The Houston Astros got busted. They used cameras to steal signs and relay the information to their batters, gaining an unfair advantage over opposing pitchers. Their technological operation was undone by their $5 implementation. Come on, if you are using technology to steal signs, why bang a trash can to signal the batter. Do better.
MLB and Commissioner Rob Manfred punished those involved in the sign stealing scheme. General Manager Jeff Luhnow and Manager A.J. Hinch were suspended for the 2020 season. Unsurprisingly, both were immediately fired by Astros owner Jim Crane. Houston forfeitedtheir 1st and 2nd round picks in 2020 and 2021 drafts, and must pay a $5 million fine. The wait continues for former Astros Bench Coach and now former Red Sox Manager Alex Cora’s punishment. Cora was the mastermind of the scheme, so his punishment will certainly be stiffer as he brought his scheme to Boston. MLB will not punish active players, but this does not include former players such as new and now former Mets Manager Carlos Beltran. It is highly doubtful the Astros, and Red Sox, were the only ones stealing signs, they just got caught.
Opinions vary on the appropriate punishment. Sign stealing is not a big deal, move along. Give the Astros the death penalty and strip them of the 2017 World Series. The most idiotic assertion is this is worse than Pete Rose and his gambling. Rose controlled the Reds while betting on them. Yes he always bet on Cincinnati to win, but there is a problem. Rose had an additional vested interest in winning. If he over used a pitcher in a game he bet on, his actions influenced the next day’s game which he may not bet on. Managing a team should not be based on daily wagers. The Astros gained an advantage knowing a certain pitch was coming. This altered the outcome of games. Both Rose and the Astros are guilty of stupidity, among other things. However their baseball crimes are not the same.
The Astros MVP, complete with the wounds from getting hit to signal Houston batters. (ww.theathletic.com)
No perfect punishment exists. People will view the penalty as too lenient or too harsh. The teams Houston defeated have legitimate arguments that their opportunity to win was tainted. No one can change the past, but here is how to punish the Astros and dissuade future teams from creating sign stealing operations. First, Houston cannot hire a new General Manager or Manager until after the 2020 World Series. Obviously someone will assume both roles, but the Astros would have one less member of the front off and coaching staff. Second, Houston must host two home games which are not opened to the public. The Astros will pay game day staff for these days off. The games will be weekend games in June or July, not throw away games at the end of the season. Houston made millions winning, make them lose two games worth of income. Third, no regular season prime time games for two years. No Sunday Night Baseball. No special location games. No special attention. Fourth, make opposing players who had difficulty against the Astros and were subsequently sent down or released whole. If said player is within one year of reaching the 10 years necessary to receive an MLB pension, Houston must pay the player league minimum for the extra season and then cover their MLB pension for 10 years. If the player would not qualify for the MLB pension, Houston owes that player their highest one season salary each year for the next 10 years. These punishments are in addition to what was already handed down. Make the punishment long and annoying.
Obviously none of these additional punishments will occur, but you can dream. Houston did not just steal signs, they literally cost players and coaches jobs. Hopefully their cameras can see that too.
The Houston Astros continue to rebuild their team from the ground up, but they will continue on without the manager who has overseen some of the worst play in Major League history, Bo Porter. The team decided it would rather continue down the path set by General Manager Jeff Luhnow. Reports indicate Porter and Luhnow were not on the same page regarding the direction of the team. The gut reaction for many people, including myself, was that Porter deserved to reap the fruits of his labor with the Astros. In his first season as Manager, the team posted a 51-111 record. Regardless how you examine the team this was a tough season for the players, organization, and fans. However in just his second season, Porter had the Astros on pace to finish 69-93, close to a 20 game positive swing from one season to another.
The success of the Astros in the American League West this season is especially impressive, as the division has transformed into one of, if not, the toughest in baseball. The Angels are the best team in baseball, the A’s were just behind them until their recent struggles, the Mariners have shot up into Wild Card contenders, and the Rangers could be in the mix if it were not for one of the most injury prone seasons recent memory. The continued emergence of Jose Altuve as a legitimate star in the Majors gives the Astros a public face. The steady increase of power from Chris Carter. The arrival of highly touted prospects George Springer and Jon Singleton are providing hope for the future and proof the Astros plan is working. The solid pitching rotation of Dallas Keuchel, Jarred Cosart, Scott Feldman, and Colin McHugh has given the emerging offense the support to aim Houston towards success. The solid work from the bullpen, including from closer Chad Qualls has helped to shape the Astros into a real Major League team again. Unfortunately for Porter he will not be able to see the successful competition of his hard work due to the team’s decision to remain loyal to Luhnow and the complete rebuild plan. Porter deserves another shot at managing in the Majors, as he was reasonably successful with the team he was given. The disagreement or dispute between Porter and the front office had clearly reached a point where a change was needed, and Porter’s dismissal shows Houston is willing to do anything to complete their rebuild.
The complete rebuild began because Houston recognized that it was in its best interest to rebuild rather than to continue going along as a mediocre team. Their decision to completely tear their team apart and to rebuild it from the ground up could prove to be the model for other teams in similar situations to follow in the future. It is not an easy process to go through. Many fans and commentators felt the plan was ridiculous; it was a bridge too far to reconstruct the foundation of the organization. There were too many unknowns. However, the Astros are beginning to show the results of the plan, which many felt were irresponsible at the beginning. The Astros took a chance to secure the top draft pick for the 2012-2014 seasons. High draft picks are never guaranteed to make it to the Major Leagues as star players, if at all; however the Astros have been fairly successful in avoiding draft busts. It is too early to tell what will come of Mark Appel or if Brady Aiken will ever sign with the Astros, but the front office has done an impressive job of rebuilding the team from the bottom up through the draft and through smart free agent signings.
The process through which the Astros have rebuilt their team can be done by every struggling team, if the team operated within a vacuum. Clearly the Yankees, Mets, Red Sox, and Phillies would never seriously consider stripping their organization of everything and starting over again. The media and fans in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia would not stand for it. Each town, especially New York, is focused solely on winning now. The fan base and media would not stand for seeing a losing team remotely close to what the Astros have gone through for a single season, much less for several seasons.
The Astros have benefited from not being a marque franchise and from not making any monumental draft or free agent mistakes. Bo Porter did the best he could with what he had. He made some mistakes along the way like all managers do. While the Astros march on towards what they hope is years of success and the ever elusive World Series Championship, Porter should be given another chance to manage a team. However this time it should not be a team that is stripping down its franchise to the bare bones. His experience combined with some usable parts should make Porter a successful manager some where some day. The Astros continue to search for the stability in a manager that all successful teams have. Rebuilding from the ground up is a process, and the Astros are slowly moving towards where they want to go, though it will be without Bo Porter. For better or for worse.