Rob Manfred
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Rob Manfred addresses Astros’ sign-stealing scandal at another press conference

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Commissioner Rob Manfred addressed the media once again, this time in Arizona on Tuesday. He started off by apologizing for his “piece of metal” comment made , referring to the World Series trophy on Sunday. He referred to his comment as “disrespectful” and a “mistake.”

Responding to a prompt about vacating the Astros’ 2017 championship, Manfred said, “We’re very concerned about opening the door to altering results that took place on the field. … I just think it’s an impossible task for an institution to undertake.”

Manfred was asked about Astros players being given immunity in exchange for speaking about their involvement in the sign-stealing scheme. The commissioner passed the buck onto the MLB Players Association, saying that the union refused to make Astros players available for interviews without blanket immunity. Manfred almost certainly wouldn’t have been able to punish an entire team of players even if the MLBPA wasn’t in the way, and the union’s involvement wouldn’t have been an issue if the league had taken seriously the complaints filed against the Astros prior to Mike Fiers going public to The Athletic.

Astros shortstop Carlos Correa downplayed his team’s sign-stealing during the 2017 postseason. During Tuesday’s press conference, Manfred negated Correa’s claim based on “statements from players.” The league’s report on its investigation, released last month, said as much.

On Fiers, Manfred said the pitcher “did the industry a service.” He added, “I do believe we will be a better institution when we we emerge from the end of this episode. Without Mike Fiers, we probably would have had a very difficult time cleaning this up.” Manfred was asked if the league plans to help protect Fiers, particularly when the Athletics play in Houston. He pledged to “take every possible step” to protect Fiers.

A reporter brought up the fact that Manfred was hired by the owners, creating a conflict of interest. Considering how Astros owner Jim Crane got off relatively light in the league’s investigation, some have rightfully wondered if Manfred can effectively police the league if he’s in the owners’ collective pocket. Manfred replied, “I feel tremendously secure in my position as Commissioner, regardless of whatever discipline I have to impose on a club or clubs. There is no conflict of interest between my disciplinary role and job security.” That, of course, is not true, but the jig would be up if he said anything else.

Manfred said he would be willing to engage in “civil discourse” with players who have questions pertaining to the Astros’ operation. Many, as we have seen, have expressed anger and confusion over the entire situation in recent days as spring training has progressed.

Ultimately, this press conference went better for Manfred than the one on Sunday, but it was more of the same. It was good to hear him apologize for the “piece of metal” comment, and it was also great that he praised Fiers for speaking out. However, Fiers wouldn’t have had to speak out if the league had been doing its due diligence from the start. The Athletics, in fact, filed a complaint about the Astros before the right-hander decided to blow the whistle, but it went nowhere. We need whistleblowers, but organizations should be acting diligently and ethically in the first place.

The league has considerable egg on its face because it wanted to tamp down the issue of teams using technology to cheat in real time. As a result, the players, the media, and the fans have lost faith in the integrity of the game. During the press conference, Manfred referenced trust being “earned” and “earned back.” Thus far, the league hasn’t done enough to regain anyone’s trust.

Zack Wheeler will miss at least two starts when his wife gives birth

Zack Wheeler miss starts
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Per The Athletic’s Matt Gelb, Phillies starter Zack Wheeler will miss at least two starts when his wife goes into labor and gives birth to their first child, expected to be later this month. Wheeler, in fact, is not sure if he will return to play at all once their child is born.

Wheeler said, “We just have to see how things are here at the field and at the stadium. I’m happy with what I see so far. But things could change, especially once our baby’s born. I always think about what’s going on around me. Is it safe? Is it OK? Literally every single day. I have to just ask myself that. I’m going to continue to keep asking myself that every day.”

Wheeler, 30, inked a five-year, $118 million contract with the Phillies in December. He is slated for the No. 2 spot in the rotation behind Aaron Nola. Last season, with the Mets, Wheeler posted a 3.96 ERA with 195 strikeouts and 50 walks over 195 1/3 innings.

The No. 5 spot in the Phillies’ rotation is currently up for grabs between Nick Pivetta, Vince Velasquez, Ranger Suárez, and prospect Spencer Howard. One of the remaining three could fill in for Wheeler when he needs time off, temporarily or otherwise.