TODAY: Astros owner Jim Crane and front office staff member Derek Vigoa have been added to Bolsinger’s suit, ESPN’s Jeff Passan reports. Vigoa was one of the members of the Astros’ analytics department who were allegedly behind the development of the “Codebreaker” system, as per the details of the piece by the Wall Street Journal’s Jared Diamond earlier this month exploring more details in the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal. Bolsinger’s “initial complaint named the Astros organization but included so-called Doe defendants, allowing it to be amended to add individuals allegedly involved,” Passan writes, so potentially more names could still be added to Bolsinger’s lawsuit.
FEBRUARY 10: Former big league hurler Mike Bolsinger has filed a lawsuit against the Houston Astros, Nancy Armour of USA Today reports. The action was filed in California state court.
Bolsinger, a 32-year-old righty, has never pitched for the Astros. He hasn’t even played for an affiliated club in the past two seasons; instead, he suited up for Japan’s Chiba Lotte Marines.
It’s that departure from the major-league ranks that forms the factual basis for Bolsinger’s long-shot litigation. His last MLB appearance came in a Blue Jays uniform. It turned out to be a brutal August 4, 2017 outing — the very same game in which the trashcan banging scheme reached its apparent zenith. Bolsinger ended up being dumped by the Jays the day after he was tuned up by the sign-stealing ’Stros.
There is little question that the terrible results sealed Bolsinger’s fate, though that hardly establishes his right to relief (or even to pursue the suit). There are a host of potential roadblocks here. Before things can progress at all, his lawyers will have to show how their alleged facts combine to support one of his proffered theories (per the report, they’ve pled unfair business practices, negligence, and intentional interference with contractual and economic relations). Perhaps the Astros will also argue that this matter ought to be resolved before an MLB arbitrator.
Things could get interesting if Bolsinger is able to get into the discovery phase. Full details of the trashcan scheme would assuredly be relevant to his claim. In theory, there’d be a host of fascinating factual questions relating to the game of baseball and the Astros’ deep knowledge of it, all of which Bolsinger’s counsel could try to explore through requests for documents and depositions of key figures. No doubt they’d want all the evidence the league considered in issuing punishment. Testimony from the Astros players that faced Bolsinger — current Astros regulars Alex Bregman and Yuli Gurriel, since-retired MLB stars Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann, and four others who’ve since moved to other organizations — would assuredly be germane to the case.
Thinking of how a case might be argued to a jury of non-baseball fans is even more interesting. What of Bolsinger’s thin performance history in the majors? Or the fact that he had twice previously been designated that season by the Jays? Service time, spin rate, 40-man rosters, scouting reports, September call-ups, league-minimum salary … it’d all be open for laypeople to assess.
There will be quite a few opportunities for this matter to go away without much of interest taking place. The case seems sure to be removed to federal court; it could involve whole rounds of litigation over whether it can even be heard and if so in what venue. Finding a legal claim to suit the facts isn’t straightforward, so it could get kicked on a motion to dismiss. If Bolsinger’s side can make it past some initial hurdles, the Astros might try to settle it out. There’d surely be some major battles over how much information can be obtained through discovery. Once all the cards are on the table, there’ll be yet more ways for the Houston club to halt the proceedings (summary judgment, further settlement talks).
Baseball surely doesn’t want this matter to see a public trial. It’s not likely that it will. But it’s also hard not to imagine what that might look like.