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Josh Bell keys Pirates’ rout of Cubs with three homers

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Pirates All-Star first baseman Josh Bell swatted a trio of homers and knocked in seven runs, helping his team rout the Cubs 18-5 on Monday night. The Buccos amassed 23 hits of which 12 went for extra bases. Four of those extra-base hits came in the form of Adam Frazier doubles.

Bell now has a .308/.381/.654 batting line with 25 home runs, 77 RBI, and 65 runs scored in 362 plate appearances just past the halfway point of the season. I just can’t help but think about that anonymous scout who, for some reason, decided to trash Bell when he was interviewed by Sports Illustrated in a season preview. Wonder what he’s up to these days.

Bell is the 10th player this season to enjoy a three-homer game. He joins Paul Goldschmidt, Gary Sánchez, Christian Yelich, Justin Turner, Kris Bryant, Derek Dietrich, Pedro Severino, Max Kepler, and Hunter Renfroe. Bell is the first Pirate to have a three-homer game since Andrew McCutchen on July 30, 2017 against the Padres. McCutchen actually had the Pirates’ most recent three three-homer games prior to Bell.

In case you were curious, there have been only four other four-double games dating back to 2010: Víctor Martínez (Red Sox) on June 1, 2010; Brock Holt (Red Sox) on June 1, 2014; David Peralta (Diamondbacks) on April 22, 2017; and Matt Carpenter (Cardinals) on August 26, 2018.

The Pirates racked up 45 total bases, the most they’ve had in a game since their 47 total bases on August 1, 1970 against the Braves. The Cubs surrendered 45 or more total bases in a game just one other time dating back to 1995 — May 28, 2006 against the Braves.

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.