Cuban right-hander Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez is drawing plenty of interest

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Here’s your introduction to Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, a Cuban right-hander who is poised to get the next major payday among international players.

Gonzalez, 26, has taken up residency in Mexico while he waits to be unblocked by the U.S. Treasury Department. That could happen as soon as next week, reports Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com. While he can’t sign with an MLB team yet, CBS Sports’ Danny Knobler hears that “about 45 scouts” were in attendance last night when he threw for the Tijuana Toros. The Cubs apparently had the largest presence, but Knobler writes that the Dodgers “badly want” to sign him. The Red Sox and Angels are among the other teams who watched Gonzalez last night.

Gonzalez is older than 23 and played in Cuba’s top league for more than three seasons, so he will not be subject to MLB’s international spending cap. In other words, there will be no restriction on what he’ll be paid. Some are saying he could get a contract in the $40-60 million range.

Gonzalez stands at 6-foot-3 and Sanchez writes that he “has a fastball in the mid-90s, a changeup, fork and a curveball.” He made a name for himself at the 2010 University Baseball Championships in Tokyo and the Baseball World Cup in 2009 and 2011, but barely pitched in Cuba over the past two seasons, as he was suspended for attempting to leave the country. He finally fled earlier this year.

An Astros executive asked scouts to use cameras, binoculars to steal signs in 2017

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The Athletic reports that an Astros executive asked scouts to spy on opponents’ dugouts in August of 2017, suggesting in an email that they use cameras or binoculars to do so.

The email, ESPN’s Jeff Passan reports, came from Kevin Goldstein, who is currently a special assistant for player personnel but who at the time was the director of pro scouting. In it he wrote:

“One thing in specific we are looking for is picking up signs coming out of the dugout. What we are looking for is how much we can see, how we would log things, if we need cameras/binoculars, etc. So go to game, see what you can (or can’t) do and report back your findings.”

The email came during the same month that the Red Sox were found to have illegally used an Apple Watch to steal signs from the Yankees. The Red Sox were fined as a result, and it led to a clarification from Major League Baseball that sign stealing via electronic or technological means was prohibited. Early in 2019 Major League Baseball further emphasized this rule and stated that teams would receive heavy penalties, including loss of draft picks and/or bonus pool money if they were found to be in violation.

It’s an interesting question whether Goldstein’s request to scouts would fall under the same category as the Apple Watch stuff or other technology-based sign-stealing schemes. On the one hand, the email certainly asked scouts to use cameras and binoculars to get a look at opposing signs. On the other hand, it does not appear that it was part of a sign-relaying scheme or that it was to be used in real time. Rather, it seems aimed at information gathering for later use. The Athletic suggests that using eyes or binoculars would be considered acceptable in 2017 but that cameras would not be. The Athletic spoke to scouts and other front office people who all think that asking scouts to use a camera would “be over the line” or would constitute “cheating.”

Of course, given how vague, until very recently Major League Baseball’s rules have been about this — it’s long been governed by the so-called “unwritten rules” and convention, only recently becoming a matter of official sanction — it’s not at all clear how the league might consider it. It’s certainly part and parcel of an overarching sign-stealing culture in baseball which we are learning has moved far, far past players simply looking on from second base to try to steal signs, which has always been considered a simple matter of gamesmanship. Now, it appears, it is organizationally-driven, with baseball operations, scouting and audio-visual people being involved. The view on all of this has changed given how sophisticated and wide-ranging an operation modern sign-stealing appears to be. Major League Baseball was particularly concerned, at the time the Red Sox were punished for the Apple Watch stuff, that it involved management and front office personnel.

Regardless of how that all fits together, Goldstein’s email generated considerable angst among Astros scouts, many of whom, The Athletic and ESPN report, commented in real time via email and the Astros scout’s Slack channel, that they considered it to be an unreasonable request that would risk their reputations as scouts. Some voiced concern to management. Today that email has new life, emerging as it does in the wake of last week’s revelations about the Astros’ sign-stealing schemes.

This is quickly becoming the biggest story of the offseason.