It’s widely accepted at this point that the Astros impermissibly utilized technology to steal signs and then conveyed the information gleaned to hitters in the batters’ box during regular-season games. According to a report from Jeff Passan of ESPN.com, the subjects of the resulting investigation have copped to the bad acts.
With the investigative work nearing a conclusion, Passan says that commissioner Rob Manfred will likely mete out discipline within the next two weeks. Several notable figures are reportedly potential suspension targets: GM Jeff Luhnow, manager A.J. Hinch, and former bench coach/current Red Sox skipper Alex Cora.
Notably, per the report, players that participated in the elaborate-yet-ham-fisted scheme are not expected to be disciplined. But the team could end up paying a massive fine. There’s no indication yet whether a loss of draft picks or other competitive sanction might be applied. In handing down punishment for improper use of technology in 2017, Manfred promised that such penalties were on the table, saying: “[A]ll 30 Clubs have been notified that future violations of this type will be subject to more serious sanctions, including the possible loss of draft picks.”
It would never be acceptable for the product of baseball — individual contests and the overall regular/post-season championship schedule — to be compromised by teams acting outside of the rules, especially in a scheme as devious and concerted as the one allegedly put into action by the Astros. The stakes are raised yet higher by the fact that MLB is wading into murky waters in the gambling arena. And it probably doesn’t help that the league is currently facing major pushback for its plans to dramatically curtail minor league ball.
It’s a major decision for Manfred, who already watched as the Astros bungled a self-inflicted scandal involving since-fired assistant GM Brandon Taubman just months ago. He’ll certainly need to create precedent that serves as a legitimate deterrent. But doing so with respect to a marquee roster could prove challenging.
The complexities deepen when one considers the potential entanglements. Cora is one major instance. Reporting earlier today implicates the Red Sox in a less-egregious but nevertheless impermissible act of signaling espionage. The skipper could conceivably be at fault in both episodes. The Boston organization may not be alone in its manner of harnessing technology.
Untangling all of this could prove tricky. Andy Martino of SNY.tv even seems to suggest (Twitter link) that the Astros have claimed or could claim that such actions on the part of competitors might justify or at least mitigate their own rule-breaking. A source suggests, rather bizarrely, that the Houston club was simply making up for the fact that it was not able to mis-use its own replay room because it “was far away” from the dugout, unlike most other teams. If this strained logic is any indication of the thinking around the game — not to mention the actual and/or perceived pervasiveness of cheating — then the MLB rules and enforcement regime is badly in need of re-working, beginning with the imposition of clear and effective disincentives relating to this incident.