- Astros owner Jim Crane fired manager A.J. Hinch and GM Jeff Luhnow after MLB handed down their sign-stealing punishment
- Astros used a camera-based sign-stealing system during the regular season and playoffs of their 2017 World Series-winning season
- A look at Astros 2020 World Series odds and value
It’s a historic day for the Houston Astros franchise, for all the wrong reasons.
After former Astros’ pitcher Mike Fiers confessed to his new teammates that the Astros were using technology to steal signs during their 2017 championship season, the league initiated a thorough investigation.
Today, they came down with their rulings and punishment that is both unprecedented and devastating for this franchise.
Hinch, Luhnow Fired After Season-Long Ban Issued
Major League Baseball completed their investigation and on Monday, came down with wide-ranging punishments that have cost high-profile members of the franchise their jobs.
One portion of the punishment that was issued was one-year suspension, without pay, for both manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow.
However, shortly after the suspensions were handed down, owner Jim Crane announced that both men were fired from their position, effective immediately.
While the sign-stealing scheme that included banging on a dugout trash can to relay to the batter that an off-speed pitch was coming was “player-driven”, Crane wanted to go above the league’s discipline and “move forward with a clean slate”.
On top of the one-year suspensions for Hinch and Luhnow, Major League Baseball also stripped the Astros of their first and second-round picks in each of the 2020 and 2021 MLB drafts and fined the team $5M.
It also has repercussion comings for another key member of that 2017 championship team, former bench coach Alex Cora, now the manager of the Boston Red Sox.
According to ESPN’s Jeff Passan, punishment is en route for Cora and is expected to be similarly harsh to that of Hinch and Luhnow, which has huge ramifications for the Red Sox, of course.
No players were disciplined by Major League Baseball in the Astros' investigation. While Mets manager Carlos Beltran was part of it, he was a player at the time and thus was not suspended.
Discipline for Red Sox manager Alex Cora is coming. It is going to be harsh, per sources.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) January 13, 2020
Another former member of the organizations from that season and current big league manager Carlos Beltran – hired by the Mets this offseason – was not suspended as no players were suspended by the MLB today.
Astros Used Technology to Steal Signs
While sign-stealing is nothing new to baseball, the use of technology to steal signs is against the rules and MLB commissioner Rob Manfred made it clear to all MLB teams that such an act is considered illegal by the league office prior to the 2017 season.
However, the Astros marched forward with quite a unique sign-stealing system that included:
- Employees in the Astros’ video replay review room using live game feed from center field to try and “decode” bat catcher’s signals to the pitcher
- Once decoded, a player would act as a “runner” to relay the information to the dugout, who in turn a person in the dugout would signal to the runner on second base
- The second base runner would then relay the sign to the batter at the plate
- Cora began to call the reply review room from the replay phone in the dugout to obtain sign information
- On some occasions, reply review room communicated sign sequence via text message.
This is all quite damning, on top of the trash-can banging that signalled off-speed pitches to batters.
The fact that this occurred in their World Series-winning season means this thing has repercussions that are endless.
The Astros gained significantly from a monetary standpoint, opponents who were cheated lost from a financial standpoint and the Dodgers, in particular, have a beef to feel wronged after losing the World Series to the Astros that season.
A look at World Series Odds & Value
While they will now be without their manager and general manager and will need to find a fit relatively soon for those roles, we should remind ourselves that the Astros are still one heck of a baseball team from a personnel standpoint.
Ethics aside, the Astros own arguably the best lineup in baseball, and despite losing Gerrit Cole to free agency, sit tied with the Dodgers as the second-favorite to win the 2020 World Series at +600 odds, as per BetOnline.
From a baseball standpoint, I have a hard time seeing value there and it’s not even due to today’s events.
For one, getting past the Yankees on the AL side of things seems rather difficult.
The Yankees have an absolutely deadly lineup that was missing Giancarlo Stanton for much of last season while Cole joins a rotation that also features Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka and James Paxton. That’s a lethal top four.
Second, you wonder who is going to fill out this Astros rotation. Justin Verlander remains at the top and they acquired Zack Greinke at the trade deadline, but Lance McCullers Jr. is coming off Tommy John surgery after missing the entire 2019 season and the Astros lost the reliable Wade Miley in free agency.
As it stands right now, a rotation that has Verlander, Cole, Charlie Morton and Dallas Keuchel now has Verlander, Greinke and a whole bunch of questions marks between depth members and prospects, such as Forrest Whitley.
The offense will be there, but the pitching will be a question mark.
Add in the loss of their manager in a big-time shakeup of the organization from what has been a turbulent last few months for an organization that also fired assistant GM Brandon Tauchman – who was also suspended today – and there seems to be dwindling value in a team with triple-digit odds to win the 2020 World Series.