What you need to know about Astros’ sign-stealing punishment

What you need to know about Astros’ sign-stealing punishment

Major League Baseball announced punishment for the Houston Astros including one-year suspensions for both GM Jeff Luhnow and manager AJ Hinch, loss of draft picks in 2020 and 2021 and a $5 million fine after an MLB investigation found the team used technology to cheat during its World Series-winning 2017 season.

ESPN.com’s Bradford Doolittle, Jeff Passan and David Schoenfield break down the penalties, what it means for the Astros and what impact Monday’s punishment could have across the sport.

Just how harsh is this punishment compared to what was expected?

There was an awfully large range in the speculation, but unless you felt Jeff Luhnow and/or AJ Hinch might be subject to a permanent ban, the penalties are borderline shocking. That’s true even when you factor in that part of Rob Manfred’s thinking was related to the Brandon Taubman incident. A suspension of several weeks seemed likely, but a full year for the two most important members of a team’s baseball operations group is stunning, almost unprecedented. (Leo Durocher, when he was a manager, was suspended for a year but there was a gambling element to his situation.) You had to expect a loss of draft picks, but the top two picks for two years is stunning. The $5 million fine seems inconsequential by comparison to those penalties. It’s clear Rob Manfred wanted to send a clear message to teams and fans alike. He’s certainly done so. — Doolittle

What exactly does Hinch’s suspension mean?

MLB’s statement laid out exactly this: “A.J. Hinch shall be suspended without pay for the period beginning on January 13, 2020 and ending on the day following the completion of the 2020 World Series. During the period of his suspension, Hinch is prohibited from performing any services for or conducting any business on behalf of the Astros or any other Major League Club. Hinch must not be present in any Major League, Minor League, or Spring Training facilities, including stadiums, and he may not travel with or on behalf of the Club. If Hinch is found to engage in any future material violations of the Major League Rules, he will be placed on the permanently ineligible list.” — Bradford Doolittle.

How much impact will this punishment have on the Astros on the field?

The Astros have a lot of work left to do this offseason after sitting out most of the winter and now they will do so without Luhnow calling the shots. However, the Astros, perhaps as much as any club in baseball, are a process-oriented organization without an overwhelming top-down dynamic. In other words, given that Houston was already unlikely to may any additional large monetary investments in its 2020 club, they should be able to muddle through from a roster-building standpoint.

As for losing Hinch, it won’t help. He’s largely thought of as one of baseball’s best managers, both from a tactical and clubhouse standpoint. (Those these penalties don’t speak well to the latter trait.) Still, let’s not forget that bench coach Joe Espada, who will now presumably run the dugout, is highly respected and was already viewed as one of baseball’s top managerial prospects. Now he’ll get a chance to show his stuff. As for a group of players that is all at once among baseball’s most talented, accomplished and cocksure, this has to be humbling. Manfred made it very apparent that the scandal started with the players, who aren’t being punished. They have a lot to prove and a lot to make for in terms of their relationships with their manager and their general manager. — Doolittle

What about Alex Cora, will he be punished later?

Yes. Without a doubt. Manfred wrote that he “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.” But this was after he went into extensive detail about Cora’s central role in executing the Astros’ scheme as Hinch’s bench coach. He’ll get hit and hit hard. Given the gravity of Monday’s announcement, it wouldn’t be shocking if Cora joined Hinch on the sidelines for the entirety of the 2020 season. — Doolittle

What’s different about the Astros and the Red Sox?

Based on what’s been reported, the allegations about the Red Sox are on a somewhat different level than those regarding the Astros. While the Red Sox supposedly used video to decode opponents’ sign sequences, and passed the information along to their players, they did not go the additional step of using some means of communicating this knowledge — such as the Astros’ infamous trash-can banging — to players at the plate from the dugout in most situations. They needed to get a runner to second base to see the sequences, deploy the intel, and signal them to whomever was at the plate. Still, the allegations against the Red Sox refer to activity during its championship 2018 season, which was after MLB issued clarified rules expressly banning the use of replay rooms for this purpose. — Doolittle

We keep hearing some variation of “everyone does this,” but is that really true?

To think this kind of behavior was limited to one or two teams would be to deny the realities about human behavior in hyper-competitive environments with massive economic stakes in play, especially where policy loopholes and gray areas exist, as they did until very recently. Every team certainly steals signs, as teams always have. Where they draw the line in terms of the kinds of mechanisms they use to do so probably varies from team to team. However, MLB tried to draw distinct lines with policies they’ve written over the last couple of years and the alleged behavior of the Astros and Red Sox would certainly cross those lines. We’ll have to rely on MLB investigators to tell us just how widespread this issue actually is and has been. However, it would be surprising or even shocking to find out that the problem was limited to a small minority of teams. — Doolittle

So is stealing signs against the rules or not?

That’s where things get complicated. The old-fashioned way is not against the rules. Before the 2019 season, in the wake of the Red Sox incident from 2017 and accusations from the 2018 playoffs, when the Indians and Red Sox both discovered an unofficial employee of the Astros pointing a cellphone camera toward the Cleveland and Boston dugouts, MLB instituted new guidelines in 2019 regarding electronic sign-stealing. (The Astros claimed the employee in 2018 was deployed in a preventative measure, although general manager Jeff Luhnow admitted “it made us look guilty.”

MLB News

via http://www.espn.com – MLB http://www.espn.com

January 13, 2020 at 11:51AM

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