It started in November, when Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich revealed that the Astros had stolen signs in 2017, thanks to former Astros pitcher Mike Fiers going on the record. After a 3 month wait where MLB conducted its investigation, the punishments were revealed. A 5 million dollar fine, the loss of a handful of draft picks, and 1 year suspensions for GM Jeff Lundhow and Manager A.J. Hinch. Now, jump to February. Mookie Betts, the second best player in baseball, is traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers in a 3 team trade. The 2019-2020 off-season has been very noteworthy and entertaining, largely due to these two moments. But the off-season also exposed major issues that lie just underneath MLB’s facade of everything being alright
The MLB’s punishment for the Astros was, in some ways, harsh. The 5 million dollar fine is the maximum the MLB can allow, yes. But that total is a pathetic amount compared to the profits the Astros organization made from winning the World Series. The prize pool the Astros received for winning the 2017 World Series was over 30 million dollars, not to mention ticket and merchandise sales generated by winning it all. But more damningly, the people that were responsible for coming up with and executing the sign stealing scheme were not punished.
Rob Manfred named a handful of people in his report on the Astros sign stealing, but what’s more notable is the people he did not name. The only player on the 2017 Astros team he named was Carlos Beltran, who had retired by the time the report was released. It is interesting that Rob Manfred only named a single retired player when his report stated that the banging scheme was “player-driven”. A scheme to cheat was developed by players and executed by players, yet no players were punished. Now, I am not going to say that every player on the 2017 Astros roster should be suspended. I am not qualified to come up with punishments for MLB players. But you wanna know who is? Rob Manfred. He had the chance to come down hard on the Astros, but he didn’t. He said in his report that “With the exception of [Former manager Alex] Cora, non player staff, including those in the video replay room, had no involvement in the banging scheme”. He let the people responsible for the biggest scheme to illegally influence the outcome of games since the 1919 Black Sox scandal get off scot free. The scandal got plenty of eyes on the MLB, but it also showed that Manfred is afraid to set harsh precedent to prevent more sign stealing in the future.
Now, jump to February. Mookie Betts is traded to the Dodgers in a wild 3 team trade that sent the baseball world into a frenzy. It was a wild few hours that involved mystery teams, an unrelated trade between the Dodgers and the Angels, and discussion over what the return would be for baseball’s second best player. But the trade also sent a message from the Red Sox front office. A message that said “We care more about our billions of dollars than keeping our home grown generational players”. There is no salary cap in baseball. The Red Sox absolutely could have resigned their franchise’s greatest player since Carl Yastrzemski and made a wildcard push with the talent they have. But an organization worth 6.6 billion dollars decided to give up before the season started and traded away somebody on a Hall of Fame pace. It is an absolute disgrace that the Red Sox are now trying to sell the possibility of winning in the future instead of winning in the present. If you’re not willing to spend money on a winning product, don’t buy a professional sports team.
This off-season was a very wild, very chaotic, very unpredictable time. But it also showed major flaws in the MLB machine. How can fans get invested when they can’t trust the commissioner to curb cheating, and can’t trust even the wealthiest, most historic and successful franchisees to prioritize putting a winning team together over increasing their already huge profit margins. This off-season was a shot in the arm for the MLB. But it wasn’t a shot of adrenaline. It was a shot of heroin. And unless MLB can fix the flaws in the machine, it is going to burn out and crash right before our eyes