Does McCann to New York set up a Salty, Red Sox reunion?

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It’s the catcher market that has moved the most quickly in free agency this winter, with Brian McCann becoming the first elite free agent to come to terms, agreeing to a five-year, $85 million deal with the Yankees on Saturday.

The other catcher deals:

Carlos Ruiz – Phillies (three years, $26 million)
Geovany Soto – Rangers (one year, $3.05 million)
Brayan Pena – Reds (two years, unknown salary)

The departures leave Jarrod Saltalamacchia as easily the No. 1 option left in free agency, with A.J. Pierzynski, Dioner Navarro, Kurt Suzuki, John Buck and Jose Molina next in line. The rumor Friday was that Molina was close to returning to the Rays, possibly on a two-year deal.

There are also two notable trade targets in Matt Wieters and Ryan Hanigan. Wieters doesn’t appear amenable to an extension with the Orioles in advance of hitting free agency in two years. Despite his disappointing offensive output to date, he’s still very highly thought of and would command a significant package. Hanigan would be a whole lot cheaper, and he’d be a solid option starting 80-90 games. He became expendable in Cincinnati with the Pena signing.

The suitors?

Boston: Might prefer a short-term fix with Christian Vazquez and 2011 first-round pick Blake Swihart on the way.

Toronto: Needs to upgrade from J.P. Arencibia.

Chicago White Sox: Neither Josh Phegley nor Tyler Flowers seems likely to become much of a regular.

Miami: Would like to find a cheap starter for a year to get Rob Brantly more seasoning.

Colorado: Made a run at Ruiz with the idea of shifting Wilin Rosario out from behind the plate.

Minnesota: Could use a veteran to pair with youngster Josmil Pinto.

Texas: The word was that the Rangers told Soto he’d be the starter to get him to sign quickly. Still, some are skeptical.

Seattle: A veteran capable of battling Mike Zunino for the job would be ideal, with Zunino returning to Triple-A if he doesn’t show he’s ready.

On the one hand, Saltalamacchia would seem to be sitting pretty as the only big-money catcher remaining. On the other, it doesn’t seem like any of those teams besides the Red Sox are in position to spend $10 million+ per year on a catcher, and the Red Sox already declined to give Salty a $14.1 million qualifying offer, which would seem to be put a cap on how high they’re willing to go.

Boston’s ideal would likely be to bring Salty back on a two-year deal in the $20 million range (which, according to reports, is about what they offered Ruiz). That seems like a realistic possibility now unless the Blue Jays or White Sox step it up. Alternatively, the Red Sox could go cheaper with Navarro to hold the fort down until one of their prospects is ready.

My guess: Salty back to Boston, Navarro to the Blue Jays (two years, $10 million), Pierzynski to the Twins (one year, $7 million), Suzuki to the White Sox (one year, $3 million) and Hanigan to the Mariners, with Wieters staying in Baltimore.

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.