The Houston Astros Deserve Harsher Penalties For Cheating Scandal

MLB handed the Houston Astros a pretty substantial penalty for their sign-stealing fiasco, but with all of the new evidence, they deserve something much worse. 

There has been a major focus over the past week regarding the results of MLB’s investigation surrounding the Houston Astros’ sign-stealing scandal during the 2017 season and postseason. To summarize, MLB found the Astros guilty, and issued the following punishments: 1) One-year suspension for manager AJ Hinch; 2) One-year suspension for general manager Jeff Luhnow; 3) $5 million fine to the Astros’ organization; and 4) Forfeit of the Astros’ 2020 and 2021 first- and second-round draft picks. This was one of the heftiest penalties ever issued by MLB. Let’s look at why it still wasn’t enough.

To begin, we must acknowledge that there are both direct and indirect consequences to the sign-stealing, trash-can-beating, straight-up cheating performed by the Houston Astros. The direct consequences are the obvious; the Trash-stros won a World Series, and Jose Altuve won an MVP award. Winning these titles by cheating is awful enough, but the indirect consequences may be even worse.

The livelihoods of players both inside and outside of the Astros’ organization have been negatively affected because of the cheating. Several pitchers have come forward out of anger and claimed that their careers took a hit as a result of poor performances at Minute Maid Park. Some claim to have been sent back down to the minors after being lit up. Others say they never made it to the majors because the cheaters held onto their roster spots in an unfair manner. Still, others argue their paydays suffered due to inflated statistics from games against the Astros. Perhaps the most egregious of all is a case that hits close to home.

Aaron Judge, our beloved future captain and eternal good guy, lost out on an MVP award to that little rat Altuve. He arguably should have won the award before the cheating scandal was uncovered. Don’t believe me? Check out these stats:

The Yankees right fielder had better marks in virtually every statistical category except batting average (a relatively irrelevant statistic in today’s game) and K% (big shock there with Altuve knowing what pitches were coming). Normally, I wouldn’t put any stock in MVP or Cy Young awards; the writers who vote for them are notoriously biased against the Yankees, and because they are technically subjective, voters judge players on varying rubrics. It’s a moving target really. But in this case, having an MVP award on his resume would have given Judge a stronger argument in arbitration. Judge and the Yankees settled on an $8.5 million salary for 2020, but it has been estimated that this figure would have been well over $10 million if he had won the 2017 MVP. In other words, it shouldn’t matter, but it does.

The official report on the investigation issued by the Commissioner’s Office states that “the 2017 scheme in which players banged on a trash can was, with the exception of Cora, player-driven and player-executed”. So why weren’t any players punished for their part in it? The official report offers only a cop out. According to Commissioner Rob Manfred, “I made the decision in September 2017 that I would hold a Club’s General Manager and Field Manager accountable for misconduct of this kind, and I will not depart from that decision.” This is such an absurd, cowardly, and borderline disrespectful answer to every player, coach, and fan of any team other than the Astros. Why is Manfred protecting these cheating players?

The real answer is two-fold. First, it’s been reported that the players were offered immunity from punishment by MLB in exchange for their full cooperation with the investigation. This makes sense, given the second part of the answer: MLB is terrified of disrupting its relationship with the Players’ Association (MLBPA). The MLBPA is the union that represents the players, and their Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) expires in 2021. The CBA is an agreement between MLB and MLBPA that sets rules regarding player contracts, player benefits, luxury tax guidelines, and other aspects of player-league relationships. The Commissioner knows that the MLBPA will fight any punishments levied against players. MLB does not want to get into a fight with MLBPA with contentious CBA negotiations right around the corner.

So will any more punishments be handed down? Most likely not, but there is an opportunity for the Commissioner’s Office to do so. This past Thursday, additional reports surfaced that the players were using a system of buzzers placed under their jerseys to relay the results of their sign-stealing efforts to the batters. This system is not mentioned in the Commissioner’s report. If this accusation turns out to be true, there is an opportunity for MLB to nullify the immunity it originally offered to the players, assuming they did not disclose such a system during the original investigation. A more frightening notion is that MLB knew about the buzzer system and covered it up in the original report, but let’s give them the benefit of the doubt for now.

Ultimately, most of the damage caused by the sign-stealing scandal cannot be undone. Players have lost out, and the Houston Asterisks have gained tons of money from their fraudulent World Series victory. But there have to be further repercussions. At the very least, key players must be suspended. Michael Kay suggested that if the allegations about the buzzer system turn out to be true, the players involved should be banned for life, with the opportunity to request reinstatement in two years. This could be possible if the players not involved stand up to the MLBPA and implore them not to defend the cheaters. Judging by the response from players on Twitter, this doesn’t seem out of the realm of possibilities.

Beyond that, MLB needs to vacate the World Series title and Altuve’s MVP, and at the very least award the MVP to Houston’s infamous trash can. This will be a major deterrent from teams cheating in the future. In addition, Astros’ owner Jim Crane should be punished severely. A $5 million fine is nothing to a person of his stature; let’s see something more in the realm of $50 million. Again, we’re trying to prevent this from happening again.

The penalties issued to the Astros have been nothing more than a slap on the wrist. I believe I’m not alone in hoping a harsher punishment is coming. Whatever happens, one thing is for sure. Everyone knows that the Houston Astros have never won a World Series.

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