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Houston Astros Face Severe Punishments in Sign-Stealing Scandal

After a lengthy investigation on evidence of the Houston Astros' usage of electronic equipment to steal signs in 2017, Major League Baseball handed down a historic punishment.

In a press release on Monday, Commissioner Robert D. Manfred, Jr. confirmed allegations of Houston's wrongdoing, explaining conduct of the Astros' and its executives warrants "significant discipline." The penalties are as follows:

- Houston's general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch have been suspended without pay --  effective immediately -- for the entire 2020 season.

- The Astros are mandated to forfeit first and second round draft picks in 2020 and 2021

- The organization will be fined $5 million, the highest allowable fine under the Major League Constitution.

Shortly after the penalization was announced, Astros owner Jim Crane swiftly took further action, firing Hinch and Luhnow.

Former Astros' bench coach, and current manager of the Boston Red Sox, Alex Cora has yet to be disciplined but reports say his punishment is imminent and will be as significant as that of Hinch, if not more.

In the Commissioner's release, Cora was found to be instrumental in "developing" the club's sign-stealing schemes and was said to "implicitly condone the players' conduct." 

Major League Baseball is also in the process of investigating allegations on the Red Sox stealing signs electronically in 2018 -- Cora's first season as skipper. Boston also won the World Series that year.

Further, Carlos Beltrán, former Yankee and newly minted manager of the New York Mets, will avoid suspension despite being found to have direct participation in developing the Astros' cheating ventures as a player in 2017. The Commissioner explained that despite a "player-driven and player-executed" scheme, he will not be assessing punishments upon individual Astros players. 

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The investigation highlighted one specific moment involving both Cora and Beltrán two months into the 2017 season. The report found that a group of players, including Beltrán, "discussed that the team could improve on decoding opposing teams’ signs and communicating the signs to the batter." A camera was positioned in center field at Minute Maid Park, with a feed planted adjacent to the Astros' dugout -- once the players examining the feed had deciphered the opponent's signs, they would signal to their teammates by banging a trash can with a bat. 

Banging the trash can was deemed by those involved as "the preferred method of communication." Different sequences of bangs corresponded to different pitch types. 

In the midst of this historic scandal, the Yankees were eliminated by Houston the 2017 ALCS. In that series, New York was lost all four games played at Minute Maid Park, including a decisive 4-0 loss in Game 7.

The first two contests of the series were one-run games -- Houston was victorious by a score of 2-1 in both Game 1 and Game 2. In the series' final two matchups, however, the Astros blew the Yankees away on offense.

Houston scored 11 runs in Game 6 and Game 7 combined -- the Astros posted a .277 batting average (18-for-65) with an OBP of .356 (26-for-73). In Houston's three games at Yankee Stadium, the team scored just five total runs with only 11 total hits. 

The Yankees went 2-5 against the Astros during the regular season (2-1 at Minute Maid Park). Overall, however, Houston had a better win-loss percentage in regular season road games (.593 at home, .654 on the road).

After the 2018 season, the Commissioner's Office revised its policy on sign-stealing -- this investigation found no violations, or any similar sign-stealing mechanisms, during both Houston's 2019 regular season and postseason.

Houston now finds itself in a tough spot heading into the 2020 season -- not only is the scandal and subsequent discipline bound to cast a shadow on their performance this coming season, but the club is also in need of a new manager and general manager with less than one month to go until Spring Training. 

Not to mention the club's pitching staff took a significant blow this offseason as Gerrit Cole -- the Yankees' newest ace -- departed via free agency. 

New York will travel to face Houston for the first time in 2020 on May 15, while the 2019 ALCS rematch is scheduled to be featured on Sunday Night Baseball on May 17. Yankees fans will have to wait until September to see the Astros at Yankee Stadium -- expect plenty of boos from the Yankee faithful in the Bronx from September 21-24.

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