Yesterday, MLB came down hard on the Houston Astros for their sign-stealing tactics, hitting them with several penalties. But were the penalties enough? Let’s take a look.
MLB suspended Astros GM Jeff Lunhow and Manager A.J. Hinch for all of 2020, but both of them won’t be returning to their roles once their suspensions end. Both of them were fired by Astros owner Jim Crane, meaning they will need to name a new manager and general manager with about a month before pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training. The Astros will also lose their first and second round MLB First-Year Player Draft picks in 2020 and 2021. Houston was also hit with a record $5M fine, but no players were suspended (including current Mets manager Carlos Beltran, who played for the 2017 Astros). Alex Cora, who was a coach for the Astros in 2017 and a major factor in the sign-stealing scheme, was not suspended yesterday but is expected to receive a significant punishment once MLB finishes their investigation on the 2018 Red Sox.
Let’s take a look at each part of the punishment:
Lunhow and Hinch Are Suspended
These two moves weren’t hard to make for MLB. Both are leaders of the team, and while Hinch tried to initially stop the measures (by supposedly breaking camera equipment used in the sign-stealing scheme), he didn’t do anything to prevent the sign-stealing when it continued. To keep the integrity of the game, Major League Baseball sent a clear message with these suspensions: managers and GM’s cannot let this happen, and if they do, there will be consequences.
And Astros owner Jim Crane was well within his rights to oust Lunhow and Hinch as well. The Astros organization finally won its first World Series in 2017, a culmination of all the work and investment that he and the Astros organization had done, starting with when Crane first bought the team. A little over two years later, the Astros organization has been embarrassed, and their first World Series crown now has a permanent black mark on it. It’s wasn’t a tough decision for Crane to make.
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No 1st or 2nd Round Picks in 2020 and 2021
This will have a negative effect for sure, but I don’t think this is as bad as some people will make this out to be. Yes, the Astros abdicating these picks will leave them with smaller bonus pools, and unable to acquire some of the best talent in each of the next two year’s drafts. However, the ‘Stros have been quite good in recent years when it comes to finding talent later in the Draft. In recent years, Josh Rojas (26th Round in 2017), Jake Rogers (3rd Round in 2016), and Abraham Toro (5th Round in 2016) are just a few players the Astros have been able to find outside the first two rounds that have turned into MLB players.
And with prospects such as Tyler Ivey, Forrest Whitley, Kyle Tucker and Korey Lee in their farm system, the Astros won’t be hurt by this penalty as much as people think they are.
No Players were Penalized
To repeat, no players that were on the 2017 Astros team were penalized by MLB. No players were suspended, nor did any players have their awards revoked (Yes, Jose Altuve is still the 2017 AL MVP). One of the common complaints I saw on social media yesterday (including Pete Rose) was that the players got off “scot-free.” But the issue of penalizing players is a rather complex one.
For one, the investigation named just one player from the 2017 team in the investigation: Carlos Beltran. Because of that, we don’t know if any other players from that team played key roles in the scheme. Second, any suspensions handed out would have swiftly fought by the MLBPA. Would a war of words between the league and the MLBPA over potential punishments been good for the game?
Could the MLB Have Done More?
A fair question to ask is whether the league went far enough. The point of these penalties is to make sure that something like this doesn’t happen again. But could anything else have been done. Some around MLB feel that the league should have done, at least according to ESPN‘s Jeff Passan.
Several “ownership-level” sources told ESPN that dissatisfaction over the penalties emerged following a conference call that Manfred held yesterday in which the Commissioner made the punishments known to all MLB teams. In response to the penalties, one anonymous team president told Passan, “[Jim] Crane won. The entire thing was programmed to protect the future of the franchise. He got his championship. He keeps his team. His fine is nothing. The sport lost, but Crane won.”
It’s fair to question whether MLB should have done more, but what could they have done? If the league suspended players from the team, would a fight with the MLBPA be good for the game? If the league vacated the 2017 World Series crown, would that have set a bad precedent? All of these are difficult questions.
In my opinion, I do think the penalties were fair for the most part. Sure, MLB could have taken away their top two picks for three years, or hit Crane with a larger fine. However, I do believe that these penalties do accomplish what needed to be done, which is to prevent something like this from happening again. If anything, these penalties were a warning to other teams that if they were try to do something similar, they would receive a far more severe punishment.
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