sign-stealing punishment
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MLB, MLBPA give Rob Manfred power to impose sign-stealing punishment on players

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Sign-stealing punishment, before today, was something that only happened to teams and their executives. That caused a lot of consternation when the Houston Astros and Boston Red Sox players got off scot-free despite stealing opposing signs. As of today, they will no longer get automatic immunity, however.

Evan Drellich of The Athletic reported overnight that Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association have come to an agreement under which Rob Manfred would be empowered to impose sign-stealing punishment on individual players. Punishments will include suspension without pay and without accrual of service time, Drellich reports.

Before now — most famously in the case of the Houston Astros — players had been given immunity in exchange for information. It was simply a practical thing, Rob Manfred claimed. The league office would not get cooperation from players if they were at risk of punishment, he reasoned. In this Manfred made the analogy to law enforcement cutting deals with smaller crooks in order to get the bigger ones. He also reasoned that, per the reality of how baseball teams worked, managers and general managers have the power to stop such schemes in ways that individual players don’t, and it was thus the GM and manager who are going to get popped. This is why Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch — and why Red Sox manager Alex Cora — were suspended.

The decision has rankled both the public and major league baseball players who were not a part of those sign-stealing schemes. Players were uncharacteristically vocal when no Astros players were punished for stealing signs and many hinted that, if Major League Baseball would take no action to impose sign-stealing punishment, they would take it into their own hands. And, so far, they have.

Some Astros players were thrown at during exhibition games this spring and during summer camp. And, of course, on Tuesday night, the Dodgers-Astros game ground to a halt when Dodgers reliever Joe Kelly threw at multiple Astros batters, leading to a benches-clearing confrontation and resulting in Kelly receiving an eight-game suspension. Many have noted that Kelly, in throwing at the Astros, punished them more than Rob Manfred did. And that Kelly himself received considerably more punishment for his relatively minor transgression than Astros players did for their major transgression.

That, now, will change. Per the new sign-stealing punishment guidelines, players involved in such shenanigans will not be able to cite the Astros or Red Sox’ immunity as grounds for mitigation. At the same time, Drellich reports, the one-year suspensions for Luhnow, Hinch, and Cora, will not stand as precedent either. In all, it sounds like the league is going to try to bring this category of rule breaking down to the level of in-game cheating or fighting, with lesser, but perhaps more routine punishment in the event it is uncovered. An effort to transform what, in the case of the Astros and Red Sox, became a big scandal, into something less sensational.

That’s a good move. As is putting everyone on notice that, going forward, the cheating that has rendered the 2017-2018 postseasons illegitimate in the minds of many, will not be tolerated and will not go unpunished.

Angels’ Andrelton Simmons opts out of final 5 games

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Shortstop Andrelton Simmons has opted out of the remainder of the Los Angeles Angels’ season.

The Angels announced the four-time Gold Glove-winning shortstop’s decision Tuesday before they faced the San Diego Padres.

Los Angeles (24-31) is still technically in the playoff race with five games left in the regular season, and Simmons clearly caught the Angels by surprise, although the club said it respected his decision.

The 31-year-old Simmons, who can be a free agent this winter, is finishing his fifth year with the Angels. After spraining his ankle in late July and missing 22 games, Simmons is currently batting .297 with 10 RBIs while playing his usual stellar defense, albeit with four errors in 30 games.

“At this time, I feel this is the best decision for me and my family,” Simmons said in a statement. “We don’t know what the future holds, but we would like to sincerely thank the Angels organization and Angels fans for welcoming and making us feel at home.”

Manager Joe Maddon acknowledged he was caught by surprise when general manager Billy Eppler told him about Simmons’ decision Monday night after Simmons went 1 for 4 with an RBI single in the Angels’ home finale. Maddon texted Simmons, but hadn’t heard back by Tuesday afternoon.

“I’ve really enjoyed this guy a lot,” Maddon said. “I’m a big fan. This guy is a good baseball player, and I’ve enjoyed the conversations, too. It’s just unfortunate. He’s really a big part of what we’re doing right now.”

Simmons is a favorite of Angels fans for his defensive wizardry, and owner Arte Moreno has described Simmons as perhaps his favorite player to watch on the roster. Simmons has batted .281 with 36 homers and 281 RBIs during his five seasons with Los Angeles, and he won the Gold Glove in 2017 and 2018.

“He’s a thinking kind of a player, and I’ve enjoyed him a lot,” Maddon said.

Simmons will be a free agent this winter, and the Angels have an obvious replacement for him in David Fletcher, who has a .374 on-base percentage while regularly hitting leadoff for the Angels during his breakout major league season. Fletcher has been playing second base since Simmons’ return from injury.

But the Angels haven’t publicly closed the door on Simmons’ return, and he could be given a qualifying offer. Maddon has repeatedly said he would like Simmons to return in 2021 if possible.

The Angels haven’t had a winning season during Simmons’ five years in Anaheim, although Simmons said last week he wasn’t discouraged by the lack of team success. Simmons played his first four major league seasons in Atlanta, and he hasn’t appeared in the postseason since 2013.

Simmons also said he hadn’t been involved in any recent contract talks with the Angels, but he had enjoyed playing for the club. When asked if he wanted to return to the Halos, Simmons said he would have to “plead the fifth.”