news 4 days ago

After Astros' punishment, one big task remains for MLB in sign-stealing scandal

Sporting News — (Joe Rivera)

There's one remaining goal for MLB after the gavel fell on the Astros sign-stealing case.

There have been questions about how to police it. There have been discussions about how to eliminate it. But the main questions now are this: Can you be consistent? Can you make it hurt enough to remove the temptation?

The Astros aren't the first team to have gotten caught cheating, and they certainly won't be the last. There will, some day, be another team that tests the limits of the rules, like yoga pants after a night at the China Buffet.

But if baseball is serious — and it certainly seems to be given the fallout — about wanting to stomp out the use of tech to gain an edge, to prevent a new team from following in Houston's footsteps, then the next step is simple: Everyone's gotta hurt. Every team has to feel similar pain.

MORE: The biggest takeaways from the Astros fallout

Rob Manfred said his goal was to be "prophylactic" in his approach with the punishment, which is a $10 way to say, "I want to make damn sure this doesn't happen again." Well, Manfred may have found the answer with his punishments, especially if the firings of AJ Hinch and Jeff Luhnow are byproducts of those suspensions.

Alex Cora is presumably next on the chopping block; Cora was painted as a ring leader in MLB's report, saying he was involved in every scheme, between using the replay room illegally and banging the trash can to report signs. If the reports that the Red Sox were cheating in 2018, under Cora's watch, are proven, then it's MLB's duty to drop the hammer once again. 

There should be no hesitation in what comes next for Cora. If the current report is to be believed, and the next report damns Cora further, then he's out, too. We're talking a two-year ban, at minimum, especially when you place it against Hinch's suspension for his inaction in the scandal. It's also safe to assume that Cora would fired as manager. 

Is it unfair? Maybe, if the worst-kept secret of MLB sign-stealing is as rampant and widespread as we believe. But there can be no gray area in following punishments for whoever's next. That goes for everyone caught now and in the future.

Owner Jim Crane wasted almost no time moving on from Hinch and Luhnow, but if the details in the investigation are accurate, then ignorance can't be used as an excuse. If Hinch wasn't truly the mastermind behind it — like interviews have stated he's not — he's paying the crime for something others have done. That is completely fine.

MORE: How do you police sign-stealing, exactly?

Because, after all, someone has to be held accountable, right? While Hinch supposedly tried stopping the monitor usage twice, he is still the manager of the ballclub. He is the guy in the chair, the captain of the Enterprise, the pit boss. Is it fair? That's another discussion.

Sometimes a punishment has to send a message. Look at the way the death penalty has been dropped on college programs; sure, maybe it's not the students involved at the time, but it's a lethal deterrent that sends a message to those now and in the future. The parallel to the NCAA's "lack of institutional control" punishments can be drawn, as well.

Maybe, deep inside, some modicum of self-awareness and remorse for actions from Houston hitters takes over, some level of guilt now that their skipper and GM are out of jobs. But that's not MLB's job to decide — MLB's job should be to stay on top of this. And that's why consistency is key.

Someone, unfortunately, had to be the example. Someone had to be the landmark case. It's a bit harrowing and upsetting knowing that there's still some level of "impurity" across baseball, even if it's not in the tip of a syringe. But Houston wasn't the first, it won't be the last. 

But MLB has to have the last word on all these cases in the future. And it started now.