Melky Cabrera
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Report: Pirates sign Melky Cabrera

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The Pirates are reportedly in agreement with free agent outfielder Melky Cabrera, per Ken Rosenthal and Rob Biertempfel of The Athletic. The team has yet to confirm the report, but it looks like a minor league deal with an invitation to spring training. MLB Network’s Jon Heyman adds that Cabrera can earn $2 million with incentives if he makes the major league roster this spring.

The 34-year-old outfielder is coming off of a fairly productive run with the Indians in 2018, one in which he slashed .280/.335/.420 with six home runs, a .755 OPS, and 0.4 fWAR across 278 plate appearances. While he’s been sapped of a bit of his power recently and has never earned high marks on defense, he could be a serviceable stand-in for right fielder Gregory Polanco, who’s expected to begin the 2019 season in the injured list as he recovers from labrum surgery.

Of course, he won’t be the only veteran outfielder under consideration for a backup role this spring. The Pirates will likely give preference to third-baseman-turned-right-fielder Lonnie Chisenhall after inking him to a one-year, $2.75 million contract last November. Chisenhall, 30, missed the bulk of the 2018 season with a left calf strain, but produced a dynamic .321/.394/.452 batting line when healthy and appears to be solid on defense as well. Other options include minor league signees JB Shuck, a sub-Mendoza Line hitter who made it through half a season with the Marlins last year, and Patrick Kivlehan, a corner outfielder who hasn’t logged more than 10 games at the major league level since 2017.

MLB to crack down on sign stealing

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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.