Jeff Luhnow
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Report: Astros front office involved in cheating efforts dating back to 2016

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In January, Major League Baseball issued a report on the Astros’ sign-stealing effort that refereed to the scheme as “entirely player-driven.” It claimed that, besides Alex Cora, no non-player staff had involvement in the now-infamous banging scheme.

According to the Wall Street Journal, that is not true.

Jared Diamond reports that now-fired Houston GM Jeff Luhnow was presented with a program called “Codebreaker” in 2016 that would be used to decode the opposing catcher’s signs during games. Per the Journal, the program was used by the team’s baseball ops and video room staff to decode signs and give that information to hitters in real time. The program was put to use both at home and on the road. The revelations directly contradict the notions from Rob Manfred’s official report that the Houston front office was not involved in cheating, that the players initiated the cheating, and the strong suggestion that the Astros were free of sin when they were playing away from Minute Maid Park.

Luhnow claimed in a statement after his firing that he is “not a cheater” and that he “did not know that rules were being broken.” Yet he was reportedly enthusiastic about Codebreaker (sometimes referred to internally as the “dark arts”) and would walk into the video room during road games to ask about Codebreaker.  Luhnow denies that to The Journal, yet it is hard to take him at his word at this point.

The report includes some more juicy details about the Codebreaker program and Luhnow’s levels of involvement, but the more important ramifications seem to be about the fact that none of this information was made public before.

The Journal states that the league’s evidence included knowledge of the existence of Codebreaker, yet the league’s report completely omits it and exonerates Astros non-uniformed personnel. The league’s report also somewhat pointedly omits any mention of actions prior to 2017, even though Manfred apparently knew about the Codebreaker implementation and that program’s 2016 origins.

Why?

Why did MLB not punish any personnel besides Lunhow? The intern who reportedly originally presented Codebreaker to Lunhow, Derek Vigoa, is now Houston’s senior director of team operations. For that matter, why has nothing become of Kevin Goldstein, who according to a report from Jeff Passan asked his scouts to point their cameras into other teams’ dugouts? That information became public before the conclusion of the league’s investigation. Is the front office-driven nature of the scheme the reason that AJ Hinch never put a stop to the banging?

Beyond that, what happened in 2018 when the use of Codebreaker stopped? Was it because there was a better system implemented, and was there front office-driven cheating in 2019? Tom Verducci point-blank asked Hinch whether there was truth to the rumors that the Astros used buzzers to convey signs during the interview that aired tonight on MLB Network. Hinch stated that the league found that no buzzers were used (h/t to Brendan Kuty for transcribing the full exchange). That’s not exactly a “no.”

It’s also worth noting that the Journal states that the aforementioned euphemism “dark arts” was used in the Advance Scouting Department’s 2019 budgeting spreadsheet. Is that a reference to the initiative Goldstein proposed, a new sign-stealing scheme, or something else entirely?

A lot of things about this whole story never added up. Why didn’t Hinch ever flat-out tell the players to cut it out? Why didn’t they get the message when he went as far as to smash the monitors, and did so twice? How could Luhnow – and owner Jim Crane, for that matter – not know about any of this?

The picture is becoming clearer now. We still need more information, and the question of Crane’s knowledge of these matters is still not satisfyingly resolved. But for some reason, MLB decided to conceal this side of the story, and decided to leave everything that happened before 2017 out of the report. Baseball deliberately shielded everyone in the Astros’ front office besides Jeff Luhnow.

Rob Manfred needs to tell us why.

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Source: Indians’ Plesac sent home after protocol misstep

Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
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Indians pitcher Zach Plesac was sent back to Cleveland on Sunday in a rental car after violating team rules and Major League Baseball’s coronavirus protocols, a club official told the Associated Press.

The official said the 25-year-old Plesac went out with friends in Chicago on Saturday night following his win against the White Sox. The person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation, said the team got Plesac a car so he wouldn’t be around teammates in the event he contracted the virus.

It is not known if Plesac has been tested since breaking the team’s code of conduct. He will be isolated from the team and can not take part in team activities until he twice tests negative for COVID-19.

The Athletic first reported Plesac was sent home.

Indians team president Chris Antonetti is expected to address Plesac’s situation following the team’s game in Chicago on Sunday night.

Major League Baseball has been emphasizing the need for players to be more careful and follow its protocols in the wake of coronavirus outbreaks with the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals. The episode with Plesac, the nephew of former big league reliever Dan Plesac, is the most high-profile evidence of baseball’s increasing concern about its guidelines.

Last month, Plesac, who has become a reliable starter for the Indians, spoke of the importance of players abiding to the “code of conduct” that every team was required to submit to MLB in hopes of the 60-game regular season taking place.

“Definitely any time you can maintain social distancing is going to be what we have to focus on,” Plesac said July 3. “There are common sense situations, where you see things are packed, or going out to the bars and drinking – doing stuff like that isn’t stuff that’s really important to us right now and shouldn’t be important to us right now.

“We’re given this privilege to be able to come back and play and given this short window to even play. It’s a good time now just to really buckle down and focus on what’s important and work toward something greater at the end of the season and for these couple months, lock in and focus on what we have set for us at the end of the year.”

Plesac didn’t allow a run and limited the White Sox to five hits in six innings on Saturday to improve to 1-1.

More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports