MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred acknowledged that the league's investigation into the Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal will not just involve the 2017 season but will encompass 2018 and 2019 as well.
Manfred has been vocal at the annual MLB owners’ meetings about the seriousness with which MLB will treat this issue. Sign-stealing accusations are commonplace among MLB teams, but former Houston pitcher Mike Fiers blew the whistle and accused his former team of using a centerfield camera to steal catchers’ signs. The pitches were then relayed to batters via banging on a trash can in the dugout.
Fiers’ claims prompted an MLB investigation initially focused on the Astros and 2017, but Manfred took the podium on Thursday to confirm the league will investigate the team’s behavior in 2018 and 2019 as well. Though Manfred offered no precise timetable for a ruling or potential punishment, he said he hopes to have a verdict delivered before the 2020 season.
Current Houston manager A.J. Hinch, former bench coach Alex Cora and former DH Carlos Beltrán have will be interviewed on what occurred in 2017. Manfred asserted the Astros are the only team being investigated.
Earlier this week, a leaked email from a Houston executive revealed the orders to steal signs came from the top levels of the organization. The correspondence, reportedly from August 2017, detailed how management wanted scouts to go about collecting signs prior to the playoffs. ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported that the message came from Kevin Goldstein, a special assistant to general manager Jeff Luhnow.
The largest penalty handed out by Manfred during his five years as commissioner came in 2017, when he fined the St. Louis Cardinals $2 million and docked their first two 2017 draft picks after a team employee hacked into the Astros’ database.
Manfred described the technology-enabled sign-stealing as “the most serious matter” during an interview on Tuesday. He also asserted that he can deliver punishments beyond the usual fines and draft pick dockings if the results of the “really, really thorough” investigation merit such a response.
MLB introduced new rules prior to the 2019 season to cut down on technology-enabled sign stealing, and top executive are reportedly fearful the practice has become commonplace.
The Astros made the World Series in two of the three seasons under investigation.