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MLB hits Astros with huge penalties, Houston fires Hinch, Luhnow — Answering all the questions

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Major League Baseball announced punishment for the Houston Astros, including one-year suspensions for 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. Luhnow and Hinch were subsequently fired by Astros owner Jim Crane.

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

Just how harsh is this punishment compared with 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 has certainly done so. For that matter, so did Astros owner Jim Crane, who quickly moved to terminate Hinch and Luhnow. — Doolittle

I don’t think it’s shocking it all. To steal from the NCAA, you can call it a loss of institutional control, and Luhnow, Hinch and the organization had to pay a severe penalty — and Manfred certainly handed one down. For those arguing that using technology to steal signs is going on throughout the sport and that the Astros don’t deserve to be punished for what everyone else also might be doing, I disagree. The Astros got caught and got caught doing it in a year they won the World Series. This is exactly how you tell an entire sport to knock it off. You go after the big boys and send a strong message that this will not be tolerated. It’s time for baseball to return to a competition between players — not a competition between technology. — Schoenfield

Wait, the Astros just fired Luhnow and Hinch?

Yep. That happened. The Astros have widely been viewed as an organization where the bottom line is everything, which in part led into their recent scandals. Clearly, Crane is not happy with that perception. Whatever else you might think about Luhnow and Hinch, both are at the very top of their respective professions. Crane could have stated that the suspensions were adequate penalties and that the team would proceed with them both next season under a “no tolerance” policy about future embarrassments. He didn’t do that, and good for him. It couldn’t have been easy. His normally implacable demeanor seemed to waver a couple of times during his news conference. — Doolittle

What exactly does Hinch’s suspension mean?

Hinch won’t be running a team this year, and going forward he won’t be running the Astros, since Crane made the decision to fire him. Because Manfred did not implicate Hinch as an instigator of the schemes, the suspension shouldn’t make other teams shy away from hiring him. He’s respected in the game and will be a heck of managerial free agent. 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.” — 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 the free-agent market this 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 Houston was already unlikely to make any additional large monetary investments in its 2020 club, the Astros should be able to muddle through from a roster-building standpoint. The Astros have turned out a number of general manager candidates during Luhnow’s tenure, including Baltimore’s Mike Elias, so there ought to be qualified candidates in the organization. (Though Crane might want a new voice to head up the operation after this.)

As for losing Hinch, it won’t help. He’s largely thought of as one of baseball’s best managers, from a tactical and a clubhouse standpoint. (Although 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, though Crane didn’t commit to that in his news conference Monday) 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 up 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 sideline 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 and signal them to whoever was at the plate. Still, the allegations against the Red Sox refer to activity during the team’s 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 hypercompetitive 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 it has written over the past 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. 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 Luhnow admitted “it made us look guilty.”

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Everything you need to know about MLB’s sign-stealing scandal

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Major League Baseball announced punishment for the Houston Astros, including one-year suspensions for 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. Luhnow and Hinch were subsequently fired by Astros owner Jim Crane.

One day later, the Boston Red Sox parted ways with manager Alex Cora after the skipper was implicated in the investigation for his role as Astros bench coach.

ESPN.com’s Bradford Doolittle, Jeff Passan and David Schoenfield break down the penalties, what they mean for the Astros and Red Sox — and what impact Monday’s punishment could have across the sport.

Key links: Passan: Anger boiling behind scenes | Olney: Biggest victims of scandal | What players & execs really think | Two managers gone in two days

Just how harsh is this punishment compared with 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 has certainly done so. For that matter, so did Astros owner Jim Crane, who quickly moved to terminate Hinch and Luhnow. — Doolittle

I don’t think it’s shocking it all. To steal from the NCAA, you can call it a loss of institutional control, and Luhnow, Hinch and the organization had to pay a severe penalty — and Manfred certainly handed one down. For those arguing that using technology to steal signs is going on throughout the sport and that the Astros don’t deserve to be punished for what everyone else also might be doing, I disagree. The Astros got caught and got caught doing it in a year they won the World Series. This is exactly how you tell an entire sport to knock it off. You go after the big boys and send a strong message that this will not be tolerated. It’s time for baseball to return to a competition between players — not a competition between technology. — Schoenfield

Wait, the Astros just fired Luhnow and Hinch?

play

1:41

Jeff Passan reacts to the Astros’ firing AJ Hinch and Jeff Luhnow and breaks down some of the fallout for the franchise going forward.

Yep. That happened. The Astros have widely been viewed as an organization where the bottom line is everything, which in part led into their recent scandals. Clearly, Crane is not happy with that perception. Whatever else you might think about Luhnow and Hinch, both are at the very top of their respective professions. Crane could have stated that the suspensions were adequate penalties and that the team would proceed with them both next season under a “no tolerance” policy about future embarrassments. He didn’t do that, and good for him. It couldn’t have been easy. His normally implacable demeanor seemed to waver a couple of times during his news conference. — Doolittle

What exactly does Hinch’s suspension mean?

Hinch won’t be running a team this year, and going forward he won’t be running the Astros, since Crane made the decision to fire him. Because Manfred did not implicate Hinch as an instigator of the schemes, the suspension shouldn’t make other teams shy away from hiring him. He’s respected in the game and will be a heck of managerial free agent. 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.” — Doolittle

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

play

0:53

Doug Glanville explains that firing AJ Hinch and Jeff Luhnow was the best move for the Astros so they can set the tone for the organization going forward.

The Astros have a lot of work left to do this offseason after sitting out the free-agent market this 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 Houston was already unlikely to make any additional large monetary investments in its 2020 club, the Astros should be able to muddle through from a roster-building standpoint. The Astros have turned out a number of general manager candidates during Luhnow’s tenure, including Baltimore’s Mike Elias, so there ought to be qualified candidates in the organization. (Though Crane might want a new voice to head up the operation after this.)

As for losing Hinch, it won’t help. He’s largely thought of as one of baseball’s best managers, from a tactical and a clubhouse standpoint. (Although 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, though Crane didn’t commit to that in his news conference Monday) 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 up for in terms of their relationships with their manager and their general manager. — Doolittle

Why did the Red Sox decide to part ways with Alex Cora now?

Based on the season-long suspension given to AJ Hinch, it became clear Cora will likely receive a similar suspension — if not something longer — once the investigation into the 2018 Red Sox is completed. Given his complicity with both clubs, Cora may receive an even longer suspension. The Red Sox couldn’t have that hanging over the franchise for an entire season so they had to move on. — Schoenfield

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 and signal them to whoever was at the plate. Still, the allegations against the Red Sox refer to activity during the team’s championship 2018 season, which was after MLB issued clarified rules expressly banning the use of replay rooms for this purpose. — Doolittle

What punishments are the Red Sox expected to receive?

It could be harsher than what the Astros received, given the Red Sox had already been fined in September of 2017 for using Apple Watches in a different sign-stealing scheme. If they then moved forward with illegal use of the replay room in the 2018 season, the commissioner’s may double down on a team that already had been punished. While MLB rules limit the maximum fine to $5 million, they could lose draft picks as well as the ability to sign international players (many in the game felt the Astros got off easy in this regard).

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 hypercompetitive 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 it has written over the past 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

Are the Mets going to fire Carlos Beltran?

The Mets are certainly in a difficult position. While the commissioner didn’t punish any of the players on the 2017 Astros, Beltran was also the only player specifically mentioned in the report. The implication was clear: Beltran was not just potentially benefiting from the scheme, but along with Alex Cora was one of the key figures in establishing the entire system. Now he’s in a position of authority as the Mets’ first-year manager. The wide speculation is the Mets will have to fire Beltran, but so far the club has been silent since the report was issued, with Buster Olney reporting they are gauging Beltran’s future. It’s possible Beltran can weather this initial storm, feign some sort of excuse (“We were just doing what everybody else was doing”) and claim that he’s not here to talk about the past.

So, is stealing signs against the rules or not?

That’s where things get complicated. The old-fashioned way is not against the rules. 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 Luhnow admitted “it made us look guilty.”

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Red Sox – Alex Cora admitted to wrongdoing on Astros

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BOSTON — Alex Cora admitted to playing a central role in the sign-stealing scheme that the Houston Astros used in their 2017 World Series title run, according to the brass for his current team, the Boston Red Sox.

Boston Red Sox owner John Henry, chairman Tom Werner, president Sam Kennedy and chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom addressed the media for the first time since Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager AJ Hinch were suspended by MLB and subsequently fired. Cora was mentioned prominently in MLB’s ruling and he and the Red Sox decided to part ways Tuesday night.

“Alex, by his own admission, we agreed, played a central role in what happened in Houston,” Werner said. “And we all agreed that it was wrong, and we had a responsibility as stewards, as John has said, to have a standard here where that sort of behavior is not acceptable.”

When Astros owner Jim Crane dramatically announced on live television that he was letting go of Hinch and Luhnow, the architects of the analytics-driven behemoth in Houston, the microscope turned its focus towards Boston and its 44-year-old manager.

“It’s not ideal,” Henry said. “It’s not what we would like to be doing at this point. We were all surprised to read this report on Monday. But this is … I don’t know if you would call it a logical conclusion, but this is where are as a result of that.”

When asked about the ongoing investigation by MLB into the allegations that the Red Sox stole signs during their 2018 World Series run using the video replay room, the leadership group repeatedly declined comment and added that the league has directed them not to talk about the investigation. Red Sox officials noted that it was made clear to Cora what the rules were regarding the use of in-game video.

“Regarding the ongoing investigation here in Boston, MLB is doing a thorough investigation — as thorough as what took place in Houston — and we believe that all the facts will be ascertained,” Henry read from a prepared statement. “We would ask that everyone reserve judgment until MLB completes its investigation and determines whether rules were violated.”

The group was asked if they believe the Red Sox beat the Dodgers fair and square in 2018, when they clinched a World Series title in five games.

“Absolutely, yes,” Kennedy said.

On Monday, MLB said that the investigation into the Red Sox is ongoing and that a punishment for Cora is coming soon. The statement on the Astros mentions Cora’s name on 11 different occasions, saying that he was the only coach or front-office person who actively helped implement the system the Astros used to steal signs.

The Red Sox decided not to wait for Cora’s punishment to make a decision, especially with the team’s Winter Weekend event on Friday and Saturday, where Cora was scheduled to appear. Kennedy added that the team decided to part ways with Cora was “exclusively” related to the results of the report on the Astros, and unrelated to the ongoing investigation in Boston.

“We met with Alex yesterday, and as John has said, everyone went into that meeting trying to answer the question, what was in the best interest of the Boston Red Sox?” Werner said. “Alex was professional, understanding that he had made a mistake, so after a couple of conversations, we all mutually agreed that we needed to part ways. … He admitted that what he did was wrong, but that doesn’t mitigate, in our opinion, the extraordinary talent that he has. And we continue to be very fond of Alex.”

The most awkward moment of the press conference arose when the Red Sox leadership group was asked if they believe will ever manage again in the big leagues. After a long, awkward, pregnant pause, Kennedy jumped in to answer.

“I think Alex is an incredibly talented manager, and accomplished great things with us,” Kennedy said. “And he’s now — he expressed remorse; he apologized yesterday to us for the embarrassment that this caused. And I think, he’ll go through a process of rehabilitation and we’ll see what happens. It’d be hard to speculate, but he is an extreme talent.”

Bloom did not rule out an interim managerial solution for the 2020 season but said he’d like to “get it done as soon as possible.” He did not rule out the possibility that the team could enter spring training without a manager.

“There’s no question it’s an unusual time to be doing a managerial search — being at the point in the winter that we are, being this close to spring training,” Bloom said. “It’s impossible for that not to be a factor in how we process, but it’s not going to be the only factor, and we want to make sure we do this justice.”

Bloom acknowledged that the new manager enters a “unique situation.”

“We would want to make sure that whoever is in that chair next has the ability to handle,” he said.

Several longtime former managers are on the market, such as Bruce Bochy, Buck Showalter, Mike Scioscia and Dusty Baker, but Bloom is known for his analytically-driven approach. He said he doesn’t like to categorize people by their age or experience level.

“In my past with the Rays, I worked with someone who would probably roll my eyes to hear me say this, but over time especially as [Joe Maddon] got some tenure on the job, became one of the older managers in baseball and then worked with one of the youngest,” Bloom said. “Everyone brings different things to the table. I don’t like to categorize people, typecast people. It’s unfair to them and in doing that, it would be unfair to us. It’s the sum total of all the characters that someone brings to the table.”

Bloom shared his disappointment that he would not be working with Cora, once one of the main attractions of the Red Sox baseball operations department.

“It’s really disappointing. I told you guys on that day that I had really high regard for his talents as a manager and I still do,” Bloom said. “Unfortunately because of what came out in that report, it just wasn’t possible for this to go forward about that. Although I don’t know him as well as the other folks that were up on the stage with me, I would echo everything. It was very clear in the time we spent together and getting to know each other that he was an extremely impressive person and there’s nothing but sadness that this is where we are.”

Over the course of the 45-minute press conference, the Red Sox leadership group praised Cora for everything from his passion, to his energy, to his sense of humor, to his ability to work with all personality types. But they stressed that Boston’s focus now must turn toward the new season, despite the dark cloud of MLB’s investigation.

“Well, of course it’s disappointing, but yesterday we all mutually agreed that Alex couldn’t lead this organization going forward,” Werner said. “And so we’ve turned the page, and after this press conference, we’re gonna address the 2020 season. So we move on.”

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Sources — Mets assessing manager Carlos Beltran after Astros fallout

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While commissioner Rob Manfred has cleared Carlos Beltran of possible discipline in the Houston Astros‘ sign-stealing scandal of 2017, the New York Mets‘ silence about his standing as their newly hired manager grows more deafening by the day.

Sources told ESPN that the Mets are assessing the situation concerning Beltran, who is supposed to open spring training with the team next month in what would be his rookie season as a big-league manager.

Historically, the Mets have been sensitive to criticism in the New York market. In recent days, there have been hard questions raised in the media about Beltran’s past denials about his role in the Astros’ cheating scandal and his accountability for what occurred.

Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch were fired Monday, hours after being implicated — and suspended for one year — in the report by Major League Baseball. Similarly, Alex Cora, who was a bench coach with the Astros in 2017 and part of the sign-stealing scheme, was let go by the Boston Red Sox as their manager Tuesday, in what the team is saying was a mutual decision.

Besides those three, Beltran was the most prominent person mentioned when Manfred presented his report, and the Mets have not issued any statements reiterating that he’ll continue to be the team’s manager.

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