On Monday afternoon Major League Baseball unleashed the punishment on the Houston Astros for sign stealing using electronic means during the 2017 regular and postseason. Here’s the punishment:

  • The Houston Astros were fined $5,000,000.
  • Manager AJ Hinch has been suspended for the 2020 season.
  • General Manager Jeff Luhnow has been suspended for the 2020 season.
  • Now fired Assistant General Manager Brandon Taubman has been placed on baseball’s ineligible list. While the punishment was announced at the same time, it was not related to the sign-stealing scandal. His punishment was for “his inappropriate conduct toward one or more female reporters at the American League Championship Series postgame celebration.”
  • The Houston Astros forfeit their 1st and 2nd round draft picks in the 2020 and 2021 drafts.

At the press conference on Monday owner Jim Crane announced that both AJ Hinch and Jeff Luhnow have been fired. He stated that the decision was made following the release of Major League Baseball’s decision and report on the events.

Let’s start by noting that the fine of $5,000,000 is the maximum allowed under the current rules. Even if Rob Manfred wanted to fine them more, he couldn’t. But let’s talk about the money before diving into anything else. From a pure cash standpoint, this deal may be a break-even scenario, or even a come-out-ahead scenario for the Houston Astros. The draft picks that they have to give up in the next two seasons have slot values of somewhere in the $5.5-6.5M range depending on just where the Astros draft. If they are a really bad team then the value of those picks will rise significantly.

With regards to the money, because of what happened it’s unknown at this point if they still have to pay Luhnow and Hinch through their contracts. If not, then paying their replacements probably saves them some money, too. If they do have to still pay them, then additional money to pay their replacements cuts into things here.

And, of course, none of this gets into the unspecified amount of money that the team made due to actually advancing in the playoffs, winning the World Series, and the future tickets sold based around all of that. Those numbers are probably 20-fold over the amount of the fine. Not to mention that since the start of 2017 the franchise value of the Astros has increased by $500,000,000.

So, let’s head back to the question in the headline: Is cheating worth it? If you ask AJ Hinch or Jeff Luhnow now, rather than 48 hours ago, they would probably say yes. Today their answer could be a little bit different given that it has ultimately cost them their jobs, and possible future employment in baseball. We’ll have to wait and see if either of them catch on somewhere else.

But if you ask owner Jim Crane, and he were being 100% honest? I think he’d say that yes it was worth it. And that it is something that he’d allow to happen again if he knew that it would result in the same exact sequence of winning a World Series. They still get their championship and that banner is going to fly forever. You can’t take back that feeling. You aren’t taking back all of the money that was made on that season, either. The franchise value blew up. And in the end, you might make cash on your punishment and have to just hire a new GM and Manager? Feels like a slap on the wrist for the actual organization.

The loss of the draft picks could be an issue in like eight years. But given the timeline of that, it also gives them plenty of time to just overcome that with money and trades.

Jeff Carr’s Take

There’s a line that the Astros crossed with their sign stealing and got summarily chastised for it. The punishments were severe, but warranted… but how severe are they in light of their owner’s response?

The Astros organization decided to fire Hinch and Lunhow, altogether, and move on from this. Almost feels as if the organization’s only real consequence is the loss of draft picks, now. Sure, losing first and second round picks in back-to-back years is a bit of a setback, but with the team not losing anything further (aside from pocket change) it feels as though it will be easy to move on. Maybe force the Astros to start every half inning in which they bat with one out, for the 2020 season? Just an idea.

Most of all, when looking at these consequences, it’s important to remind people that this has nothing to do with Pete Rose. Don’t feel as though that warrants pointing out, but here we are.

Tom Mitsoff’s Take

The 2017 Astros are going to go down as among the most disgraced championship teams ever. Think 1919 Black Sox. Eight players from that team were banned for life by Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis. While the Astros’ suspensions are not lifelong, it’s hard to imagine Jeff Luhnow or A.J. Hinch being hired back into the game. 

What the investigation revealed

We’ll try to keep this simple. The Astros were using the center field camera feed to see what the catcher was calling, then relaying that through the clubhouse and hitting a garbage can for offspeed pitches to alert the hitter that a fastball wasn’t coming.

Much of the previous reporting on who was involved was substantiated in the findings by Major League Baseball. You can read that report, in PDF form, by clicking here. The entire platform was orchestrated by then bench coach Alex Cora. That’s where things get interesting, because following the 2017 World Series, Alex Cora was hired to manage the Boston Red Sox. In 2018 the Red Sox were reportedly also stealing signs and are currently being investigated by Major League Baseball. Due to that investigation, Cora’s punishment has not yet been announced as it’s pending the results of that one, too.

What gets interesting is that AJ Hinch, who publicly denied the sign stealing stuff when accused of it in the past, now says he knew about it and disapproved of it. But he also didn’t do a whole lot to put an end to it. Jeff Luhnow claims that he didn’t know about it at all. Both released statements on Monday. You can read the statement from Hinch here, via Chandler Rome of The Houston Chronicle. And you can read the one from Jeff Luhnow here – also via Rome and The Houston Chronicle.

No players will be punished for their involvement. It’s been reported that players were given immunity for their cooperation in the investigation.

The Backlash from the Rest of Baseball

Major League Baseball has told other organizations to not speak about the punishment. That didn’t exactly sit well with the Los Angeles Dodgers, who lost both the 2017 and 2018 World Series to teams that were reportedly stealing signs.

They released that statement last night. It seems a bit passive aggressive, but why shouldn’t they be? The Dodgers are hardly a franchise without some skeletons in their closet – they are currently being investigated by the Department of Justice for their involvement in human trafficking. That investigation has revealed that there was an internal grading system of employees on the level of “Egregious Behavior” that was rated 1-5, with a 1 being “innocent bystander” and a 5 being “criminal”, and they had five different personnel listed as 5’s, and another listed as a 4. It’s a very big deal that probably isn’t being talked about nearly enough at this point.

It’s not just the Dodgers that are upset, though. Jeff Passan of ESPN wrote an article this morning that had some very interesting things within. You should be sure to read the entire article, but here are a few takeaways that stuck out with me.

“The impression,” one person familiar with the call told ESPN, “was that the penalty for complaining would be more than Houston got.”

And then there was this one from the Dodgers President:

(Astros owner Jim) Crane won,” he said. “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.

At the end of the day, I’m with the Dodgers President on this one. The Astros and Jim Crane won. He’s made hundreds of millions of dollars due to how things played out, and watched his franchise value skyrocket by several hundred million dollars more. And he’s got a ring and a nice clean slate that absolves him from involvement. The organization barely got a slap on the wrist. I’m not entirely sure what the appropriate punishment should be. I do know that I feel that this wasn’t it, or even remotely close to it.

53 Responses

  1. Colorado Red

    If baseball had really wanted to send a message.
    It would have been picks 1 – 4 for the next 4 years.
    No international signing above 10K
    and declare the top 10 prospects Free Agents.
    And life long ban for the GM and Manager, and the Bosox manager.

    • RojoBenjy

      In addition, they could have tried to force Crane to sell the team the way the NBA made the Clippers owner Sterling sell.

    • RojoBenjy

      Or—wouldn’t it also be a strong message to make them vacate the 2017 Series title? Or sue for the ill-gotten gains from winning?

      • Chris

        Agreed. Vacate it. My 9 year old said, “They cheated to win, so they should lose their wins.”

    • JayTheRed

      I am suspecting Cora is going to get a lifetime ban from the game.

  2. Jack

    If it was worth it also depends on how much you think the cheating actually contributed to the success, I don’t think it is the straight linear relationship you seem to show. Although the organization may have benefited overall the actual cheating has to be done by individuals who in the future will consider the fate of the GM and manager as much as or more than the fate of the organization since it affects them more directly. Ultimately they stole signs which every team does just in a better, and illegal way. Maybe teams just need to stop flashing signs out in the open where they can be seen and move to electronic transmission…or is that illegal too?

    • Ed

      It doesn’t need to be a linear relationship- they cheated, padded their record, padded their individual stats and player salaries and arbitration values, all while potentially ruining the careers of a lot of capable pitchers who were shellacked by a team of cheaters. Plus, they offered run reinforcement for pitchers racking up insane amounts of wins, Cy Young votes… Yeah, other teams steal signs. The Astros chose to push it so they could cheat. Springer wants 27.5 million via arbitration right now. How can an arbitration hearing properly evaluate his worth when he’s called all of his accomplishments into question?

      • Jack

        I didn’t say they didn’t cheat or that they didn’t deserve to be punished. I said saying the team increased in value 500 million dollars because they cheated is incorrect. The primary factors are more likely their great draft performance and player development. They are a great team without the cheating so having that greatness tainted would not be worth it to most

  3. AllTheHype

    I’d bet Cora gets at least 2 years as the instigator and mastermind in both organizations. I wouldn’t be surprised to see something more significant, like 5 years. Dombrowski gets at least 1 year, and the Red Sox likely lose at least the same picks that Houston lost.

    Cora also likely had help in the Red Sox baseball org so the Red Sox suspensions may not end with himself and Dombrowski.

    • AllTheHype

      Dombrowski of course was fired by the Red Sox but that is irrelevant to his pending suspension.

      • Colorado Red

        If he is suspended without pay, he may lose some of the money the BoSox owe him.

  4. Ed

    Cooperation or not- MLB has invested too much into Altuve, Bregman, Correa, etc, to dole out the punishment these guys really deserved. These guys are all well-marketed, known commodities, and baseball feels they have long term value.

    Could you imagine how disheartening it would be to learn that during Joey Votto’s breakout years, he broke OBP records by leaning on centerfield cameras and smacked trash cans? Trash sportsmanship

  5. SultanofSwaff

    Those who were aware of this type of cheating, starting with the players on up are all guilty of abetting a conspiracy……man, think of all the money these players will make in endorsements. Honestly, I wouldn’t blame the Dodgers or A’s if they wanted to sue (if that’s even possible) to have the world series result declared void, if only for the fans.

    • Hotto4Votto

      I’m a little surprised Beltran is getting off without punishment. Knowing he was involved in the cheating, but is now a manager, I’d question his leadership ability and ethics as a manager now. Having a known cheater as manager wouldn’t sit well with me if I were a Mets fan.

  6. B-town fan

    As for the Astros debacle, from what’s known now, they deserve all the punishment and ridicule they get, and the Red Sox should be very worried about Joey Cora. But there undoubtedly were other teams out there using tech to steal signs and the former players that work on MLB TV, “stated that last night”. Those teams should count them selves lucky if they are not fingered in any investigation, and these punishments will hopefully put a stop to this now and in the future, for the integrity of the game.

    • Doug Gray

      I’m not sure if it was at The Athletic or if it was the ESPN piece, but one of them mentioned that there were something like 8 teams brought up in the Astros investigation that who were also believed (by the Astros) to be stealing signs. That will be interesting to see if anything comes from it.

  7. PhoenixPhil

    Somewhat silly suggestion… They used video to cheat, for two years, they aren’t allowed to use replay to determine if they should challenge a call.

  8. Optimist

    TBH, the oddest and strongest punishment here may be for Taubman. It’s based on activity furthest from the game on the field, it’s indefinite, and it’s arbitrary. Worse, it confuses image/atmosphere/culture with the integrity of the actual product. Finally, IIRC, though there were additional aspersions, the conduct punished was for a single incident.

    Finally, is it wholly “unrelated” to the sign-stealing, or is this simply to highlight this particular misconduct, while foregoing other possible actions and punishments? A bit more understandable if that is the case.

  9. Mike Kelsch

    I refuse to let this take some of the glory away from the Reds’ sweep of the Astros at HOME last season. Not so hot without your giant Rubbermaid cans are ya?

  10. Westfester

    It will be a nightly highlight of fans chanting, “SHAME! SHAME! SHAME!” for every Astros road game. It definitely ruins their ability to pull trades with other organizations. Whose going to trust them now?

    Enjoy your trophy, Houston. From now on, you’ll be known as the Houston Asterisks.

  11. Matt WI

    I agree with the Dodger president as well… this was Manfred threading the needle of not overly punishing the hand that feeds him (owner) while still trying to come out and look like something was being done.

    I love that Hinch says he didn’t tell them to stop it, but the report says he smashed the tv screen twice. Twice! What, did he just tell the players he was clumsy with a fungo bat? Twice? But he couldn’t just say- “Uh, that’s a bridge too far fellas.”

    What would the MLB baseball equivalent of the old NCAA “death penalty”? Talk about lack of institutional control.

  12. Redsfan 4Life

    If the Cardinals get Arenado, do the Reds need to get the deal done for Lindor?

    • Colorado Red

      No, But for Trevor Story.
      If the Rox trade Nolan, it is time for a rebuild.
      The Indian’s do not care about Nolan.

  13. Old-school

    Wade Miley struggled badly for the Astros in Sept/ October. Ken Rosenfeld reported ex teammates told him after the season it was pitch tipping. His worst outings he didn’t get out of the first inning against fellow AL west foes Oakland and Seattle.

    Begs the question as to how many resources are used to profile pitchers with the array of technology now available and how often and when is this information relayed to hitters? What is pitch tipping anyway in 2020?

    • MK

      In Miley’s case he broke his hands at different levels on fastballs and breaking pitches. I had a friend Harvey Haddix who told me he was caught tipping pitches twice uring the fifties and had to adjust his mechanics. TV footage was used to spread the word in those days.

  14. Hotto4Votto

    I think the Astros should be given a post-season ban. However many years this went on, they should be banned for double the amount of years. I also think, to dissuade them from tanking, they can pick no higher than #16 pick (start of back half of teams) in any round of the draft during their postseason ban. Also, the profits made from postseason games during the timeframe they were cheating should be calculated and any profit should go to youth baseball.

    • Kevin F Patrick

      Finally… I consequence that makes sense to me. I’ve been thinking awhile. This is good.

    • donm10

      I am not sure about banning them out right but think they should get a punishment in that regard. When soccer clubs run afoul of rules in Europe they are often docked points (wins in this case); For example, Juventus was docked 30 points in the standings in 2007 which would be the equivalent of 10 wins. I think that’s a good solution. If they can still make the playoffs when 10-15 wins are taken away then fair enough. It also assures their games still matter all season for the opposition.

  15. RedNat

    “you can’t take back that feeling”. That is a great line Doug. It has been 1990 since the reds have been relevant. that is 30 years! Honestly if we bent the rules to be in the world series again I wouldn’t mind lol. I want to feel good again too!

  16. Tom Mitsoff

    It’s my firm belief that any time you cheat to accomplish or gain something, what you have actually done is start the clock to have that accomplishment, achievement or gain taken away. Sooner or later, you will be caught. The Astros didn’t lose their title, but their organization will always bear this stain.

    • TR

      I think there is a negative psychological effect on a team with this kind of scandal. The White Sox had one of baseball’s most talented teams in 1919, and it took 86 years for them to win a W.S. title in 2005.

  17. Scott C

    Baseball could have taken back the title, but just what exactly does that do, the World Series they were in have already been played and recorded in history and memory and ticket, souvenir and memorabilia sales. I think Hinch and Lunhow got what they deserved, Crane and the Astros did not. What ever happened to the buck stops at the top. Crane should have been suspended from baseball for a year and all profits from the team go back to MLB baseball for that time to be given t some sort of charity. How about to a fund to help the older baseball players that did not get the benefits of today’s huge salaries? I like the ideas of putting a post season ban on the team and taking away at least 4 years of their #1 and #2 draft picks.
    I have no love lost towards the Dodgers but this hurt any team that played the Astros during this time period. I haven’t read a lot of the other articles but my understanding is that this is only one item of dirtiness that has gone on with this franchise.

  18. Matt WI

    Meanwhile, the Patriots send a fruit basket to the Houston front office with card that says “We feel you.”

  19. B.Isaacs

    Easy No!

    The Astros WS title needs an * added…W/ foot note that the organization, coaches & players conspired to illegally use technology to win WS title in a dishonorable fashion.

    The GM & Manager getting suspended/fired & team owner fine $5M was NOTHING! The Owner should be driven from game & made to sell the franchise…Every coach & player on the 2017/2018 rosters should be held in the same regard as the 1919 White Sox / Pete Rose’s gambling scandal / Steroid era cheaters…And all be disbarred from HOF consideration.

    • Colorado Red

      Overkill
      I would have taken the first 4 picks for 4 years.
      Banned the manager and GM.
      Suspended the owner for a year.
      No international signing over 10K for 4 years.
      And top 10 prospects are FAs.

  20. Lockersocks79

    1. The team was stacked. When you have Cole, Verlander and Greinke leading your rotation you’re going to make it to the playoffs and you have a great chance of making the series so I don’t think the cheating changed the outcome.

    2. Most teams are probably guilty of stealing signs.

    3. While we’re at it having teams that outspend small market teams by 50-100 mil/season is also cheating but the MLB will never address this issue or call it what it is, an unfair advantage. Did having a steroid using Clemens constitute as cheating for the Yankees when the won titles 20 years ago?

    4. I’d gladly take that punishment to secure a few World Series runs and a championship…..but again the Astros had a decent chance of doing this anyways.

    • Doug Gray

      1. The hitters knew what pitches were coming. It changes the outcome of games and series. They didn’t have Cole or Greinke in 2017.

      2. Everyone steals signs. To this point, no one else has been caught doing so by the means of electronics – that’s what makes it against the rules. Picking up the sign the catcher is putting down because you are on second isn’t against the rules.

      3. Spending more money isn’t cheating. These teams can spend to their hearts desire. Some choose to spend a lot more.

      4. They won the ALCS in 7 games. They won the World Series in 7 games. I think decent chance might mean something different to the two of us.

      • Lockersocks79

        It might have gave them an advantage but it wasn’t the reason they made the playoffs or won the World Series. The Astros fielded a great team and I still believe that the team had a decent chance at making the playoffs and the series.

        As far as a team being able to outspend another team, it’s black and white and is clearly an advantage. If you’re a regular, middle class American going up against a millionaire in a drag race and there’s no budget on the car and mods that you have guess who has the advantage! Same with stealing signs and same with having leniency for steroid use on your team. All three of these are advantages that aren’t fair.

        You and I will probably never agree on these points but that’s okay, right!

      • greenmtred

        The problem is that we don’t really know how great a lineup the Astros had because they manipulated the players’ performances by cheating. “Everybody does it” is a common excuse. It’s not always true, so proof needs to be presented and, anyway, so what? Not all bank robbers get caught, so we shouldn’t punish the ones who do?

      • Cubano

        I guess we can never be sure how much it helped or didn’t help, but they continued doing it, cheating all the way through the World Series, running the risk of being caught, so it must have had some benefit. Or why bother doing it? They should not have been in the playoffs in the first place because they cheated to get there.

        To your second point- you aren’t permitted to own a baseball club without having literally hundreds and hundreds of million dollars, several times over. In fact 20 of the 30 owners are worth more than 800 million. The owner of the Nationals is worth 5 billion dollars. The valuation of the clubs themselves are well over 1 billion dollars these days. There’s no excuse for these guys not to put invest some of their money into the team’s infrastructure, to try and make the team win. Otherwise, why dump your capital and team into owning a team you never plan to make good enough to win? They make tons of money on merchandise, TV and digital licensing, whether you’re the Mariners or the Yankees

  21. JayTheRed

    I am surprised that anyone of their coaches still have a job. Cora is starting to get his punishment but MLB will have more to come for him, I can almost guarantee it. Id suspend him for life from baseball.

    Another step would have been that Houston can’t get any between round picks as well from other teams or from free agents signing with other teams. Its going to be a tough recovery for this club no matter what happens.

  22. My Beloved Reds

    The players that were involved in this should also be severely punished. Problem is that it may be difficult to prove. But, they should be punished as well.

    • GP

      Tom Verducci has suggested that MLB consciously didn’t punish players precisely because its hard to prove and that its a can of worms that could only lead to a precedent that they couldn’t control. That’s why Beltran won’t receive any punishment. Funny that Luhnow and Hinch get the punishment because of the theory that management is responsible for the actions of their employees, but then Crane gets off light because he didn’t know…seems contradictory to me.

      • BK

        According to the Commissioner’s statement linked above in Doug’s article:

        – Hinch was aware of the cheating and did not stop it. As the field manager, he has an affirmative responsibility to ensure his team plays by the rules. He had first hand knowledge and didn’t act.

        – Luhnow failed to forward policy directives from MLB clarifying that the exact practices being employed by the Astros were against MLB rules. As the GM, Luhnow was the link between MLB and ALL baseball operations personnel with the Astros. He failed to lay out clear expectations after being directed to do so by MLB. He also failed to act when one of his assistant GMs willfully disparaged a reporter.

        – The report did not find any acts of omission or commission by the owner. That’s why he wasn’t punished. There was no basis for punishing him. That said, the franchise was fined monetarily and with draft picks.

  23. BK

    From a franchise perspective, it’s hard to argue that the Astros got their just rewards. It will be interesting to see if the franchise valuation takes a hit when Forbes does their next review. The real problem is that the damage is done and there’s simply no good way to go replay the games to get to a just outcome. Thus far, history has proven impossible to re-write and that would be the only truly satisfying outcome to potentially injured parties and the MLB fans writ large.

    That said, I think the punishment will be an effective deterrent. While it the punishment could have been harsher, I think its within a reasonable range of outcomes. That Manfred is limited to fining a club no more than $5M is problematic. A heftier fine would have been appropriate. Hinch, Cora, and Luhnow exhibited weak leadership. I’ll be surprised if they get more than supporting role types of jobs with any MLB franchise if at all. Cora’s punishment (and that of the Red Sox) will be telling. Beltran is clearly vulnerable, too.

  24. da bear

    It’s time the rules of baseball change to keep up with advancements in technology. People lie all the time to get ahead; those who want to win the most tend to lie the most. The signs are easily picked off with video technology. You tell a group of people ‘don’t use this information that’s available to you’, guaranteed a significant percentage of the population will go right ahead and use that information to gain an edge.

    What did the Hall of Famer elect Bill Cowher say or infer about Bill Belichick and the numerous cheating scandals the Pats have been involved in? If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying….or something to that effect.

    Baseball should make all forms of espionage and subterfuge legal with regards to stealing signs. That way everybody deals with the expectation that the other team can read your signs and relay that information accordingly, and it’s upon the pitcher and catcher to outwit their opponents with better coded communications.

    The same scenario presents itself with PEDs. Tell everyone it’s okay to use whatever technology and knowledge exists to help or enhance your body. Make it legal. That way you don’t have some people violating the rules taking advantage of those who follow the rules. At the same time spell out the health risks involved with utilizing whatever substances are at one’s disposal for performance enhancing so the players can make an informed decision.

  25. Steve Schoenbaechler

    Many say yes. I say no, with a caveat or two. Given what punishments the Astros got, if those were the punishments, and I haven’t won a playoff series for almost 30 years, like the Reds, I would have to consider it at minimum.

    I feel the Astros WS title should be vacated. Something more permanent. I mean, Pete got lifetime, permanent. And, he never cheated. The Astros cheated, and they are still allowed to keep their title?

    That’s what MLB is telling everyone. It’s better to cheat than to bet.