only beginning. Passan reports that those in other organizations feel the Astros — and Crane in particular — were able to orchestrate things to perfection. As we noted yesterday in our above-linked poll, Manfred cabined responsibility to the Astros’ baseball operations while specifically absolving Crane (and the team’s business side as well). And Crane got to put on a public show of shock and contrition, filling the airwaves with his emotional response and the drama of a live, public firing announcement.
- That report mirrors the earlier trickles of reactions that we have seen. An unnamed top executive that spoke with ESPN.com’s T.J. Quinn (Twitter link) explained why even the seemingly harsh sanctions weren’t really adequate. The impact on game and season/postseason outcomes is impossible to isolate but unquestionably significant. Quite a few opposing players surely missed out on earning opportunities, whether through missing postseason proceeds, dents to their statistical track record, and/or lost MLB opportunities. The same is true of rival organizations, though it seems in at least some cases they may also have misused technology — albeit not, so far as has been alleged, in anything like the manner the Astros did. None of that can be unwound, but it’s important perspective.
- Additional top baseball decisionmakers spoke to that same point with Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic (subscription link). The damage is widespread. So is the blame, Rosenthal opines. While we’ll all have our preferred villains and heroes in the scandal, perhaps none but a few brave whistleblowers deserve anything approaching plaudits. If Luhnow’s punishment reflected the culture he created within the Houston organization, as much as anything, then perhaps Manfred carries an analogous responsibility for the sport’s overall spiral in this arena. Rosenthal says “this is Manfred’s sport,” hinting at a lack of foresight in rolling out replay streams and facilitating the rise of a generation of “general managers emboldened by analytics, all trying to outsmart one another.”