Alex Cora
Getty Images

Red Sox penalties are symptoms of a larger problem

29 Comments

Rob Manfred and MLB again announced that they were shocked (shocked!) to find gambling going on in this establishment when they lightly tapped the Red Sox on the wrist for cheating in 2018. The league’s report found that Boston did in fact engage in illegal conduct during the 2018 season by using their video room to decipher catchers’ signs in real time. Those signs were then relayed if runners were on second base, and the runner would in turn signal to the batter. That’s a big no-no.

The report states that video room operator J.T. Watkins was the brains of the operation, and he has been suspended for 2020 and will not be allowed to work in that same role in 2021. The Red Sox were also penalized their second-round pick for this year. Then-manager Alex Cora has been suspended through the end of the 2020 postseason for his conduct with the Astros in 2017, but not because of anything he did in Boston. The league had held off on penalizing Cora until their investigation into his Red Sox team had been completed. Today’s report says that Cora did not know that Watkins was aiding the players. As with the Astros investigation, the players were given full immunity in exchange for their testimony.

So what exactly does this all mean? Here are my takeaways from all of this.

First I find it funny that MLB again claims that the manager in charge of a cheating team had no clue that his team was cheating. Remember, that was MLB’s initial claim about A.J. Hinch with the Astros. Hinch eventually confessed to knowing about the banging scheme during his mea culpa interview on MLB Network.

The idea that managers don’t know what’s going on in their own dugouts and clubhouses is usually a flimsy one, especially for managers as chummy with their players as Cora was. Sure, there was no loud trash can banging going on in Boston. But did Cora really not notice guys running to and from the video room and giving signals to runners for an entire season? Moreover, this is Alex Cora we’re talking about here. Cora supposedly helped engineer the banging scheme in Houston and it helped that team win a ring. Cora then got the Red Sox job and won another ring, and that team was also subsequently investigated for cheating. He concocted a cheating scheme with one team and then had no idea that his next team was also cheating? MLB wasn’t exactly fully forthcoming with their report last time.

It should also be noted that Boston suffered no real losses here. Manfred goes out of his way to note in the report that the loss of the second-round pick could be especially devastating this year if the draft is indeed shortened to five rounds, but what does that second-round pick actually mean? Boston was slated to pick 52nd overall this year, and the best players to ever come out of the 52nd slot are arguably Carl Crawford and Blake Snell (h/t to Michael Baumann).

More often than not, players picked that deep aren’t all that special if they pan out at all. This year’s draft class has more depth than oomph at the top according to one evaluator I spoke to, but really, you’re not losing a ton of sleep if you don’t get to pick 52nd overall. That’s especially true if you’re losing that draft pick because you did something that helped you win the World Series.

Seriously, what exactly is the incentive for players to not engage in this sort of activity going forward? They know they won’t get suspended. Managers can claim ignorance. Yeah the video guy got in trouble, but that’s only because someone talked to the press in the first place. This investigation would never have happened if Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich didn’t publish their article in The Athletic. Manfred says as much in the report. Do players really care about potential draft pick losses if a number of them won’t even be with that team in a few years’ time?

And that really is the key here. This is a slap on the wrist, except the slap was done with a feather boa. The only loser here is Watkins, who is probably just going to be transferred to a different role given that his dad is the scout who signed Mookie Betts. There is no real punishment. There is no big neon sign that says “STOP CHEATING OR ELSE.”

There’s a few reasons why that’s the case. First is that this sort of conduct is almost surely going on with plenty of other clubs. Players alleged as much when all the Astros news was trickling out. Sign-stealing through illicit means is something that happens in today’s game and Manfred doesn’t want to have to launch investigations into 28 other teams. He doesn’t want to send a message that his game is compromised, especially not at a time when he’s been cozying up to MGM and the gambling industry. He doesn’t want to project that the game that fans are watching and betting on is inauthentic.

It’s also a sign that people within the game like the Red Sox. What the Astros did was much worse. There’s no doubt about that. But Manfred was also surely much less hesitant to drop the hammer on Jeff Luhnow because he was a very unpopular figure within the game and the Astros had a bad reputation. Luhnow was an example, just as the unpopular John Coppolella was when he got banned from baseball for making illegal deals with underage players in Latin America. Meanwhile, reports tying teams to underage players continue to be commonplace. Everyone magically knows where they’re going to go on July 2nd when the signing period opens. Surely nothing shady is going on there.

Cora somehow didn’t know that his players were cheating, so he didn’t get any additional punishment. The loud speculation that he’ll be back as Boston’s manager in 2021 has already begun, graduating from the quiet speculation that’s been happening for months. Cora is a cheater, but he’s a popular cheater.

Nobody got hurt here because Manfred didn’t want anybody to get hurt. It’s as simple as that. Teams will continue to cheat until that cheating gets leaked to the press. At that point they’ll be ever so lightly punished not because they cheated, but because they were dumb enough to get caught.

Follow @StelliniTweets

Cardinals beat Brewers, both clinch postseason berths

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
2 Comments

ST. LOUIS — Harrison Bader tripled and homered to help the St. Louis Cardinals clinch a postseason berth on the final day of the regular season with a 5-2 win over Milwaukee, and the Brewers also earned a playoff spot Sunday via help on the West Coast moments later.

St. Louis (30-28) will be the fifth seed in the NL and open a three-game wild-card series at San Diego on Wednesday. By winning, the Cardinals avoided having to travel to Detroit for two makeup games Monday. St. Louis finished the regular season with 23 games in 18 days as it made up a slew of postponements caused by a coronavirus outbreak in the clubhouse.

“You had to throw some of the expectations out the window not knowing what to expect after taking those couple weeks off and all those doubleheaders and so many new guys,” Cardinals first baseman Paul Goldschmidt said. “It was very different, very fulfilling to make the playoffs.”

The Brewers (29-31) locked up the eighth seed and a third consecutive postseason berth after the Padres beat San Francisco 5-4 in a game that ended about 15 minutes after St. Louis’ victory. The Giants finished with an identical record as the Brewers but lost out on a tiebreaker due to an inferior intradivision record.

“It’s fitting for 2020 and everything we went through,” Brewers left fielder Christian Yelich said. “It felt just as good as past years. This year’s a unique one. There’s so many challenges we had to go through on a daily basis behind the scenes, things you don’t deal with in a normal year.”

Milwaukee will face the top-seeded Dodgers in Los Angeles in a three-game series that also starts Wednesday.

The Brewers haven’t had a winning record at any point this season. Milwaukee and Houston will be the first teams ever to qualify for the playoffs with a losing mark.

“It’s a celebration,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “We’re in the playoffs. That’s how you see it. There’s no reason to apologize for getting into the playoffs.”

Cardinals starter Austin Gomber allowed one run, one hit and two walks and struck out three over four innings.

Giovanny Gallegos (2-0), Genesis Cabrera and Alex Reyes combined to pitch the final five innings. Reyes got his first save.

“We’d have been happy getting in as the eight seed,” Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said. “We’d have been happy being the one seed, but people can say we got in if there was no expanded playoffs so that’s even another feather in this group’s cap.”

Brett Anderson (4-4) surrendered a triple to Bader and a walk to Tyler O'Neill to start the third inning before departing with a blister on his left index finger. Anderson opened the season on the injured list with a blister on the same finger and did not make his debut until Aug. 3.

Freddy Peralta replaced him a day after being activated from the paternity list, and O’Neill promptly stole second. Kolten Wong then hit a line drive off Peralta’s leg that Peralta threw into right field to score Bader and O’Neill.

Paul Goldschmidt and Paul DeJong each added RBI singles to push the St. Louis lead to 4-0.

After Milwaukee scored in the top of the fifth, Bader hit his fifth home run of the season.

“That was a big counterpunch,” Shildt said of Bader. “Got them on their heels again.”

THREE TIMES THE FUN

Yadier Molina grounded into a triple play in the eighth inning when he hit a one hop grounder to Jace Peterson at third base in the eighth inning. It was Milwaukee’s first triple play since Sept. 23, 2016, when Cincinnati’s Joey Votto lined out to first base. Molina was also the last Cardinals player to hit into a triple play when he grounded out to third base at Boston on Aug. 15, 2017.

TRAINING ROOM

Brewers: Counsell said it was too early to prognosticate Anderson’s status after departing with the blister.

Cardinals: St. Louis president of baseball operations John Mozeliak announced that RHP Dakota Hudson will have Tommy John surgery on his right elbow Monday. Hudson went 3-2 with a 2.77 ERA in eight starts before leaving his start on Sept. 17 at Pittsburgh with right elbow discomfort after two innings.

UP NEXT

Brewers: The Brewers head to Los Angeles and will likely be without two of their top starters in Anderson and Corbin Burnes, who sustained a left oblique injury on Thursday.

Cardinals: This will be the fourth postseason series between St. Louis and San Diego, who faced each other in 1996, 2005, and 2006 in the Division Series.