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.