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Pirates acquire Chris Archer from the Rays

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The Tampa Bay Rays have traded starter Chris Archer to the Pittsburgh Pirates. In return they are getting pitcher Tyler Glasnow, outfielder Austin Meadows and a player to be named later. 

Archer, 29, is 2-5 with a 4.31 ERA and a K/BB ratio of 102/31 over 96 innings in 17 starts on the year. Taht’s somewhat underwhelming compared to his usual level of performance, but he’s got a 2.70 ERA over his last 43.1 innings after being activated from the disabled list following an abdominal strain that took a good while to heal. His longer-term track record is far better, of course — he’s a two-time All-Star who was one of the most reliable starters in all of baseball between 2014 and 2018 — and he’s under team control through 2021.

While the Pirates are currently out of playoff position, in third place in the NL Central, they have played much better baseball of late and are in striking distance of the second Wild Card, sitting 3.5 games back of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Of course, since Archer is under team control, the move could be viewed as both a win-now and win-in-the-future kind of a deal for the Pirates.

They are paying a steep price for the privilege of Archer’s services, however. Many believe that Glasnow, in his third season in the bigs, is on the brink of a breakthrough, combining high velocity and an excellent curveball and offspeed pitch. He has come out of the bullpen exclusively this season, but some have compared him to Trevor Bauer as far as his potential goes. Which, fine, you never know, but he’s certainly capable of being a good one.

Meadows is a rookie and he’s doing pretty well in his debut campaign, hitting .292/.327/.468 with five homers in 165 plate appearances. He was the Pirates’ first round pick in 2013 and won the Rookie of the Month award in May.

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.