As first reported by Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, Major League Baseball has handed down unprecedentedly harsh penalties to the Houston Astros for their sign-stealing scandal. Those include a $5 million fine, year-long suspensions for both manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow, and forfeiture of their first two picks in both 2020 and 2021.
Astros chairman Jim Crane decided to dismiss both Hinch and Luhnow as a result, though that did not come from the league.
Quite simply, there is a lot to unpack here. First of all, good on the league for not giving Houston a complete slap on the wrist. Yes, they didn’t make them vacate their World Series title, but that was never happening. Both Hinch and Luhnow, and specifically Luhnow (who is the guy at the top), needed to get hit harshly here, and did.
This scandal was the biggest in baseball, and possibly in sports, since the Cardinals hacked into Houston’s database, an act of corporate espionage which got culprit Chris Correa banned for life and sent to federal prison for 46 months. In that scheme, the Cardinals were stripped of their first two picks for one season, which were awarded to the Astros, and fined $2 million.
John Coppolella, former general manager of the Braves, was banned for life for running a scheme involving infractions with international amateur signings, something which doesn’t exactly seem as pertinent as this.
I really think the MLB missed an opportunity to put sign stealing and messing with the integrity of the game to bed here. Jeff Luhnow was the President of Baseball Operations for a team which very blatantly cheated for a massive competitive advantage. Sure, he didn’t commit any actual crimes like Chris Correa did, but he broke the cardinal sin when it comes to competitive advantages in baseball. He should have been banned for life.
He can’t even really claim like he had nothing to do with it, either. First of all, he could have had the scheme shut down as part of his job, which oversees all baseball operations. Let’s say he didn’t know about it when it started, he could have shut it down when he did. He could have suspended or even fired the coaches and team officials that were complacent. If Jeff Luhnow truly cared about the integrity of baseball, this article wouldn’t be necessary, because none of this would have happened.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) November 17, 2019
He doesn’t. And that has become painstakingly obvious over the course of this investigation. There were reports that Luhnow even started asking scouts about other ways to cheat, including the use of cameras. He does not have any high ground whatsoever in this case.
Jeff Luhnow is a man who went out of his way to actively try and ruin the integrity of baseball. For that, in the same way John Mozeliak should have been for the Chris Correa scandal, he oversaw it, and he should have been banned for life.
Even though Astros manager AJ Hinch disagreed with the use of video — going so far as to damage a monitor used in the scheme multiple times to show his disapproval — he was still suspended for a year. pic.twitter.com/kg0feY9oQC
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) January 13, 2020
As for A.J. Hinch, I think this punishment is valid. According to the league, he actually opposed this scheme, even damaging monitors used to partake in it. However, as the league states, Hinch admitted he did nothing to stop the scheme and didn’t tell anyone involved that he disapproved of it. For that, he needed to get punished.
Should he have been complacent in pulling it off, I would have argued for the same punishment I believe Jeff Luhnow deserved. A lifetime ban. However, since all signs point to him being ignorant about it going on and not actively supporting it happening, I believe this one-year punishment is right on the nose.
As for being complacent in the scheme and supporting it going on, let’s get to Alex Cora, who is going to be, in just a couple weeks, the fifth person banned for life by Commissioner Rob Manfred.
Even forgetting about the whole Astros sign-stealing scandal whatsoever, the new one which broke a few weeks ago implicating the Red Sox in using cameras to decode signs, should be enough for Cora to be punished. Throwing in his involvement in this, per the league, Cora’s days in the MLB are about to be over.
"Witnesses consistently describe this new scheme as player-driven … with the exception of Cora." pic.twitter.com/BbUZHulZlh
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) January 13, 2020
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Major League Baseball describes this scheme as player-driven, with the exception of Cora, who was the Astros’ bench coach at the time. Alex Cora was the coach behind this, and the one which not only allowed it to happen, but also supported this cheating going on. Unlike Hinch, he didn’t oppose it.
Unless Alex Cora can come up with some magnificent excuse for why he chose to make a mockery of the integrity of baseball, not once but twice, he’s going to be banned for life, and rightfully so.
It’s going to be interesting to see two managerial searches at this point in the offseason. The best candidate available, in my eyes, is current Astros bench coach, and presumably interim manager, Joe Espada. If I’m the Astros, I’m moving quickly to make him the permanent manager, because he will surely be on Boston’s radar once Cora is gone.
The other interesting part of this is the lack of suspension for any players involved, especially current Mets manager Carlos Beltran. The league described this as “player-driven,” so it seems like players should be penalized for what happened, no? That isn’t the case here.
There’s a lot of politicking going on, and with the CBA expiring and the possibility of a lockout looming, that’s why players weren’t punished. That’s why not one active player was even mentioned in MLB’s press release about this. However, I think this is a cowardly act from the league who actively chose to levy harsh punishments to discourage this from happening again.
Sure, you could give the league the benefit of the doubt that they couldn’t place blame on certain individual players. However, two things. First, why does Major League Baseball deserve the benefit of the doubt? When have they ever deserved the benefit of the doubt on just about anything? Secondly, they did name Carlos Beltran, who was a player at the time, specifically in the release, which leads me to think they do know who the “ringleaders” of this scheme were in the Astros clubhouse.
Should this exact thing have happened three years ago, or should labor relations in baseball not gone completely off of a cliff after the offseason last year, then players are suspended. It’s completely circumstantial as to why none were, and I hate that. Yes, look out for the league, and I understand that punishing players for this probably is the nail in the coffin leading to the first lockout in Major League Baseball since 1994.
However, that is such an awful argument. Players get off scot-free solely because the Collective Bargaining Agreement, which was signed before most of these players were even professionals, happens to expire next year? What would have happened if Mike Fiers didn’t come forward about this until 2022? Would players have gotten suspended then?
It’s just awful on the league’s part to clearly not be punishing the Astros to the full extent of what they could. You don’t need to ban players for life, or even suspend them for a year, but everyone involved should have gotten a big fine at the very minimum.
The wording from the league on the draft picks that are stripped it also very interesting. The league stripped the Astros of their first and second round picks in both 2020 and 2021.
Yes, their first pick for both those drafts will be gone. But what the league didn’t clarify was whether that “second-round pick” was truly their pick in the second round, or their second highest pick. The Astros are going to get a very high compensation pick in 2020 for Gerrit Cole signing with the Yankees, and presumably could next year should George Springer and/or Michael Brantley leave for a massive contract somewhere else.
Cole’s compensation pick will certainly be higher than their second-round pick, and there’s a chance that they could be in the same boat in 2021 with Springer and/or Brantley (more than likely Springer). Is the league actually going to allow the Astros to keep their second highest pick, because that’s what it seems like to me right now. And that’s awful.
There’s also a massive loophole in this in which the Astros can trade for competitive balance picks, which won’t be that far below their actual draft slot. Sure they lose the draft capital, but with how good that team is, it’s not as valuable as it could be.
The last part of the punishment mentioned is the suspension of former Assistant General Manager Brandon Taubman, who was fired after making comments to female reporters praising Roberto Osuna, who had been previously suspended for domestic violence. Taubman’s name never came up in the sign-stealing scandal, so I really do not believe it should have had anything to do with the punishments levied here. The league left it vague as to whether or not it did.
I praise Jim Crane for having a no nonsense mentality for these type of shenanigans. I commend him for firing Hinch and, more than anyone, Luhnow. However, the fact that this had to come from Crane, and not from the league, is the worrying part here.
The league set a precedent here, and that precedent is that sign stealing is going to be punished, but it still may be worth it. At the end of the day, everyone involved still could, and very likely will, have a job in 2021 (albeit losing a year’s pay), the Astros are still 2017 World Series Champions, and the only people getting hit in the pocketbook are those at the very top.
Harsh punishments? Absolutely. Harsh enough? I really don’t believe so. Maybe if Alex Cora is banned for life, it’s enough. But for right now, I think Houston got off light.