Though the Phillies, at long last, reached .500 for the first time since June 7, one would think most signs point to the team being sellers at the deadline. Yesterday, they lost center fielder Ben Revere to a broken foot and he will be sidelined for six to eight weeks. They have a few soon-to-be free agents. The Minor League system is still a little light on legitimate talent. They also rank among the bottom-ten in baseball in run differential at -45.
On the subject of improving the roster, GM Ruben Amaro asked rhetorically, “How do I do it? I don’t know. We’ll find out. I’m the GM. I’m supposed to be able to do this stuff I guess.”
Amaro told the media prior to this afternoon’s first-half finale that he is looking for upgrades in center field and in the bullpen. He said, “we’ll probably be looking for a centerfielder if there’s one that’s available. I don’t know if there’s one available or one that will be an upgrade from what we have right now with John [Mayberry] being out there.”
As it turned out, Mayberry helped the Phillies walk off in today’s first-half finale against the White Sox with an RBI single up the middle in the tenth inning. It was the third extra inning game the two teams had played in a 36-hour period. (Per Jayson Stark, it’s the first time all three games of a series went extras since the Athletics and White Sox did it May 11-13, 2011.) The Phillies emerged victorious in two of them and finish the ten-game homestand — which Amaro explicitly was using as a barometer for the team’s buyer or seller status — at 7-3. The Braves lost to the Reds, so the Phillies will enter the first half six games behind in third place.
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.