Rays get Ryan Hanigan from Reds, Heath Bell from Diamondbacks in three-team deal

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UPDATE: Not only are the Rays getting Hanigan from the Reds as their new starting catcher, Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic reports that they’re also getting reliever Heath Bell from the Diamondbacks as part of a three-team trade.

Bell has become sort of a punchline in recent years, but he was quietly fairly effective for Arizona with a 4.11 ERA and 72/16 K/BB ratio in 66 innings. He served up too many homers, but the bat-missing and control are certainly enough to think he can give the Rays some solid innings.

Rosenthal says the rest of the three-team swap includes the Diamondbacks getting Single-A right-hander Justin Choate and a player to be named later from the Rays and the Reds getting left-hander David Holmberg–a decent prospect who made his MLB debut in August–from the Diamondbacks. And of course there’s money changing hands to pay for Bell’s salary.

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Tampa Bay just re-signed Jose Molina to a two-year, $4.5 million deal, but the Rays aren’t done at catcher. Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com reports that they’re acquiring Ryan Hanigan from the Reds.

Hanigan has long been underrated because of his excellent on-base skills, but he hit just .198 in 75 games this year at age 32. However, he posted an on-base percentage above .350 in each of the previous six seasons and Hanigan’s career mark of .359 ranks sixth among all active catchers. He also grades out very well in pitch-framing, which the Rays emphasized in signing Molina in the first place.

He’ll presumably take over as the Rays’ primary backstop, with Molina sliding into more of a true backup role that he filled for so many years before getting a bigger opportunity in Tampa Bay recently. Jose Lobatan, who appeared in 100 games for the Rays this year, is likely now trade bait.

This move signals that Cincinnati is ready to hand the starting job to 25-year-old former top prospect Devin Mesoraco, with free agent pickup Brayan Pena backing him up.

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.