Alex Cora
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Red Sox penalties are symptoms of a larger problem

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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.

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Marlins clinch 1st playoff berth since 2003, beat Yanks 4-3

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NEW YORK (AP) Forced from the field by COVID-19, the Miami Marlins returned with enough force to reach the playoffs for the first time since their 2003 championship.

An NL-worst 57-105 a year ago, they sealed the improbable berth on the field of the team that Miami CEO Derek Jeter and manager Don Mattingly once captained.

“I think this is a good lesson for everyone. It really goes back to the players believing,” Mattingly said Friday night after a 4-3, 10-inning win over the New York Yankees.

Miami will start the playoffs on the road Wednesday, its first postseason game since winning the 2003 World Series as the Florida Marlins, capped by a Game 6 victory in the Bronx over Jeter and his New York teammates at the previous version of Yankee Stadium.

“We play loose. We got nothing to lose. We’re playing with house money.,” said Brandon Kintzler, who got DJ LeMahieu to ground into a game-ending double play with the bases loaded after Jesus Aguilar hit a sacrifice fly in the top of the 10th. “We are a dangerous team. And we really don’t care if anyone says we’re overachievers.”

Miami (30-28), second behind Atlanta in the NL East, became the first team to make the playoffs in the year following a 100-loss season. The Marlins achieved the feat despite being beset by a virus outbreak early this season that prevented them from playing for more than a week.

After the final out, Marlins players ran onto the field, formed a line and exchanged non socially-distant hugs, then posed for photos across the mound.

“I can’t contain the tears, because it’s a lot of grind, a lot of passion,” shortstop Miguel Rojas said. “It wasn’t just the virus. Last year we lost 100 games. But we came out this year with the hope everything was going to be better. When we had the outbreak, the guys who got an opportunity to help the organization, thank you for everything you did.”

Miami was one of baseball’s great doubts at the start of the most shortened season since 1878, forced off the field when 18 players tested positive for COVID-19 following the opening series in Philadelphia.

“Yeah, we’ve been through a lot. Other teams have been through a lot, too,” Mattingly said “This just not a been a great situation. It’s just good to be able to put the game back on the map.”

New York (32-26) had already wrapped up a playoff spot but has lost four of five following a 10-game winning streak and is assured of starting the playoffs on the road. Toronto clinched a berth by beating the Yankees on Thursday.

“I don’t like any time somebody celebrates on our field or if we’re at somebody else’s place and they celebrate on their field,” Yankees star Aaron Judge said. “I’m seeing that too much.”

Mattingly captained the Yankees from 1991-95 and is in his fifth season managing the Marlins, Jeter captained the Yankees from 2003-14 as part of a career that included five World Series titles in 20 seasons and is part of the group headed by Bruce Sherman that bought the Marlins in October 2017.

Garrett Cooper, traded to the Marlins by the Yankees after the 2017 season, hit a three-run homer in the first inning off J.A. Happ.

After the Yankees tied it on Aaron Hicks‘ two-run double off Sandy Alcantara in the third and Judge’s RBI single off Yimi Garcia in the eighth following an error by the pitcher on a pickoff throw, the Marlins regained the lead with an unearned run in the 10th against Chad Green (3-3).

Jon Berti sacrificed pinch-runner Monte Harrison to third and, with the infield in, Starling Marte grounded to shortstop. Gleyber Torres ran at Harrison and threw to the plate, and catcher Kyle Higashioka‘s throw to third hit Harrison in the back, giving the Yankees a four-error night for the second time in three games.

With runners at second and third, Aguilar hit a sacrifice fly.

Brad Boxberger (1-0) walked his leadoff batter in the ninth but got Luke Voit to ground into a double play, and Kintzler held on for his 12th save in 14 chances.

Miami ended the second-longest postseason drought in the majors – the Seattle Mariners have been absent since 2001.

Miami returned Aug. 4 following an eight-day layoff with reinforcements from its alternate training site, the trade market and the waiver wire to replace the 18 players on the injured list and won its first five games.

“We’re just starting,” said Alcantara, who handed a 3-2 lead to his bullpen in the eighth. “We’ve got to keep doing what we’re doing.”

TOSSED

Yankees manager Aaron Boone was ejected for arguing from the dugout in the first inning. Plate umpire John Tumpane called out Judge on a full-count slider that appeared to drop well below the knees and Boone argued during the next pitch, to Hicks, then was ejected. Television microphones caught several of Boone’s profane shouts.

“Reacting to a terrible call and then following it up,” Boone said. “Obviously, we see Aaron get called a lot on some bad ones down.”

ODD

Pinch-runner Michael Tauchman stole second base in the eighth following a leadoff single by Gary Sanchez but was sent back to first because Tumpane interfered with the throw by catcher Chad Wallach. Clint Frazier struck out on the next pitch and snapped his bat over a leg.

SLOPPY

New York took the major league lead with 47 errors. Sanchez was called for catcher’s interference for the third time in five days and fourth time this month.

REMEMBERING

Mattingly thought of Jose Fernandez, the former Marlins All-Star pitcher who died four years earlier to the night at age 24 while piloting a boat that crashed. An investigation found he was legally drunk and had cocaine in his system. The night also marked the sixth anniversary of Jeter’s final game at Yankee Stadium.

UP NEXT

RHP Deivi Garcia (2-2, 4.88) starts Saturday for the Yankees and LHP Trevor Rogers (1-2, 6.84) for the Marlins. Garcia will be making the sixth start of his rookie season.