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Mariners acquire 3B Danny Valencia from Athletics

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The Mariners officially acquired third baseman Danny Valencia from the Athletics on Saturday, per reports by MLB.com’s Jeff Passan and Greg Johns. The club will send minor league RHP Paul Blackburn to Oakland in a 1-to-1 trade.

Valencia had a banner year with the Athletics, batting .287/.346/.446 with 17 home runs in 517 PA and putting up 1.1 fWAR in his first full season in Oakland. The 32-year-old was primarily stationed at third base during the first half of the 2016 season, but a clubhouse altercation with Billy Butler in August and poor defensive instincts at the hot corner resulted in diminished playing time. He profiles well in right field and first base, where he might provide the Mariners with a decent platoon option in addition to his right-handed bat. It’s unlikely that he’ll see enough time at third base to present any kind of threat to Kyle Seager, Seattle’s long-established third baseman.

Blackburn was acquired by the Mariners in July as part of the deal that sent left-hander Mike Montgomery to the Cubs. He split his season between the Mariners’ and Cubs’ Double-A squads, posting a 3.27 ERA and striking out 99 batters over 25 starts and 143 innings. According to MLB.com’s top prospect list, the righty was ranked as Seattle’s 18th best overall prospect in 2016.

Mariners’ GM Jerry Dipoto issued a statement following confirmation of the deal:

Danny’s skill set is a good fit for our club,” Mariners Executive Vice President & General Manager Jerry Dipoto said. “He’s been a very productive offensive player, especially against left-handed pitching. In addition, his ability to handle all four corner positons [sic] presents Scott with a welcome level of flexibility when creating lineups.

Valencia will remain under club control through the 2017 season.

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.