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 Red Sox — 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?
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?
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.”
The guidelines in the six-page document created rules concerning placement and usage of center-field cameras, plus TVs and monitors, and mandated screens be on an eight-second delay. MLB also placed league employees at stadiums to monitor activity. — Schoenfield
What are other players and teams across baseball, especially those who have lost to the Astros and Red Sox in the postseason, saying now?
Tim Kurkjian is concerned that the Astros’ scandal is a sign that some of the new-age executives in MLB think they can outsmart the game.
They’re angry and frustrated and from the start have lamented that this sort of thing happened. They also might be hypocrites, because when you talk with a wide range of people around the game about the pervasiveness of cheating, they all agree and admit it does not begin and end with the Astros and Red Sox. The blurring of lines with regard to the use of video, particularly before the new rules in 2018 and 2019 more clearly defined what was allowed, allowed teams to develop questionable habits. Were those habits blatantly illegal? That’s a question with an expansive gray area. Were those habits morally or ethically objectionable? That’s not entirely clear, either, but if this were to go in front of an unwritten-rules arbiter, the judgment would pretty clearly be: not cool. — Passan
What’s going to happen with replay rooms? (Could they be scrapped entirely?)
And force managers to — gasp! — make decisions on calling for replays without the help of an expert winding back the tape and looking at it in extreme slow motion? They wouldn’t.
They could, of course, and the public probably wouldn’t know the difference. MLB did install an attendant for each replay room last year, though depending on the city, the competence of the attendants varied, according to sources. Is that enough? Enough to prevent players — who potentially will do anything to gain a competitive advantage — from accessing the room? Probably not. Which means maybe a harsher question is in order: Should MLB just ban in-game video use altogether? Players wouldn’t like it, but here we are, in this position because of players’ choices. — Passan
Have there been any past punishments for sign stealing?
The Red Sox were fined an undisclosed amount in 2017, with commissioner Rob Manfred issuing a statement at the time that “all 30 clubs have been notified that future violations of this type will be subject to more serious sanctions, including the possible loss of draft picks.” — Schoenfield
Could more punishments come down during the season?
Probably not. It seems more likely that Manfred will want any lingering investigations — such as the one regarding the Red Sox — to be wrapped up before the season starts. Understandably, he has to want this issue to be settled before Opening Day so we can all focus on baseball. That said, it remains to be seen whether additional players will come forward or other teams will be implicated in unrelated incidents. — Doolittle
If MLB “monitors” weren’t monitoring very well, could they be implicated or punished in any way?
They could be implicated if there were any sign that they were part of the scheme. There has been none. As for punishment: Incompetence often leads to joblessness, so if they’re not fulfilling the job’s duties and get fired, that’s a pretty bad punishment. — Passan
Do we just need to go the PED route and say if it’s electronic cheating, then it’s a 50- or 100-game suspension? Skip the nuance, hand out a set penalty?
The hope from the league is that the penalties here are so harsh that nobody would dare consider doing this in the future. Which … sounds an awful lot like what happened when the league first instituted penalties for PEDs. The problem here is that cheating runs on such a wide-ranging continuum whereas PED use is extraordinarily binary. There are either drugs in your urine or there aren’t. If there aren’t, you’re cool, and if there are, you’re suspended. There is blatant cheating. There is mild cheating. There is in-between cheating. There are central figures. There are secondary figures. There are outsiders who are slightly involved in the plan. Electronic cheating tends to be a multiperson exercise from two different populations — players and team employees — and standardizing suspensions is almost impossible, even if knowing for certain the hammer was going to be laid might deter some from even considering it. — Passan
If stadiums are outfitted for cheating, can MLB bring owners into punishment?
You mean the owners who employ baseball’s commissioner? That seems unlikely in a situation that doesn’t involve anything that’s illegal in a non-baseball context. The teams involved will pay stiff penalties, and that will hit owners in their most tender spots — their wallets (in the form of fines) and their egos (with lost draft picks impacting their ability to compete). Some harsh conversations will take place, but those will be behind closed doors. Although a formal punishment for Crane or Boston’s John Henry, among others, seems unlikely, it will be interesting to see whether this leads to some acrimony among the ownership groups. The Guggenheim group in Los Angeles, which owns the Dodgers and lost back-to-back World Series to the teams at the forefront of the allegations, can’t be too happy with some of its counterparts right now. — Doolittle
In Euro soccer, a way to cripple teams for cheating is to ban, in essence, participation in free agency and the draft. Can MLB go that route?
Such draconian steps might represent a loss of perspective, and when you kneecap a team’s ability to compete, you’re not just penalizing that team — you’re penalizing its entire fan base. There are many who feel like this issue has been blown a bit out of proportion already. (And many others who feel like it hasn’t been harped on enough because two World Series winners were involved.) Still, the focus has to be on creating barriers against this becoming an ongoing toothache for the game, because if history tells us anything about those who work in baseball, it’s that they will never stop looking for an edge. The obvious solution is to find secure, reliable technology that would allow pitchers and catchers to communicate with each other. We all love the timeless mime routines catchers go through, but there has to be a better way during a time when we can literally measure everything that happens on the field. Technology got us into this mess, and it can get us out of it. — Doolittle
New York Yankees’ DJ LeMahieu on verge of winning AL batting title
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.”
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.
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.
“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.
Los Angeles’ Angels Mike Trout — ‘We gotta get to the playoffs’
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.”
Chicago White Sox’s Jimmy Cordero suspended 3 games for hitting Willson Contreras
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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