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MLB players, execs on sign-stealing scandal — Astros’ tarnished rep, what they knew and more

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Two of the game’s brightest minds, Alex Cora and AJ Hinch, are now unemployed, forced to confront the possibility that their suddenly tainted reputations might prevent them from ever managing again. Two of the sport’s most dominant teams, the 2017 Houston Astros and the 2018 Boston Red Sox, now shoulder the reputation of cheaters, their illegal sign-stealing practices spoiling the memories of their greatness.

It has been an unimaginably dispiriting start to the 2020s for Major League Baseball, and this might only be the beginning.

The Astros have been hit with an array of penalties that include year-long suspensions for their two most important employees, the loss of four draft picks within the first two rounds and the largest allowable fine. But the Red Sox, who got out in front of looming punishment by firing Cora on Tuesday evening, are next. And other teams might eventually be incriminated in one of the biggest cheating scandals in sports history.

Many, as you might imagine, have thoughts. ESPN spoke to more than 15 executives, coaches, scouts and players about key topics surrounding the Astros’ cheating scandal — from the stiffness of the penalties to the perceptions of wrongdoing to potential ways to prevent it. Opinions were provided under the condition of anonymity because MLB asked its personnel not to comment.

The 2020 Astros were not hurt nearly enough

A longtime executive went through the penalties to illustrate how the Astros were not necessarily harmed in a big-picture sense.

• A $5 million fine? Chump change for a team that profited far more than that by winning the World Series, and something that probably pales in comparison to not having to pay Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow during their season-long suspensions.

• The loss of a first- and second-round pick in the 2020 and 2021 drafts? Successful teams pick later, which lessens the value of their picks, and they’re constantly giving up future assets for immediate returns.

The longtime exec called those draft picks “a liquidated cost,” and a veteran scout stated the organization “should have been hammered” internationally — an area where the Astros were not penalized whatsoever.

• The biggest blow, it seems, comes from the suspensions of Luhnow and Hinch, the two foundational pieces in the Astros’ resurgence. Both were subsequently fired by owner Jim Crane, who must find a new GM and manager with only weeks remaining until spring training. But the Astros can simply replace them internally, with bench coach Joe Espada expected to be the new manager and assistant GM Pete Putila probably handling most of the baseball-operations work moving forward.

Firing Luhnow and Hinch grants the Astros “a clean slate,” the executive said — a benefit for Crane, given the fallout.

“In one sense, it was on the lighter side because the commish was clear and then they broke the rules some more,” another executive told ESPN.” So this was the least they could do. If this was isolated, maybe it’s not so bad. But they were brazen in breaking the rules.”


Isn’t a tarnished reputation enough?

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

That’s the question a longtime manager posed when asked if the penalties were enough to serve as a deterrent for other teams, making the point that Luhnow and Hinch could struggle to work in baseball again and might never hold such high-profile positions.

“At the end of the day,” the source said, “all we have in this game is our reputation.”

A front-office executive agreed, calling the punishments “stiff” while saying: “I would be surprised if anyone else would want to jeopardize their livelihoods and reputations.”

But some players presented an interesting scenario: If you were to go back in time and tell Crane that he would win the World Series, but then have to suffer through the fallout of this scandal — the fine, the loss of draft picks, the suspensions and subsequent firings of his two most important employees, the public smearing for unethical practices — would he take that deal? The players, emphatically, believe that he would.

And that brings us to another point: The position players who used the system and potentially reaped the benefits were unharmed.

“It’s hard for me not to look at my own numbers against them and be pissed,” a retired major league pitcher said. “Everyone involved deserves to be seriously punished because it’s wrong.”


How can a player-driven scheme not punish any players?

This was definitely on the minds of executives and players alike. And for good reason. One player likened it to giving immunity to a burglar just so he can tell you how he broke into your house and stole your television.

“It makes zero sense,” one rival player said.

But when pushed on how to dole out punishments, that same player was at a loss. Another player might have summed it up best.

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New York Yankees’ DJ LeMahieu on verge of winning AL batting title

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NEW YORK — DJ LeMahieu is on the verge of a first in more than a century of Major League Baseball: the first player to win undisputed batting titles in both the American and National Leagues.

Luke Voit is about to become a more common name atop the leaderboards but part of an illustrious list, joining Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris and Alex Rodriguez as New York Yankees to top the majors in home runs.

“I’ve always admired the Babe,” Voit said after the Yankees woke up from their latest slump to beat the Miami Marlins 11-4 on Saturday and kept their hold on the AL’s No. 5 postseason seed going into the final day. “It’s just awesome company. That guy hit 700 home runs (714 to be exact). That means I got to start hitting like 150 a year to catch up to him. So that’s never going to happen.”

Voit hit his major league-leading 22nd homer. Jose Abreu of the Chicago White Sox is second with 19.

LeMahieu had his fourth four-hit game and three RBIs while raising his average to .359. He passed Washington’s Juan Soto (.346) for the big league lead and opened a large margin over defending AL batting champion Tim Anderson of the White Sox, second in the AL at .337.

“This game’s been around for a long time, and I think anyone who’s watched knows just how special a player DJ LeMahieu’s been for us in these two years,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said.

LeMahieu won the 2016 NL batting title with a .348 average for Colorado. Ed Delahanty hit .410 for the Philadelphia Phillies to win the NL championship in 1899; he is credited by some researchers with the 1902 AL championship at .376, while others accept Nap Lajoie as winning that title at .378 despite lacking the plate appearances required in more modern times.

“Guys don’t win batting titles in both leagues, because you win it in one league, they probably keep you,” said Marlins manager Don Mattingly, the 1984 AL batting champion with the Yankees. “It’s a different game nowadays.”

A 32-year-old infielder in his second season with the Yankees, LeMahieu will become New York’s first batting champion since Bernie Williams in 1998.

Voit hit a three-run drive against Nick Vincent in a seven-run sixth for a 10-3 lead. He has made 38 consecutive starts, including 19 straight at first base, despite an injured foot.

“I’ve been trying to transform myself into a better power hitter and this year was another steppingstone for me,” Voit said. “I’ve always been a guy, high school, college, minors. I play through stuff. I’m a grinder. I want to be out there. I want to help a team, especially when we were hurting earlier in the year and I had to do whatever it took to be out there. So I was making sure I was getting plenty of treatment from all of our trainers and trying to stay on top of it so I could play through it and not be like killing me.”

Yankees rookie Deivi Garcia (3-2) allowed four runs and seven hits in 6⅔ innings with seven strikeouts and a walk. Boone has not announced whether Garcia or left-hander J.A. Happ will follow Gerrit Cole and Masahiro Tanaka as his playoff starters.

Preparing for a first-round playoff series on the road, likely at Cleveland or Tampa Bay, the Yankees (33-26) are trying to hold off third-place Toronto (32-27) and keep the No. 5 seed. New York’s season has flowed and drifted like the tide: a 16-6 start, following by a 5-15 slide, a 10-game winning streak and five losses in a six-game span coming in.

New York trailed 3-0 before Tyler Wade‘s two-run homer in the fifth against Ryne Stanek, and Aaron Hicks had a two-run homer in the sixth against former Yankee Stephen Tarpley (2-2) for a 5-3 lead.

Wade’s homer off the second deck in right ended the Yankees’ first five-game homerless streak since April 1-5, 2014. They have scored nearly half their runs via the long ball, 156 of 315, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

“Any spark to get us going, especially with the last game coming up tomorrow and going to the playoffs,” Wade said after his third homer this season.

Giancarlo Stanton was in a 1-for-21 slide with 12 strikeouts before his 113-mph RBI double to the left-center gap in the fifth that drove in Aaron Judge with the tying run.

“I feel like we’re always one swing away,” Voit said. “We just need to get that one to get us going.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Los Angeles’ Angels Mike Trout — ‘We gotta get to the playoffs’

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The Los Angeles Angels were mathematically eliminated from postseason contention at Dodger Stadium on Friday night, which means that in nine full seasons in the major leagues, Mike Trout — considered by many the game’s greatest player for most, if not all, of those seasons — has made the playoffs only once.

“The biggest thing is getting to the playoffs,” Trout said Saturday, moments before the second of a three-game series against the cross-town Los Angeles Dodgers. “You guys all see it. I see it. It sucks being out of it. It’s time. We gotta get to the playoffs.”

Trout made the playoffs in 2014, when the Angels suffered a first-round sweep at the hands of the Kansas City Royals. The 2020 season will now mark the fifth consecutive time his Angels have finished with a losing record, even though the offseason additions of manager Joe Maddon and third baseman Anthony Rendon had many believing the team might contend for a championship.

The Angels lost 25 of their first 37 games but have since won 14 of 21. The 60-game season didn’t provide enough time to make up ground.

“It could be a different story if we played a full season,” Trout said. “We got hot just a little late and fell short.”

The end result, a postseason absence even though Major League Baseball expanded the field to 16 teams, could lead to the firing of general manager Billy Eppler, who’s winding down his fifth season with the team and hasn’t been extended beyond 2020.

Eppler played a lead role in recruiting Shohei Ohtani, was a big reason Trout basically decided to spend his entire career with the Angels and took steps to rebuild the farm system, adding high-ceiling talent such as Jo Adell and Brandon Marsh. But Eppler consistently came up short addressing the pitching staff; the manager he appointed in 2019, Brad Ausmus, lasted only one season. Decorated executive Dave Dombrowski has been rumored inside and outside of baseball to be his successor.

“Billy was a big reason why I signed back here,” Trout said. “We’ve built a friendship over the years. He’s put a lot of great teams together, and it just didn’t work out these last few years. The relationship and the friendship I’ve built with Billy — it obviously goes beyond baseball now. I’ve had a couple GMs come in here; I’ve never had the GM relationship I’ve had with him with anybody else.”

Trout, who became a father eight weeks ago, was batting .281/.390/.603 with 17 home runs in 241 plate appearances heading into Saturday’s game. He ranked seventh among major league position players in FanGraphs wins above replacement, and though he continually called this season “a grind,” Trout will undoubtedly finish within the top five in American League Most Valuable Player voting for the ninth consecutive year. But he’ll be 30 next year — and is still chasing October.

“I don’t like losing,” Trout said. “I wanna get to the playoffs. Every time we get into spring, our main goal is to get to the playoffs and bring a championship back to Anaheim. That’s just the mindset. When you’re that close and you come up short, it sucks.”

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Chicago White Sox’s Jimmy Cordero suspended 3 games for hitting Willson Contreras

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Chicago White Sox pitcher Jimmy Cordero was suspended three games for intentionally hitting Cubs catcher Willson Contreras, while manager Rick Renteria got a one-game ban, Major League Baseball announced Saturday.

Cordero hit Contreras during Friday’s blowout loss to the Cubs, several innings after Contreras threw his bat high into the air to celebrate a three-run homer.

“I knew it was coming,” Contreras said after the game. “I have no regrets, zero regrets. Once they hit me, I don’t think that’s the smartest thing to do. He got thrown out. And who knows if he’s going to get suspended?”

Renteria will serve his suspension during Saturday’s game against the Cubs. He and pitching coach Don Cooper also were fined an undisclosed amount.

It is unknown at this time if Cordero will appeal the suspension.

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