Robert Murray of The Athletic reports that the Orix Buffaloes of Japan’s Pacific League have purchased the contract of right-hander Tyler Eppler from the Pirates.
Eppler, 26, was a sixth round draft pick of the Pirates back in 2014. He just completed his second season of Triple-A ball, going 13-6 with a 3.59 ERA but with a relatively low strikeout rate that, in this day and age, is the difference between being a big leaguer and becoming the mayor of Indianapolis (or whatever Triple-A town is applicable). He was left off the Pirates’ 40-man roster and went unselected in the Rule 5 draft, so it would seem that no other big league team considers him big league material either.
That’s not great for Eppler, but having the chance to go to play in Japan, where pitchers with his stuff are a bit more valued, is not a bad fallback. He’ll likely make more money there than he would even if he somehow got a callup here. And, hey, it’s always better to be appreciated, right?
We’ve had a couple of notable incidents of sign stealing in Major League Baseball over the past couple of years. Most famously, the Red Sox were found to be using Apple Watches of all things to relay signs spied via video feed. Sports Illustrated reported yesterday that there have been other less-publicized and unpublicized incidents as well, mostly with in-house TV cameras — as opposed to network TV cameras — stationed in the outfield and trained on catchers, for the specific purpose of stealing signs.
As such, SI reports, Major League Baseball is cracking down beginning this year. Within the next couple weeks an already-drafted and circulated rule will take effect which will (a) ban in-house outfield cameras from foul pole to foul pole; (b) will limit live broadcasts available to teams to the team’s replay official only, and the replay official will be watched by a league official to keep them from relaying signs to the team; and (c) other TV monitors that are available to the clubs will be on an eight-second delay to prevent real-time sign stealing. There will likewise be limits on TV monitors showing the game feed in certain places like tunnels and clubhouses.
Penalties for violation of the rules will include the forfeiting of draft picks and/or international spending money. General managers will have to sign a document in which they swear they know of know sign-stealing schemes.
As was the case when the Apple Watch incident came up, there will not be any new rules regarding old fashioned sign stealing by runners on second base or what have you, as that is viewed as part of the game. Only the technology-aided sign stealing that has become more prominent in recent years — but which has, of course, existed in other forms for a very, very long time — is subject to the crackdown.
While gamesmanship of one form or another has always been part of baseball, the current wave of sign-stealing is seen as a pace-of-play issue just as much as a fairness issue. Because of the actual sign-stealing — and because of paranoia that any opponent could be stealing signs — clubs have gone to far more elaborate and constantly changing sign protocols. This requires mound meetings and pitchers coming off the rubber in order to re-start the increasingly complex series of signs from dugout to catcher and from catcher to pitcher.
Now, presumably, with these new rules coming online, teams will figure out a new way to cheat. It’s baseball, after all. It’s in their DNA.