Speaking at his annual preseason press conference, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred discussed the league's investigation into the Astros' illicit sign-stealing operation and the reactions to what has turned into one of the largest scandals in baseball history.
One of the most prevalent questions in the aftermath of the investigation is whether the Astros continued to cheat in 2019 with the help of wearable buzzers to relay stolen signs to hitters. When asked of his knowledge of the buzzers, Manfred did admit he isn't 100% sure Houston players didn't use them throughout the 2019 season. However, he said it was "hard to figure out" why the players would lie about those allegations, considering he had granted them immunity and they had been honest about sign stealing in 2017 and 2018.
"The players were candid about 2017 and the fact that they violated the rules in 2017," Manfred said. "They were candid, chapter in verse, consistent that rules were violated in 2018. And they were equally consistent in the denials, and everybody, every single witness in the denials, about this buzzer allegation.
"I think in my own mind, it was hard for me to figure out, given that they were immune, why they would be truthful, admit they did the wrong thing in '17, admit they did the wrong thing in '18 and then lie about what was going on in '19. Can I tell you I'm 100% sure about that? You're never 100% sure in any of these things, but that was my best judgement."
Allegations of Astros players using buzzers throughout last season have persisted even after MLB issued its report and punished four members of the '17 Astros. Manfred said Sunday the league was aware of the buzzer allegations "before the investigation," but similarly found no evidence.
"We found no Band-aid buzzer issues," he told Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci in early January. "There's a lot of paranoia out there."
Astros 2B Jose Altuve has similarly denied the allegation.
Manfred said MLB did consider stripping Houston of its 2017 World Series title as part of its punishment, but eventually decided against it, citing a lack of precedent and that spectators will always know something was different about the 2017 Astros team.
The commissioner also said the league is set to finish its ongoing sign-stealing investigation into the Red Sox at the end of next week. Manfred declined say which teams other than the Red Sox and Astros, if any, the league was investigating for illegal sign stealing.
As it pertains to the on-field result of the scandal, Manfred said he has warned clubs around the league about targeting players both as a result of the sign-stealing investigation and in general.
"Retaliation in game by throwing at a batter intentionally will not be tolerated," he said. "Whether it's Houston or anybody else, it's dangerous, and it is not helpful to the current situation."
In a sit-down interview that aired Sunday with ESPN's Karl Ravech, Manfred was blunt when asked about the Astros' recent apology.
"It was not successful," he said.
On Thursday, Astros owner Jim Crane, third baseman Alex Bregman and Altuve were among those from the organization who addressed the team's scandal and punishment at a press conference in West Palm Beach, Fla. At one point, Crane said the sign-stealing scandal "didn’t impact the game."
When Crane was asked to clarify those comments, he responded, "I didn’t say it didn’t impact the game."
In the days since, countless players, both current and former Astros as well as others from around the league, have continued discussing the controversy that has dominated baseball's offseason.
Manfred reiterated Sunday there will likely be changes about in-game video usage by the start of the regular season. He previously told Verducci that he has considered making video rooms unavailable to teams once games start. The only monitor available to a team could be a replay screen with an MLB security official standing next to it. He alluded to similar changes Sunday.
The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal reported Friday that MLB and MLBPA are "not said to be far apart" in a new agreement that would help prevent electronic sign stealing, but that it’s unclear how quickly a deal will be struck.
The wave of questions Sunday largely stemmed back from Manfred's Jan. 13 nine-page report detailing how Houston cheated during the 2017–18 regular seasons and postseasons. Manfred suspended Astros manager AJ Hinch and GM Jeff Luhnow through the 2020 World Series, but team owner Jim Crane subsequently fired them.
In the wake of the scandal, the Red Sox and Mets later parted ways with managers Alex Cora and Carlos Beltrán after both men were named in MLB's report. Cora served as the Astros' bench coach in 2017, while Beltrán was a member of the World Series-winning roster.