On January 13, 2020, Major Leauge Commissioner Rob Manfred, released the findings of his investigation stemming from former Houston Astros player Mike Fiers allegations in an article published by Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich of The Athletic. In the article Fiers claimed the Astros violated MLB rules, using technology to steal signs and relay that information to Astros batters. Continuing to do so even after the Red Sox were caught in August 2017 and Manfred release a statement on September 15, 2017.
A total of 68 witnesses, including 23 current and former Astros players were interviewed by MLB’s Department of Investigations (DOI). The result of the investigation was:
• The Astros were engaged in the use of video technology to steal signs and transferring the pitch information to batters. The report did not say sign stealing was against the rules. It is the method the Astros used.
• Players freely admitted they were involved, but claimed they would have stopped it told. Many made the curious claim it was not effective, but offered no explanation why the would continue to participate if it wasn’t producing positive effects. The commissioner states that players were not disciplined because he previously stated he would hold the Team Manager and General Manager culpable in these cases of misconduct. He is clear on that point.
• General Manager Jeff Luhnow, despite claiming to the DOI that he was not aware of the misconduct, was suspended until after the 2020 World Series. He was then fired by team owner Jim Crane. The Commissioner pointed out there were several memos sent which Luhnow never forwarded to the rest of the team and never followed up on making sure this conduct was not part of the Astros organization. He was held responsible for his lack of oversight.
• Team Manager A.J. Hinch (Note: MLB uses the term Field Manager in the report.) admits to knowing about it but not taking part in it. He claimed he made attempts to stop sign stealing by physically damaging the equipment a few times. In the end, despite finding the whole activity wrong and distracting he didn’t tell they players or bench coach Alex Cora to stop it. Per statements from players, if he had, instead of destroying Astro property, told the players to stop, they would have. Despite his displeasure with the activity, he says he never brought the incident up with the front office despite know, at least on September 15, 2017, that the Commissioner stated it was a violation of the rules. True to his words, the Commissioner held Hinch accountable and suspended him from baseball until after the 2020 World Series. Hinch then followed Luhnow and is now the former Field Manager of the Houston Astros.
• Alex Cora, former Bench Coach and current Manager of the Boston Red Sox (Note: There is an investigation in the Red Sox at this time). There is little in the report about Cora’s full activities. It clearly states that he help set up the activities of setting up the needed equipment and notifying the batters. He condoned the actions and, according to Hinch, continued to do despite Hinch’s displeasure. Cora’s discipline will be announced after the Red Sox’s investigation is completed.
• Unrelated to the sign-stealing, but part of the Astros front office, former Assistant General Manager Brandon Taubman has been suspended from baseball until after the 2020 World Series. At that point, he can ask the Commissioner for reinstatement. He is being disciplined for his inaction during the sign-stealing and his inappropriate comments to female reports on October 24, 2019. Taubman was fired for those comments on November 15, 2019, but not before several questions were raised about the Astros handling of the situation.
• The Houston Astros were fined $5 Million and lost both there first and second-round draft choices in 2020 and 2021. This should save the club about $7 million in signing bonus. The $5 million fine amount is the most allowed by MLB rules.
In the end, MLB holds the team responsible for the activity and specifically is critical of the Houston Astros. The discipline handed down is a systemic failure of the Houston Astros to uphold even the basic fairness of baseball. The fact is not that the players stole signs, it is the extended management participated in allowing the activities to move beyond on-field sign-stealing to organizational commitment violating the rules even after September 15, 2019.
Was it enough?
I personally do not believe the Astros were punished enough.
From an organizational standpoint, firing your GM and head coach is negligible for winning a World Series. The $5 million fine isn’t close to the amount of money they’ve earned because of the success they’ve had because of cheating.
Any team would have traded four draft picks for a WS. It needed to be overwhelming to the point where no organization would ever consider doing it again.
What is worse than a whole organization cheating to win a World Series?
The reason I’m still deeply unsatisfied with the punishment from yesterday is because the Astros cheated not only during the regular season, but throughout the postseason, they won the World Series, and they still get to keep the title?
It feels like the integrity is gone from baseball because what team wouldn’t take this outcome in exchange for a World Series? Manfred had an opportunity to make sure no team did this again and he failed, miserably.
I also feel for the individuals who were affected. Aaron Judge lost the 2017 MVP to Altuve. He’ll never be able to recoup the financial benefits of winning that award. Dave Roberts‘ reputation would be completely different had he won the 2017 World Series. Molly Knight also wrote an excellent article for The Athletic documenting nine pitchers who were demoted after being hit hard by the Astros. The harm of these actions can never be undone.
I like the direction that MLB took here. No punishment is going to counteract the audacity that the entire Astros organization inflicted on baseball. I am interested to see how the Red Sox, and specifically Alex Cora, are treated. This is not a baseball issue, but in many ways is an analytics related issue.
One major question that many people in Machine Learning, Big Data, and AI are starting to ask themselves is, “Yes we can do it, but should we do it?” But the question itself is not new. Sure the 1948 Indians and 1951 Giants won World Series, reportedly, with the help of eagle-eyed employees in Center Field. Many other teams treated the rules as mere suggestions or obstacles to be overcome and found success.
But as MLB forced to deal with Hall of Fame voting that tainted with the PEDs era, baseball needs to make systemic cheating something that affects not only the players but the organizations themselves. If you want to get into your desire is to, in the future, have balls and strikes called by equipment in the stadium, baseball has to prove that the teams are beyond using the equipment to cheat. At least they have to get these teams to ask the question “Sure, we can cheat, but should we?” and answer it ethically.
I think something that’s being overlooked with regard to the Astros punishment–likely because it’s impossible to quantify–is the impact that their cheating had on opposing players’ careers. How much of Yu Darvish’s poor performance against the Astros in the 2017 World Series was a result of the Astros’ tactics, and how much did that poor performance drag down his earnings that offseason when he became a free agent?
What about other pitchers who had disastrous outings against the Astros over the years, inflating their overall stats and ultimately impacting how much they were able to earn in arbitration and free agency? Considering the unseen ramifications of what the Astros did on players throughout the league, I’m surprised more of them aren’t up in arms over the slap on the wrist that the Astros organization received as punishment.
While the punishments were definitely severe, the fact that the actual Astros team was not punished in any way is alarming. Taking away draft picks only hurts the team four to five years down the line.
The $5 million fine is pocket change to an MLB franchise. This Astros team essentially gets away scot-free. I know it is difficult to pinpoint individuals who may have cooperated, but there needs to be additional action taken on the players themselves in my opinion
It wasn’t enough. My main concern here is—”does this deter a team from doing this again?”
The loss of draft picks, the $5 million fine (which I believe is the max fine authorized by the CBA), the suspension of Manager and GM; would you trade this for a World Series title? Flags fly forever, and although the popular consensus by the fans is that this will be “tainted”, does it really matter in the end?
The fact of the matter is, the Astros knowingly altered the outcomes of multiple games and ended up winning a World Series, in part, because of this system. This can never happen again, and with the current punishment being levied against Houston, I’m not 100% sure it won’t.
Overall, I’m disappointed in Manfred. He had a chance to (a) give a meaningful punishment to the Astros and (b) make an example out of them and disincentivize other teams from cheating. I think he failed to do both—especially the latter point. Winning a World Series is easily preferred over their overall punishment.
I believe the punishment handed down to the Houston Astros was fair and just. That said, I’m honestly surprised at how harsh the punishment was. I really didn’t think the MLB had it in them to drop the hammer like this.
I’ve been a big Rob Manfred critic in the past, but in this situation, he got things right. The thing I’m most interested in seeing is how this punishment will impact the Astros’ organization moving forward. The team as it stands is still immensely talented but losing Luhnow plus the draft picks may prove to be a bigger blow than initially intended for. I’m really intrigued to see where this team will be in five years.
While we’ve certainly seen plenty of discussion about the harshness of the penalties against the Astros and their now-former staff, most of this discussion takes for granted that harshness alone is enough. But look at what the Astros enter 2020 with. The front office may have turned over, and they might miss out on the chance to draft a player who will help them out come 2024, but the team itself may suffer no real consequences for years.
If anything, these may push the Astros or other future cheaters to go all-in after getting caught. In the future, the MLB should consider pairing draft pick losses with something similar to the point penalties common in European soccer. This would disincentivize both winning and tanking, forcing teams to reckon with their actions.
This approach could also be dialed up or down depending on the seriousness of the situation, allowing teams that have committed infractions short of a postseason ban to still participate, but potentially without home-field advantage, or through a wild card spot. This could also lead to a more satisfying conclusion: teams shouldn’t be able to trade dollars or draft picks for extra wins. Including a disproportionate number of wins forfeited in the future could help make the price far too steep for even the deepest pocketed teams to pay.
I wonder if this will have any impacts to instant replay. I’ve seen talk that the additional cameras needed for replay are what led to this type of activity. Will we see less access to these cameras/monitors? Will there be some sort of centralized replay monitor to prevent this type of thing?
As a Dodger fan, I may be more biased than most, but the punishment just doesn’t feel like enough. I don’t think I’m ever going to get over that 2017 World Series and what might have been.
What gets me the most is how this has affected Clayton Kershaw’s legacy and his chances at getting a ring. He dominated in the World Series at home but people only remember his Game 5 meltdown.
One thing I’m going to keep an eye on is how A.J. Hinch is regarded moving forward, particularly now that he’s on the open market. An obvious parallel to draw is Bill Belichick and Spygate—a great deal of responsibility for that fiasco was placed at Belichick’s feet, and yet the Patriots stood by their man. Now, Belichick has always had a pretty unique personality constructed around him, and so much of what happened was attributed to “Bill’s surly gamesmanship,” but A.J. Hinch is (or was) pretty well regarded in baseball circles.
He came around when the Astros were on the ascendancy, and was seen as an integral guiding hand in putting them over the top. Will he ostracized from the game entirely moving forward? Based on precedent, it seems unlikely. I think what we’re more likely to see is something akin to what happens with talented managers/coaches in other sports when they are embroiled in scandal.
Hinch will take a year or two off, then likely return to the Bigs in an assistant of position-specific coaching capacity. The one rub on this may be that the tone and tenor towards the Astros in the baseball world is, in a word, hostile. Will other clubs hold this against Hinch in perpetuity? Time will tell, but sports tend to be pretty forgiving places.
One thing was never in doubt – the reaction to this investigation was going to be divisive. There is simply no precedent for something like this, as we followers of the game have never seen a scandal of this magnitude before. The MLB’s primary concern should be upholding the integrity of the game, something the Astros severely compromised with their system. The punishment that Manfred has handed down will be (rightfully so) severely scrutinized for years to come as it must deter this from happening ever again. Only time will tell if the punishment will truly fit the crime.
Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire