Former Houston Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow has filed a breach of contract lawsuit against the team, seeking more than $22 million in salary owed under his deal when he was fired in January.
The suit, filed Monday in Harris County District Court in Houston, claims Luhnow was unaware a camera was used to steal signs during the team’s run to the 2017 World Series title, which baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred found violated baseball rules against electronics.
Luhnow and manager AJ Hinch were suspended for the season last Jan. 13 by Manfred and fired by the Astros later that day. The team was fined $5 million and stripped of its first- and second-round draft picks in both 2020 and 2021.
“MLB’s “investigation” actually was a negotiated resolution between Astros owner Jim Crane and MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred that enabled the team to keep its World Series championship, went to great lengths to publicly exonerate Crane and scape-goated Luhnow for a sign-stealing scandal that he had no knowledge of and played no part in,” Luhnow’s lawyers wrote. “The sign-stealing activities were not directed by the Astros’ front office. Rather, they were devised and executed — as noted by the commissioner’s own findings — by baseball operations employees in collaboration with coaches and players.”
Luhnow’s lawyers alleged Tom Koch-Weser, the Astros’ director of advance information, was the only one of 70 witnesses in MLB’s investigation to claim Luhnow spoke of electronic sign stealing. They claimed Koch-Weser stole signs and lied during baseball’s investigation and alleged the Astros told Koch-Weser “he could keep his job as long as his actions were sanctioned by his supervisors, including Luhnow.”
They said Manfred’s investigation “could produce only one untrustworthy source — the actual ringleader of the Astros’ sign-stealing schemes who ‘implicated’ Luhnow to save his own job.”
MLB declined to comment, spokesman Michael Teevan said, and the Astros declined comment, according to spokesman Gene Dias. Koch-Weser did not respond to emails seeking comment.
“The ‘investigation’ apparently did not review — and the commissioner conveniently neglected to mention in his report, the more than 22,000 contemporaneous text and chat messages sent or received by this individual that undermine his after-the-fact finger-pointing at Luhnow,” the lawyers wrote.
They claimed Koch-Weser texted his colleagues “don’t tell Jeff.”
Luhnow agreed to a contract on May 24, 2018, that called for more than $31 million in guaranteed compensation plus performance bonuses and profit interest. The contract called for disputes to go to an arbitration with Manfred or his designee, but Luhnow asked that to be set aside because of Manfred’s involvement.
They said Luhnow’s contract allowed termination only for material violation of club policies, dishonesty or fraud, criminal acts involving moral turpitude or failure or refusal to follow material lawful instructions relating to team duties. They said the Astros in the termination cited Manfred’s letters to Luhnow on Jan. 2 and 13 claiming he violated major league rules, his contract and lawful instructions relating to his duties.
“The Astros’ termination of Luhnow is an attempt — like the commissioner before them — to make Luhnow the scapegoat for the organization while the players and video room staff who devised and executed the schemes went unpunished,” the lawyers wrote. “Even more egregiously, most of the culprits in the sign-stealing scheme remain employed by the club.”
Luhnow’s lawyers said that when Luhnow met with Hinch on Sept. 15, 2017, the day Manfred announced fines against the Red Sox for breaking electronic sign-stealing rules and against the Yankees for improper use of a dugout telephone, Hinch assured him the Astros were not using any unapproved technology in the dugout. The lawyers say Hinch later told Manfred he failed to disclose to Luhnow the use of electronic equipment.
Hinch was hired as manager of the Detroit Tigers on Oct. 30.