A Debrief of the Astros Punishments, and What Could Follow

Following months of questions about what the MLB would decide upon as a punishment for the Astros’ (and more recently Red Sox) sign-stealing scandals, we finally have a conclusion (well, sort of).

The Astros disciplines were first to be released, with GM Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch both initially being handed one-year suspensions. Shortly after, they were also let go from their positions with the ballclub. Most suspected they would get a harsher ban — perhaps for life. Nonetheless, MLB and the Astros organization successfully executed a trial — one that should signal a warning to all 29 other ballclubs not to repeat this humiliation.

As well as the penalties to the staff, the Astros lost their first and second-round picks for both the 2020 and 2021 first-year player drafts and were fined the league maximum $5 million. The Red Sox punishments have yet to be announced, though the team has already parted ways with manager Alex Cora. Cora was with the Astros at the time of their scandal, and also assisted in implementing similar sign stealing methods when he joined the Red Sox, before any punishments or further news broke. In my opinion, the Astros did not receive the correct disciplines.

I’m looking at quality over quantity in this situation. We can take all of the money and draft picks that we desire, but that doesn’t solve the problem entirely. While it may scare other teams from duplicating the actions taken by the Astros, it doesn’t correctly punish the people who crafted and administered the “mastery” — the players. According to a statement from former GM Jeff Luhnow, he states “I did not personally direct, oversee, or engage in any misconduct: The sign-stealing initiative was not planned or directed by baseball management; the trash-can banging was driven and executed by players…” Former manager A.J. Hinch also commented on the matter, stating he didn’t “endorse or participate in the sign-stealing practices”.

It is also blatantly obvious based on the video evidence and accounts that the players are the ones who participated in and derived the cheating, not any coaches or staff. While coaches in the dugout did nothing to stop the matter, it is not fair that they are solely the ones receiving the backlash for these events. It was also stated that Hinch damaged one of the monitors involved in the scandal, which shows that he was not in support of it. But nonetheless, he did absolutely nothing to ensure the actions would come to a halt, reportedly not even notifying front office personnel.

The players are the individuals who benefit most from actions like these, as they get league-wide recognition and prominence for having however many home runs they hit, or the batting average they had, etc. They also are the ones most recognized for being a championship-caliber team, and some even receive contract boosts and larger dollar figures on free-agency contracts. Since the players were the ones who went through the trouble of setting up such a lucrative plan, and benefited the most from it, shouldn’t they receive the highest penalty?

Based on the prospect of quality, the results should be far from what they are. Any and all players who were on the roster during the time period these procedures were being taken place should be given a noticeable salary cut, and the ones who seemed to have been the most profitable and involved should be suspended. We can’t, for obvious reasons, suspend all the players involved — some have moved on from their playing days, and the Astros roster would suffer major issues. But if we can somehow find the players who were most engaged, through eyewitness accounts and video evidence, we can give those players suspensions and possibly higher fines than the others.

It’s just a prospect, but one that can be expanded upon to reach a more finalized conclusion. The central idea of the punishment would be to isolate the worst of the worst and hand out player punishments from there, with each player receiving a specific fine based on their involvement in the process. But this idea is one to hold off on until the casualties on the Red Sox and Alex Cora are settled. As for now, the standing sufferings will do, even if they aren’t fully capable of restoring the destruction caused by the Houston Astros.

Major League Baseball interviewed 68 witnesses, including 23 current and former Astros players. In the research, Commissioner Rob Manfred found the Astros culture to be “problematic”. This, to a certain extent, could be concluded as evidence that the Astros had differing sides when it came to cheating. It points to the possibility that the players and field managers weren’t the only ones aware of every aspect of the system, and the front office’s efforts were subdued with the success the team was experiencing. That would certainly explain the bad clubhouse atmosphere, and describe the team as just going out there, cheating their way to 100+ wins, and carrying on with their lives. No strings attached.

If this was the case, that is a bad reflection on what baseball and its history are about. The Astros, in efforts to escape from many years of tanking, decided to speed up the process by disobeying the league’s regulations and formulating a plan to get themselves to the postseason. There has even been unofficial evidence released today after a claim made by former Mariner Logan Morrison that Houston was even cheating as early as 2014, back when they were very much a bottom of the barrel team and fighting their way through a rebuild, and Seattle was vying for a playoff spot. Morrison even stated that from “first-hand accounts”, the Dodgers and Yankees also were participating in the sign-stealing in their own forms.

While this account isn’t verified, it could lead to another string of investigations and further league-wide punishments. To just punish the front office of one of many teams that cheated or is alleged to have isn’t enough. I expect to see more strictness from MLB after such serious acts. Had teams not cheated, we could have seen the Dodgers break their drought and win their first title since 1988. We could have seen a large deflation of stats from players who benefited from their team adopting a new technologically advanced “skillset”.

There is a realm of possibilities that could have come in the past and could come in the future from the sign-stealing performed by the Astros and their various counterparts, and the sentences administered by the league are not nearly enough to substantiate the severity of the situation. The league needs to observe more unrelenting forfeitures in regard to such serious matters from here on out.

Photo: Tim Bradbury/Getty Images

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