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MLB levies punishment to Astros for sign-stealing scandal

GM Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch get year-long suspensions

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Divisional Series - Tampa Bay Rays v Houston Astros - Game Two Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Major League Baseball has concluded its investigation into allegations the Astros used technology to steal signs during the 2017 season and has levied some of its harshest punishments in recent history. General Manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch have both been suspended for the entire 2020 season, to be reinstated following the World Series. Bench coach Joe Espada has been named interim manager in Hinch’s place. Additionally, the team will forfeit their first- and second-round picks in 2020 and 2021, and will pay a $5 million fine. No players will face punishment for their role, and while former Royals and Astros outfielder Carlos Beltran was investigated, he will face no punishment.

Assistant General Manager Brandon Taubman was also suspended for the 2020 season for “inappropriate conduct in the clubhouse”. Taubman was fired back in October for an outburst towards a female reporter regarding reliever Roberto Osuna, who had a domestic assault suspension earlier in his career.

You can read the complete findings here, but the report is pretty damning.

“The conduct described herein has caused fans, players, executives at other MLB clubs, and members of the media to raise questions about the integrity of games in which the Astros participated. And while it is impossible to determine whether the conduct actually impacted the results on the field, the perception of some that it did causes significant harm to the game.”

MLB found that the Astros used the live game feed from the center field camera to identify and de-code opposing teams’ signs. Once the code was cracked, the information was relayed to the dugout, where signs were identified by runners at second base. Eventually, the scheme turned into watching the live feed to decode signs, then relaying the information to the batter by banging a trash can to signal what pitch was coming. The report describes the plan as “player-driven”, with the help of then-bench coach Alex Cora and non-player staff.

The investigation is unclear as to whether Luhnow actively knew of the scheme, although it is mentioned in two emails sent to him. Nonetheless, the report holds him responsible for the organization and blames him for failing to establish a culture where adherence to the rules is “ingrained in the fabric of the organization.”

“[I]t is very clear to me that the culture of the baseball operations department, manifesting itself in the way its employees are treated, its relations with other Clubs, and its relations with the media and external stakeholders, has been very problematic.”

Hinch did not participate in the scheme, but also did little to stop it. He expressed his displeasure by destroying a monitor at one point, but did not tell Cora or his players to stop, and did not relay his concerns to management.

Sign-stealing has long been a frowned-upon, but legal part of baseball. But using technology, particularly the video feed of games, to steal signs is a direct violation of MLB regulations. The Boston Red Sox are also currently under investigation for similar allegations, with MLB waiting to parse out Cora’s punishment until that investigation is completed.

Update: Luhnow and Hinch have been fired.

The Astros’ sign-stealing came to light after a report from Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic in which former Astros pitcher Mike Fiers went on the record about the scheme.

What do you think of the punishments? Too harsh? Not harsh enough? Is this a more widespread problem in baseball than we think?