Where are they now: Jake Fox

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It seemed like a safe enough assumption; Jake Fox had made 10 starts in left field this season and he’d hit .286/.332/.526 in his 175 at-bats for the Cubs. Of course he was going to see additional playing time with Alfonso Soriano being shut down with a knee injury. It was a given.
But now it’s Sept. 11, and Fox was on the bench for the seventh straight game Friday against the Reds. He hasn’t started since going 2-for-4 with the Cubs’ only extra-base hit in a 5-0 loss to the White Sox on Sept. 3. Soriano has missed all seven games since. Milton Bradley just missed one Wednesday. Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez have each had a day off in the span. Yet Fox has been limited to three pinch-hitting appearances.
The most stunning absence came the very day after the shutout. Fox hit a grand slam off the Mets’ Bobby Parnell on Aug. 29, yet didn’t start when Parnell faced the Cubs again on Sept. 4. The Mets ended up winning that game 6-2 behind seven scoreless innings from the rookie.
The whole scenario seemingly has Cubs writer Carrie Muskat baffled. “Fox has opportunity to step up for Cubs” was the headline for her preview column for Friday’s game. That was written after Fox had sat out six straight.
I’m pretty baffled myself, but it’s clear Fox is in manager Lou Piniella’s doghouse. He has yet to prove adequate anywhere in the field, whether it has been his 22 starts at third, his 12 in the outfield or his two at first base. The former catcher has also been behind the plate for seven innings, but the Cubs saw so little to like there that they had Koyie Hill catch every single game when Geovany Soto was forced to the DL for a month.
It’s still hard to justify the current treatment, though. When given the chance, Fox has provided oodles of power to a lineup that’s been surprisingly short of punch this season. Maybe he shouldn’t be a full-timer given his limitations, but about the only time he definitely shouldn’t play is when flyball pitcher Ted Lilly is on the mound.

MLB to crack down on sign stealing

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We’ve had a couple of notable incidents of sign stealing in Major League Baseball over the past couple of years. Most famously, the Red Sox were found to be using Apple Watches of all things to relay signs spied via video feed. Sports Illustrated reported yesterday that there have been other less-publicized and unpublicized incidents as well, mostly with in-house TV cameras — as opposed to network TV cameras — stationed in the outfield and trained on catchers, for the specific purpose of stealing signs.

As such, SI reports, Major League Baseball is cracking down beginning this year. Within the next couple weeks an already-drafted and circulated rule will take effect which will (a) ban in-house outfield cameras from foul pole to foul pole; (b) will limit live broadcasts available to teams to the team’s replay official only, and the replay official will be watched by a league official to keep them from relaying signs to the team; and (c) other TV monitors that are available to the clubs will be on an eight-second delay to prevent real-time sign stealing. There will likewise be limits on TV monitors showing the game feed in certain places like tunnels and clubhouses.

Penalties for violation of the rules will include the forfeiting of draft picks and/or international spending money. General managers will have to sign a document in which they swear they know of know sign-stealing schemes.

As was the case when the Apple Watch incident came up, there will not be any new rules regarding old fashioned sign stealing by runners on second base or what have you, as that is viewed as part of the game. Only the technology-aided sign stealing that has become more prominent in recent years — but which has, of course, existed in other forms for a very, very long time — is subject to the crackdown.

While gamesmanship of one form or another has always been part of baseball, the current wave of sign-stealing is seen as a pace-of-play issue just as much as a fairness issue. Because of the actual sign-stealing — and because of paranoia that any opponent could be stealing signs — clubs have gone to far more elaborate and constantly changing sign protocols. This requires mound meetings and pitchers coming off the rubber in order to re-start the increasingly complex series of signs from dugout to catcher and from catcher to pitcher.

Now, presumably, with these new rules coming online, teams will figure out a new way to cheat. It’s baseball, after all. It’s in their DNA.