MLB Cheating Scandal and Future Punishment
Major League Baseball was rocked with the latest black eye to hit the game. The 2017 cheating scandal that hit the Houston Astros organization has all of the sports world talking. On January 13th of 2020, Commissioner Rob Manfred handed down the most severe penalty any MLB franchise has ever received. But the ripple effect has not stopped. To recap the penalties. The Astros were fined five million dollars, they were stripped of their first and second-round picks in the 2020 and 2021 MLB Draft, and Manager AJ Hinch plus General Manager Jeff Luhnow were suspended for one year.
The Astros then fired Hinch and Luhnow. The Boston Red Sox have parted ways with their manager Alex Cora who was the Astros bench coach and the alleged mastermind behind the elaborate sign-stealing scandal. The New York Mets and newly hired manager Carlos Beltran have also parted ways before Beltran even coached one game. Beltran was a member of the Astros in 2017 and was the only player named in the report filed by Commissioner Manfred. Additionally, the Red Sox are now being investigated by MLB with Cora the person of interest. It is said the punishment for Cora would be the most severe handed out.
Since Commissioner Manfred made his report public there has been a lot of rumors of a second form of cheating the Astros and maybe other players were involved with. This consists of players wearing a wire and getting buzzed a code letting them know what pitch is coming. Despite a lot of speculation, this is something that MLB has ruled out at this time. But in the court of public opinion, a large part of the MLB fan base has been the judge, the jury, and executioner.
One of the biggest issues has been the punishment handed down by Commissioner Manfred. The majority of the world has already decided the punishment has not reflected the crime. But as highlighted out in this article last week on Last Word On Baseball the Commissioner did punish the Astros to the maximum levels he could. If you read the report Commissioner Manfred filed you would know that the five million dollars is the max amount that could be fined to any MLB team. The Commissioner also stated he would hold the Manager and General Manager solely accountable which he did. The stripping of draft picks is more significant than most people think.
Additionally, the players on the Astros were granted immunity for their testimony. The Commissioner stood true to this by not naming any player other than Beltran who retired after the 2017 season. But even if he didn’t grant the players immunity he would have still been powerless to suspend or ban any of them. Commissioner Manfred knew any penalty that was handed down to a player would be challenged by the MLBPA and most likely end up in court where MLB always loses. So why name any player.
This was an unprecedented event in the history of the game. You can count on one hand the other events as impactful in a negative way as this one is. We have the 1919 Black Sox throwing the World Series which led to some of the best players getting banned from baseball for life. We have had strikes or lockouts before which is always a black eye for the sport. Then there was the explosion of steroids and PED’s which led to one of the most glorified records in any sport to be smashed. No player was thrown out of the sport or suspended until a rule was put in place. But it has to this day cost some players their rightful spot in Cooperstown.
Once Commissioner Manfred has finished all investigations you can expect changes made to the penalties for players cheating. For one fining a billion-dollar franchise five million dollars is not really a penalty. After all the owners of these teams are already billionaires. You can expect the amount of this fine to be much more substantial going further. How does a 100 million dollar fine sound? The Commissioner needs to shoot really high on this one. The fine needs to be impactful enough to really get an owner to ensure his team does not cheat again.
International Signing Money
This is something the commissioner needed to take away in his punishment to the Astros. With the influx of international players on the rise every year each team has an allotted annual budget to sign these amateur players. This could be stripped or suspended for a year or two. While the Astros should not lose compensation picks for the loss of players to free agency but it needs to be known that there will be major implications for teams that are cheating. According to the rule currently in place any international player that signs a minor league deal for 10,000 does not count towards the budget. So the Astros would still be able to sign some players they just would be shut out of signing the biggest fish in the pond.
Draft Pick Loss
I think the Commissioner nailed this one on the head. If the stripping of first and second-round picks extended into a third year that would certainly be more impactful? Keep in mind the Astros still have the right to field a team and despite the cries from the fans any attempts to turn a World Series winning team into a cellar-dweller does nothing for the game.
Now, this is the most talked-about issue by all of the sports world. The majority of the fans and even some players want the players outed and either suspended or thrown out of the league. This is something that is just not possible. Commissioner Manfred stated in his report that he could not confirm what players benefited from this cheating scandal or how often it occurred. This is considered by many as a cop-out answer. It certainly makes sense to say that. Surely with the technology and manpower MLB has every single game the Astros played in 2017 and beyond could have been studied and documented for any illegal actions.
The supposed method of sign stealing was the banging of a garbage can. Why could MLB not determine how often this led to hits by the batter? Of course, there is the other side of this. How many times have we seen batters hit the ball right on the nose that turns into an out? Then there is the number of foul balls or pitches taken that might have been otherwise swung at if no prior knowledge is known.
Additionally, sometimes knowing what pitch is coming does not result in a batter making contact. Mariano Rivera threw one pitch and he was as close to unhittable as any pitcher ever was. Aroldis Chapman and Josh Hader throw over 100 MPH. Even when you know the heater is coming batters still can’t hit it. So maybe as Commissioner Manfred said it is not as easy to figure out as one would think.
The other elephant in the room is the MLBPA. This was always going to be a major sticking point with the Commissioner. Any penalty issued to a player would be appealed and locked up in court. Remember back when the steroid era started, and the fans and players wanted those players suspended or banned. The public outcry was enormous for then-Commissioner Bud Selig. So what happened? During the next CBA negotiations penalties were written into the contract. Expect the same thing here.
As always in negotiations, anything the owners want will come at a price. The price could be an increase in the minimum salary for major league players. This is something that has been steadily rising but now the peak will come much faster. The second thing could be fewer arbitration years allowing players to become free agents quicker. This would be in exchange for a harsh penalty for all forms of cheating but specifically for the latest sign-stealing scandal.
The Commissioner could not punish the players so he went after the managers hoping it would be a major blow to the Astros. Once Astros owner Jim Crane fired his Manager and General Manager, he quickly made that a non-issue. Since Spring Training has not started yet there is more than enough time to get back on track. Commissioner Manfred wanted to hand down penalties that would stick and not get overturned or reduced. He did accomplish that. But overall only the loss of draft picks is going to affect the Astros.
Some fans feel all the players should be thrown out of the game leaving the Astros to field a Triple-A team at the major league level. Once again this is something the MLBPA simply won’t allow. The MLBPA is not going to agree to anything that costs players their careers without specific additions to the CBA.
Once the dust has settled on this scandal, expect a more decisive penalty to be handed down. But all things need to be negotiated. No owner wants to have their star players banned from the league. But the penalty must be decisive enough so no team or player would dare attempt this in the future. Let’s hope the Commissioner, the owners, and the MLBPA can get this right.