Yankees GM Brian Cashman will prioritize pitching leading up to the trade deadline

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The Yankees have lost four-fifths of their starting rotation with Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda, and Ivan Nova all sidelined due to injury, but general manager Brian Cashman isn’t ready to throw in the towel on the season. In fact, he told Andrew Marchand of ESPN New York via phone today that he continues to look for ways to upgrade his pitching staff.

“I have to reinforce our pitching, in my opinion. I have things that I feel I have to try to do, that I’m trying to do, but it is easier said than done.”

“We have to try to improve, reinforce and upgrade, certainly. We certainly we would love to have some significant upgrades but when you lose four out of five starters, it is hard to re-materialize the same type of abilities with the guys you lost. It is whether you incrementally upgrade.”

The Yankees acquired veteran right-hander Brandon McCarthy from the Diamondbacks in exchange for left-hander Vidal Nuno earlier this month, but their bruised and battered staff doesn’t exactly have the look of a contender right now. They’ll begin the second half with a rotation consisting of McCarthy, Hiroki Kuroda, David Phelps, Shane Greene, and Chase Whitley. Some reinforcements would be nice.

There has been plenty of speculation about a possible trade with the Phillies for Cliff Lee, but he hasn’t pitched in the majors in two months due to an elbow strain. The 35-year-old southpaw is slated to be activated next Monday, so he could theoretically make two starts to prove his health and effectiveness before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. He’s owed around $12 million for the rest of this season and $25 million next season while his contract includes a $27 million team option for 2017 or a $12 million buyout. The Yankees are one of 20 teams on on Lee’s no-trade list, so he would have to sign off on a potential deal.

The Yankees will begin the second half of the season at 47-47, five games behind the first-place Orioles in the American League East.

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.