Astros Fire Luhnow, Hinch Following MLB Sign-Stealing Punishment, 1-year Suspensions

Image credit: (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

Major League Baseball announced Monday that Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch will be suspended for the 2020 season, Houston will be fined $5 million and the team will forfeit its first and second round draft picks in 2020 and 2021 after finding the club engaged in illegal sign stealing.

Astros owner Jim Crane fired Luhnow and Hinch following MLB’s announcement of its findings.

MLB’s investigation concluded Astros players illegally stole signs during the 2017 and 2018 seasons. The investigation found that during the 2017 season employees in the video replay review room used the live feed from the center field camera to decode catchers signs and transmitted their findings to the Astros dugout, either in person, via phone call or though text messages.

Later in the 2017 season, according to MLB’s investigation, the Astros moved a monitor with the center field camera view closer to their dugout and had players watch the feed, decode the signs and communicate them to the batter at the plate by banging a trash can to indicate the upcoming pitch. According to the report, no bangs on the trash can meant fastball, while one or two bangs meant certain offspeed pitches were coming. 

The report found the Astros continued to decode signs using a center field camera during the 2018 season and postseason, but did not continue banging the trash can. 

The findings named Red Sox manager Alex Cora, who served as the Astros bench coach during the 2017 season, as calling the replay room to obtain the decoded sign information. Mets manager Carlos Beltran, who played for the Astros during the 2017 season, was specifically named as a player who suggested moving the monitor closer to the dugout so players could better communicate decoded signs to the batter.

The report finds the Astros did not commit any violations during the 2019 season or postseason.

While the investigation concluded the sign-stealing processes were player-driven, it also concluded Luhnow and Hinch did nothing to stop them. According to the report, Luhnow denied knowledge of the scheme, but “there is both documentary and testimonial evidence that indicates Luhnow had some knowledge of those efforts, but he did not give it much attention.”

Hinch admitted to investigators that he knew of the scheme and did nothing to stop it. As such, Commissioner Rob Manfred suspended both Hinch and Luhnow without pay through the completion of the 2020 World Series. Luhnow and Hinch are prohibited from conducting any business on behalf of the Astros or any other club and are banned from all Major League, Minor League and Spring Training facilities. Any violations will result in them being placed on the permanently ineligible list.

The $5 million fine is the maximum allowable amount under the Collective Bargaining Agreement, and the Astros will not have a first-round pick again until 2022. The four draft picks are the most MLB has ever stripped from a team as punishment for a rules violation, according to Baseball America found Allan Simpson. 

The report also covered the conduct of former assistant general manager Brandon Taubman, who was fired after his postgame outburst directed at female reporters during the 2019 postseason. Taubman was also declared ineligible to work for any MLB team for the 2020 season and is eligible to apply to the Commissioner for reinstatement after the conclusion of the World Series. Any violation will also result in his placement on the permanently ineligible list.

The investigation into sign-stealing, combined with Taubman’s conduct, led Commissioner Manfred to issue a strong rebuke of the Astros’ workplace culture under Luhnow.

“…it is very clear to me that the culture of the baseball operations department, manifesting itself in the way its employees are treated, its relations with other Clubs, and its relations with the media and external stakeholders, has been very problematic,” Manfred said in the report. “At least in my view, the baseball operations department’s insular culture – one that valued and rewarded results over other considerations, combined with a staff of individuals who often lacked direction or sufficient oversight, led, at least in part, to the Brandon Taubman incident, the Club’s admittedly inappropriate and inaccurate response to that incident, and finally, to an environment that allowed the conduct described in this report to have occurred.”

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