Even though GM Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch were incredibly successful atop the Astros, the club let them go last offseason in the wake of a sign-stealing scandal. Major League Baseball also came down hard on Luhnow and Hinch in suspending them for a year apiece, and it fined the Astros $5MM and took away their first- and second-round picks this summer and next.
Astros owner Jim Crane spoke about Luhnow, Hinch and stealing signs, among other topics, in a wide-ranging interview with Bob Nightengale of USA Today.
In regards to Luhnow and Hinch, Crane said, “You hate to see what happened to those guys because they didn’t instigate this thing.” Nevertheless, Crane believed the Astros had no choice but to part with Luhnow and Hinch, who he hopes “get back in the business.”
The Astros negotiated a settlement on the remainder of Hinch’s contract, which ran through 2022, per Nightengale. They haven’t done so with Luhnow, whose deal went through 2023 and whom they fired for “just cause.” It’s possible the two sides will end up in court to settle the matter, according to Nightengale.
With the Luhnow/Hinch era in the rearview mirror, the club’s “sorry” about its misdeeds, said Crane, who guarantees “it will never happen again.” He also observed: “I think (MLB) had a bigger problem than everybody realized. Two other teams (the Yankees and Red Sox) were doing things and got caught, but we’re the ones who took the bullet. That’s the way it works. I’m not trying to blame anyone else. It was our problem. We dealt with it.”
The Yankees were fined for improper use of a dugout phone in 2017, but there’s no evidence that they ever engaged in stealing signs to the extent the Astros did. Meanwhile, the Red Sox lost a second-round pick this year and let go of manager and former Astros bench coach Alex Cora, whom the league suspended for a year, on account of their own sign-stealing violations from their World Series-winning 2018 campaign.
Before the Astros’ sign-stealing crimes became public information, they came under fire during the postseason last year when then-assistant GM Brandon Taubman taunted a group of women reporters, yelling, “Thank God we got Osuna! I’m so f—— glad we got Osuna!” He was, of course, referring to closer Roberto Osuna, whom the Astros traded for in 2018 despite the fact that he was amid a 75-game domestic violence suspension at the time. The Astros then made the tone-deaf move of questioning the credibility of Sports Ilustrated’s Stephanie Apstein, who reported Taubman’s comments, only to fire Taubman shortly after that and apologize to Apstein.
Several months later, Crane is still not condemning Taubman. In his talk with Nightengale, Crane stated that “Brandon Taubman didn’t commit domestic violence. He just made a comment. It’s nothing you can defend. He had a few cocktails. He was happy. There were people constantly coming at him over (Osuna), and he overreacted. Did he do the right thing? No. Everybody makes mistakes. But is he a good, genuine decent person and smart kid? Absolutely.”
Between the sign stealing and Taubman’s behavior, it would have been fair to question the Astros’ culture under their previous regime. Indeed, when commissioner Rob Manfred leveled punishment against the franchise, he concluded that the Astros had an “insular culture’’ issue. But Crane told Nightengale, “We didn’t have a culture problem. They’re isolated incidents that are unrelated.”