Saturday, January 18, 2020

Saturday Morning Hot Links

It's FanFest today! Shoutout to everyone who will be at Minute Maid Park today, awkwardly avoiding eye contact. 2020 FanFest Sessions include:

"I'd Like To Comment On That But..." - 10:30am. Mezzanine.
"Hey Look At This Shiny Thing Over Here" - 11:30am. Torchy's Tacos.
"45 Weird Minutes With Orbit" - 12:30pm. Crawford Street.
"Dealing With Other Fans, A How-To" - 1:30pm. KidZone.
"Game 5 Highlights On Loop" - 2:15pm. JumboTron.

*Jeff Passan: Buzzers, Burner Accounts, and Conspiracies - Inside Baseball's Epic Day of Chaos.

*FanGraphs' Kiley McDaniel: What's next for the Astros?

*Current Astros Legend Joe Smith responded to The Athletic's Marc Carig, which said Baseball needs more people like Mike Fiers:
Disagree. Baseball doesn't need whistle blowers 2 years after. You have an issue? Step up address it in house and get it taken care of. (sic)

*Jim Crane told Chandler Rome he wants to have a manager in place by 3 February. The Killer Bs will help out in "any way" they can. Here's McTaggart's summary, in case you're paywalled.

Chandler Rome:
Espada's candidacy could be tainted by his presence on the 2018 Houston coaching staff.

Twenty people have contacted Reid Ryan regarding the managerial opening. Crane is running the show, with an assist from Ryan.

*GM candidates will interview beginning next week.

*Representative Bobby Rush (Democrat - Illinois) requested a Congressional oversight hearing on the Astros' cheating, and MLB's response. And before you lose it, know that Bobby Rush is a 73-year old Congressman from Chicago whose family moved there from Georgia in the Great Migration, joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in 1966, joined the Army, was a founding member of the Black Panthers, got his degree, Master's, and M.Div, and has been a Congressman since 1993. He is the only politician to defeat Barack Obama in an election. Bobby Rush is Actually For Real.

Also, a Congressional Oversight Hearing would also presumably (if Congress is an actual functioning body anymore) require evidence of other teams doing the same thing, which we all so desperately crave, with MLB's Anti-Trust Exemption possibly hanging in the balance. You want the full story? MLB having to do a full investigation at risk of losing that Exemption just might be the best option. Or you're of the opinion that Congress has More Important Things to worry about at best, and Congress is useless at worst. Let's find out.

Of course, there are about 1,329 issues to which Congress could devote its time that would be far more beneficial to the fabric to the country (and I would say this if the subject of the investigation was someone I spend 0.1% of my time thinking about, like the Padres, for instance) than this, but we all have bloodlust right now so whatever.

*The Athletic's Andy McCulloch wrote about The Week That Shook Baseball. TL;DR: The Astros, and Mike Fiers, blew it all up.

*ESPN: How the internet helped crack the Astros sign-stealing case.

*Justin Klugh: Baseball's integrity isn't emotional, it's structural.

*SI: Can MLB stop sign-stealing?

*Billy Wagner won't get elected to the Hall of Fame this year, but he's gaining momentum.

*Dusty Baker is a candidate for the Mets' now-vacant managerial opening.

*Both MLB and the MLBPA issued a joint-statement (presumably regarding Mike Trout) that said there's no therapeutic exemption for the use of HGH.

*Kyler Murray thinks he just might could be the next Bo Jackson.

*Amtrak asked two people in wheelchairs to pay $25,000 for a $16 fare.

*The Disturbing Case of the Disappearing Sci-Fi Story.

*A Musical Selection:



The Hot Links Playlist on Spotify has 254 songs running now for just over 16 hours.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Friday Morning Hot Links

I had a really cool thing happen yesterday and, no, I'm not going to tell you about it. And I will not let what popped up ruin that. Let us also observe that paranoia and conspiracy theories arise out of a place of distrust. And while nobody trusts the Astros, there's an awful lot of distrust getting thrown towards Manfred and MLB. Anyway, just to be on record, let's do this.

*Everyone's favorite YouTube jacknut Jomboy had himself a flawed theory and, since he had a lot of funny Ejection Videos and isolated some trash can banging, everyone went ALL IN

Noted Imbecile Jomboy claimed that there were a couple of tweets from Carlos Beltran's niece saying that Altuve was wearing a buzzer on his shoulder when he hit the Pennant-Winning Walk-Off (and he had five different anonymous parties corroborating it).

Plot Twist: It was not Carlos Beltran's niece. In fact, there's some chatter that the initial tweets came from a player's burner account. Oh, and also that Mike Trout takes HGH and MLB has known this for two years. Sure, let's burn everything down and go back to the days of barnstorming. Of course Altuve denied it.

Jomboy got a taste of the big time when everyone legitimized his spending hours upon hours of watching the Astros beat the Yankees. And now he can just tweet whatever InfoWars douchebaggery he wants to make himself feel better and get instant validation. A great recipe!

*Joel Sherman got a quote from MLB:
MLB explored wearable devices during the investigation but found no evidence to substantiate it.


*Marc Carig said the Astros started the biggest scandal in sports since Steroids.

*Tom Verducci: Baseball is in an ethical crisis.

*Josh Reddick became the first player to speak out about the Astros' Winter of Discontent, saying:
We're not talking much about it...We've got to keep our focus on winning. It's as simple as that. We keep our focus on winning and everything will work itself out.

*The Astros interviewed Buck Showalter on Wednesday, John Gibbons yesterday, and will interview Will Venable today. McTaggart:
A source told MLB.com the Astros would like to have a manager in place by Feb. 1 before the club turns its attention to finding a new general manager.

Dan Connolly writes that Buck Showalter is a perfect candidate:
...Two of Showalter's best attributes are the two things that the Astros probably need the most right now: He brings immediate accountability and credibility, and he's a maestro at getting a team to believe that it is them against the world.

Dusty Baker said he's interested, hasn't been contacted, but "there's a few questions" he'd want to ask.

*George Springer avoided an arbitration hearing with the Astros when he agreed to a $21m deal for 2020.
*Dean Deetz, who was DFAd last week, was assigned to Round Rock.

*The 2017 Astros are here to wreck all the franchises: Carlos Beltran stepped down before ever managing a game. His statement was strong to quite strong.

*File this under, "I Thought This Happened Two Years Ago:" Carlos Gomez retired.

*Alyssa Nakken is about to become the first woman to be on an MLB coaching staff.

*GQ: Why is Putin's power play so shocking?


*A Musical Selection:

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Thursday Morning Hot Links

Let's get this crap over with. Tired of Trash Can Bangin'? TOO BAD. THIS IS OUR EXISTENCE NOW.

*Check the Chronicle's editorial: The Astros Never Let Us Down, Until Now.

*Jayson Stark has an excellent piece in The Atlantic about how the "Take (the Astros' 2017 Championship) Back" narrative is flawed. Stark:
The making of history is an integral part of the fabric of baseball. But nowhere in that fabric has anyone ever dared to un-make history. And as we learned again this week, Rob Manfred was not going to be the first.

*Reid Ryan:
That joy in winning in Los Angeles will never be taken away

*Brian McTaggart reports that the Astros have targeted some potential managerial...targets. It's...it's just...here's the fing list:
Dusty Baker (sure)
Jeff Banister (gotta be kidding me don't let Banny Rooster anywhere near this team I will literally light crap on fire if this happens)
Bruce Bochy (okay, I suppose)
Joe Espada (YES)
Raul Ibanez (interesting, I'm listening)
Buck Showalter (Bruh)
Will Venable (I think he's 24, but I'm not sure)

Espada is the odds-on favorite to get the gig.

*How big of a house does Jim Crane want to clean?

*The Astros players, who did all this crap in concert with Alex Cora, have yet to speak out, but that could change soon. Related, Brian T. Smith says FanFest on Saturday is a perfect time for the Astros players to say literally anything. I know how you feel about #BTS columns, but this is a good one.

*Jake Kaplan evaluates Pete Putila's chances of becoming the Astros' GM.

*Chandler Rome: The Astros' acumen in the draft will be tested in 2020.

*Yordan Alvarez switched agencies, if that's something that matters to you.

*A disgraced former bench coach got fired. Long may he never be spoken of again.

*Should the Mets fire Carlos Beltran?

*The 30 Most Dangerous Tech Companies, according to those who Know.

*The Ringer: Who is Ken Jennings?

*Outside: The Bizarre Bank Robbery That Shook An Arctic Town.

*A Musical Selection:


Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Suspension Reaction Roundup

A friendly gathering of what I'm sure will be a universally even-keeled response to the punishments handed down by MLB yesterday:

*Check out our own Masked Marvel on Manfred painting himself into a corner.

*Jake Kaplan: After cleaning house, where will Jim Crane turn?

*538's Travis Sawchik: How much of the Astros' legacy is now in doubt?

*ESPN has a list of player reactions to yesterday's news.

*ESPN's Buster Olney (unlocked): The five victims of the Astros' sign-stealing scandal.

*ESPN's Jeff Passan: Why anger is boiling behind the scenes about the Astros punishments. An anonymous team president:
Crane won. The entire thing was programmed to protect the future of the franchise. He got his championship. He keeps his team. His fine is nothing. The sport lost, but Crane won.

*FanGraphs' Jay Jaffe: Manfred hammers the Astros.

*SI's Emma Baccellieri: Unpacking the meaning of Manfred's punishment.

*Stephanie Apstein: MLB, not the Astros, should have fired Hinch and Luhnow.

*Tom Verducci: Firing Luhnow/Hinch was the only option Crane had.

*Bradford Doolittle, David Schoenfield, and Jeff Passan broke down what the penalties actually mean.

*Chandler Rome: Manfred went after the Astros' "insular culture."

*Jerome Solomon: Jim Crane's firings set the bar higher for the organization.

*USA Today's Bob Nightengale: The Astros are still talented, but are leaderless and flawed.

*SI legal guy Michael McCann: Could Hinch or Luhnow sue the Astros and/or MLB?

*The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal: People at every level of baseball are responsible for the sign-stealing mess. Rosenthal:
The penalties administered by Manfred...will serve as a powerful deterrent to anyone who considers engaging in illegal sign stealing in the future. But baseball still must figure out exactly how to best prevent such violations from occurring again, whether it's by denying players access to video during games, introducing new technology to protect the relaying of signs from catcher to pitcher or developing some other innovative strategy. And everyone involved needs to acknowledge the role they played in allowing the sport to grow so out of control.






*SI: Baseball's cheating culture is facing a reckoning.

*Yahoo's Tim Brown: The 'High-Road' won't win Houston's opponents any glory.






*Baseball America's J.J. Cooper: How the draft situation will be resolved over the next two years.

*MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo: The cost of the lost prospect value in 2020 and 2021.

*Boston's Dan Shaugnessy: The Red Sox need to do the right thing and fire Alex Cora.

Hinch the fall-guy as Manfred paints himself into a corner.

Some quick, random thoughts about the Astros punishments handed down earlier today.  Of course, AC already covered this in detail.

A.J. Hinch is the fall guy:  Despite disapproving of the scheme, and damaging the video monitor twice, and being cleared of being the creative genius behind the scheme, A.J. Hinch copped the same suspension as Jeff Luhnow.  It seems that this was a predetermined decision - as clipped from MLB's nine page summary:


It seems that when the Red Sox got busted in 2017, Rob Manfred decided to ensure that management and front office staff would be part of the punishment, presumably mostly as a deterrent to other clubs.  I would think this would stem from the fallout of the Steroid Era - MLB was well criticised at the time in punishing the players, and letting the executives and field staff (who were either aware, or in some cases, assisted the players in using PEDs) off without punishment.  This angered the MLB Players Association, and I am sure that the decision in this case was made partly to appease the MLBPA.

The main counter-argument to this is that Hinch knowingly lied or misdirected people when the Yankees accused them of whistling in the dugout.  My memory of this is that Hinch discredited this for the 2019 playoffs, but it may have been that his comments could have been interpreted as dismissing the entire concept of noise notifications ever having existed with the Astros.  I haven't researched this, but it is possible that someone explores this angle shortly.

Allowing Hinch to serve a one-year suspension, then return to manage the Astros in 2021 would have created an untenable situation for the Astros, especially for whomever is appointed to manage the team in 2020.  So A.J. Hinch is fired.  His failure was one of leadership, but I think he wears the punishment disproportionally in this case.  I feel for the guy - he seemed like a really calm, collected, reasonable manager who made a lot of good, sensible decisions.  The Astros will miss him.

Jeff Luhnow:  The Commish, in his summary, confused the issue in my opinion.  He (i) imposed the same penalty on  Luhnow and Hinch then (ii) made a point of stating that Luhnow, in his opinion, has been unethical in his running of the Front Office for a bunch of other reasons.  He specifically mentioned the following...

... terrible place for a page break...

On top of all of that, Manfred's summary indicated that he thought Jeff Luhnow was not entirely truthful about his knowledge of the scheme, noting the following:

And yet, Jeff Luhnow gets the same penalty as A.J. Hinch despite (i) likely underplaying his knowledge of the scheme, and (ii) running a front office that treated its employees and everyone else associated with the game like crap.  I would have thought that this may have drawn a longer suspension.  Or perhaps Rob Manfred knew that Jeff Luhnow would get fired...

Jim Crane is blameless:  Of course he is.  The summary of the report says that about 60 times.  Plus, he (and 29 others) employs the Commissioner of Baseball.  It becomes a massive headache for baseball if the Astros ownership is also implicated.

I am not saying the Jim Crane knew about the scheme, of course.  I am perhaps just a little sceptical in a "the Lady doth protest too much, methinks" kind of way.  Preserving ownership and firing the GM and Manager does not involve serious headaches and forced multi-billion dollar transactions, so even if Jim Crane was the one holding the theragun against the trash can in Game 5 of the World Series, I am not sure the report would have said that.

I have overstated my position of this to make a point, but allowing Jim Crane to clear house in an effort to move on is probably the best way forward for everyone.

We can move on!!  It has been a frighteningly quiet offseason for the Astros.  There has been no free-agent chatter in relation to the Astros this year, and we can probably thank the Grienke trade for hamstringing the club for this upcoming season for the lack of chatter.  But it is also possible that potential FA's want no part of the pox-infested Astros.

The penalties pound the Astros:  These are harsh penalties.  Regardless of how psychopathic you may think Jeff Luhnow is, he is clearly one of the smartest and sharpest executives in the game.  And A.J. Hinch is one of the top few managers in the game too.  The Astros will be without them going forward, which was really the only realistic thing that Jim Crane could do.  The loss of the draft picks is harsh - not only do the Astros lose their picks, more importantly they the majority of their draft budget.  In 2019, the Astros were able to spend just less than $5.4MM, of which around $3.2MM was allocated to the first two picks.  While the bottom of the first round is often not *that* great in terms of baseball talent, this severely restricts their ability to sign talent falling to the later rounds, as they cannot reallocate any of their slot money into that round.  And, to make it sting a little more, the 2020 draft is supposed to be STACKED.  Sigh.

The measly five million dollars pales into comparison.  But that was the most the Commish could fine the club.  I would expect that would be reassessed at the next owners meetings, as pretty much everyone is of the belief that a monetary fine of this amount is simply is not enough to act as an effective deterrent.

The NEXT few months will be the interesting ones:  Rob Manfred has drawn a line here.  It is possible that he drafted the report and decided the penalties before the news of the Red Sox cheating broke.  But now he has a real problem.

Of course, the Red Sox cheated in a different way to the Astros.  As the currently available news indicated, they most likely needed an runner at second base to relay the sign to the batter.  The Astros bypassed that, preferring to communicate directly with the batter via noise, even with no runners on base.  But the Red Sox were penalised for this in 2017, then resumed doing so after they served their penalty.  It is possible that being a recidivist offender will attract a greater penalty from Mr Manfred.

There are a couple of other points that need to be made.  Obviously, Alex Cora is in trouble, and it is difficult to see how he would be employed in baseball in any capacity going forward after this report summary was released.  But the Commish has drawn a line in the sand around draft pick loss and Front Office penalties.  With regards to the latter, Dave Dombrowski is no longer employed within baseball, so he can't be penalised.  Chaim Bloom has only been in the job a few months, so it seems unfair to suspend him.  With regards to the Draft picks, the Red Sox have much greater payroll difficulties than the Astros, and a much weaker farm system, so a similar loss of draft picks may confine them to the AL East cellar for most of the next ten years.

But the Red Sox have a history of escaping serious punishment for transgressions.  The Mitchell Report into steroids failed to mention the Red Sox in any capacity as being a club which harboured steroid users.  George Mitchell held a board position with the Red Sox at the time of the report, which I thought put him in a position if an impossible conflict of interest.  As you can imagine, the New York press corps was not happy.  The Red Sox had Manny Ramirez (since proven as a steroid user) and a number of other players who were widely considered to be dopers at the time, but mentions of current Red Sox players were curiously absent, while the report extensively documented Yankee and Met users.

Where this really becomes interesting is if another team is accused of sign stealing.  From what I have read, it is possible that this all started with the Yankees six or so years ago.  So other teams are clearly likely to have been in on the act.  If another non-tendered pitcher in another organisation makes another accusation relating to the same time period, then Rob Manfred may find himself in a really tough (read: impossible) spot.  If the Yankees or another major team go down (for example) I think the Astros penalties will be reassessed as draconian by all and sundry

This hastens a rebuild:  I am about to do my annual ZIPS Projections Over Time article.  The Astros have a really good 2019 team, even if it has a Gerrit Cole-sized hole in the rotation.  I doubt they keep George Springer after this year, and I doubt Michael Brantley, Yuli Gurriel and Josh Reddick get re-signed as well.  After the 2021 season, Verlander, Grienke, McCullers and Correa are all free agents.  So by my estimation, the Astros will lose their three top starting pitchers and four top position players over the next two years, and I cannot see them filling those gaps out of their current farm system.

Theraguns are cheating:  As a middle aged man who does not exercise as much as he should do, and suffers the fallout of gym sessions for days afterward, I recently invested in a percussive massager (not, sadly, a Theragun).  They are definitely cheating.  I can vouch for that.  They work, and work really well.

I feel like turning the page and moving on:  AC, BatGuy, Jexas, Not Hank and your frequently-absent correspondant have been flicking around a few twitter messages.  All of us are serious Astros fans.  We all felt conflicted during the World Series, and at that point, we only knew about the bizarre Brandon Taubman debacle and self-inflicted fallout.  I have been even more conflicted this offseason - to the point where I have considered giving up baseball altogether - and I regard myself as a serious Astros fan.  This has not been fun.

But now, I feel like I can support the Astros again in good conscience.  A new GM will have "ethics" high up on the interview schedule, and the team will certainly promote better relationships within baseball.  The on-field product is immensely likeable (how can you dislike Jose Altuve??), but whispers around Luhnow and his legendary arrogance have been circulating for most of the last decade.  With any luck, we will finally be free of baseball snark.  Please.

Hey, thanks for reading down this far.  I wonder if AC will turn the comments back on so y'all can flame me below.  But these are just some quick thoughts that I have put together, with an emphasis on considering some areas that the media has not already jumped on.

Enjoy the rest of the offseason.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Judgment Day

The official punishment from MLB came to Minute Maid Park today. It is not a good day in Astros history. Is it the worst day in Astros history? I don't know about that - there have been a lot of them, some of them even as part of this saga. Anyway, let's discuss what we know so far:

The Punishment

Let's first start with what did not happen:

-The Astros were not stripped of the 2017 World Series Championship.
-No actual current Astros players were suspended.

Commissioner Rob Manfred issued the following punishments on the Houston Astros after interviewing 68 people, 23 current and former Astros, 76,000 emails, who knows how many texts and Slack conversations

-$5 million fine.
-Loss of 1st and 2nd Round picks in the 2020 and 2021 drafts.
-A ban through the 2020 World Series on GM Jeff Luhnow, Manager A.J. Hinch, and former assistant GM Brandon Taubman. Taubman can apply for reinstatement after the World Series, and any subsequent infractions could result in a lifetime ban.

The punishment is consistent with previous punishments levied by MLB: the Cardinals were fined $2 million and lost their 1st & 2nd Round picks after their own technological endeavors.

Manfred issued a 9-page statement that began with the following:
On November 12, 2019, former Houston Astros player Mike Fiers publicly alleged in an article published by Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich of The Athletic that the Astros had engaged in sign-stealing methods in 2017 that violated MLB's rules.

Within the first 1.5 pages of the report, Alex Cora and Carlos Beltran are specifically named as co-conspirators. The trash can banging was confirmed. Manfred:
Witnesses consistently describe this new scheme as player-driven, and with the exception of Cora, non-player staff, including individuals in the video replay room, had no involvement in the banging scheme.

After the September 15, 2017 memo circulated to all clubs, the investigation concluded that
...The Astros continued to both utilize the replay review room and the monitor located next to the dugout to decode signs for the remainder of the regular season and throughout the Postseason.

Then:
The investigation uncovered no evidence that Astros players utilized the banging scheme (Ed. Note: Thank you, Rob Manfred, for naming every single Astros fan's fantasy baseball team in 2020) in 2018. However, the Astros' replay review room staff continued, at least for part of the 2018 season, to decode signs using the live center field camera feed, and to transmit the signs to the dugout through in-person communication. At some point during the 2018 season, the Astros stopped using the replay review room to decode signs because the players no longer believed it was effective. The investigation did not reveal any attempt by the Astros to utilize electronic equipment to decode and transmit signs in the 2018 postseason.

The 2019 Astros were cleared, as well. However:
The efforts involving the replay review room staff were mentioned in at least two emails sent to Luhnow, and there is conflicting evidence about conversations with Luhnow on the topic. Regardless of the level of Luhnow's actual knowledge, the Astros' violation of rules in 2017 and 2018 is attributable, in my view, to a failure by the leaders of the baseball operations department and the Field Manager (meaning: Hinch) to adequately manage the employees under their supervision, to establish a culture in which adherence to the rules is ingrained in the fabric of the organization, and to stop bad behavior as soon as it occurred.

Regarding the 2017 Astros' player involvement:
Most of the position players on the 2017 team either received sign information from the banging scheme or participated in the scheme by helping to decode signs or bang on the trash can. Many of the players who were interviewed admitted that they knew the scheme was wrong because it crossed the line from what the player believed was fair competition and/or violated MLB rules. Players stated that if Manager A.J. Hinch told them to stop engaging in the conduct, they would have immediately stopped. 

This feels really stupid. If you know it's wrong, stop doing it. If you - a grown-ass adult - is waiting on a more-grown-ass adult to tell you to stop, you didn't really want to stop. Ultimately, the report concluded, the Astros stopped because they said it wasn't really all that effective. All this because of something that might not have actually helped. Great work, dudes.

On Luhnow, Manfred:
Although Luhnow denies having any awareness that his replay review room staff was decoding and transmitting signs, there is both documentary and testimonial evidence that indicates Luhnow had some knowledge of those efforts, but he did not give it much attention...

...While no one can dispute that Luhnow's baseball operations department is an industry leader in its analytics, it is very clear to me that the culture of the baseball operations department, manifesting itself in the way its employees are treated, its relations with other Clubs, and its relations with the media and external stakeholders, has been very problematic.

The handling of The Taubman Incident should be taught in Public Relations courses in the Don't Do It Like This portion of the syllabus.

On Hinch:
Hinch attempted to signal his disapproval of the scheme by physically damaging the monitor on two occasions, necessitating its replacement. However, Hinch admits he did not stop it and he did not notify players or Cora that he disapproved of it, even after the Red Sox were disciplined in September 2017. Similarly, he knew of and did not stop the communication of sign information from the replay review room, although he disagreed with this practice as well and specifically voiced his concerns on at least one occasion about the use of the replay phone for this purpose. As the person with responsibility for managing his players and coaches, there simply is no justification for Hinch's failure to act.

So Hinch, here, is taking the fall for what Alex Cora and Former Mets Great Carlos Beltran (who will apparently not face any punishment, given that he was a player and not management), and who knows how many of the current members of the Houston Astros, did. That he did not forcefully disagree with it - other than actually breaking the monitor on two occasions - is what led to his suspension.

On Alex Cora:
Cora participated in both schemes, and through his active participation, implicitly condoned the players' conduct. I will withhold determining the appropriate level of discipline for Cora until after the DOI completes its investigation of the allegations that the Red Sox engaged in impermissible electronic sign stealing in 2018 while Cora was the manager.

Cora is screwed, and deservedly so. And I would say this if he was still a part of the Astros' organization: let him burn. The Truly One Good SportsThing that has happened to me (and it's always about me) has been called into question because of Mike Fing Fiers, the one-year bench coach, and a Douchebag Ivy League bro.

Anyhow, those are the main points of Manfred's report. Whether you want to believe that Manfred is suddenly the Angel of Light in the wake of the What's Up With The Actual Baseballs fiasco is up to you. That said, I don't want to deflect from the very real conclusion that members of the Astros players and coaching staff cheated when it was questionable at best, and continued after it was explicitly impermissible. And then they quit doing it when they couldn't figure out if it was actually helpful. That's an impossibly stupid turn of events.

In the press conference held today, owner Jim Crane officially fired both Luhnow and Hinch. Crane:
Neither one of them started this, but neither one of them did anything about it...We need to move forward with a clean slate.

Luhnow:
I did not know rules were being broken...The sign-stealing initiative was not planned or directed by baseball management; the trash-can banging was driven and executed by players, and the video decoding of signs originated and was executed by lower-level employees working with the bench coach. I am deeply upset that I wasn't informed of any misconduct because I would have stopped it.

Manfred explicitly said in his report - again, its believability is up to you - that Luhnow was aware, and ignored it.

Hinch:
While the evidence showed I didn't endorse or participate in the sign-stealing practices, I failed to stop them and I am deeply sorry.

What Now

Crane fired Luhnow and Hinch.

Crane:
I have higher standards for the city and franchise, and I am going above and beyond MLB's penalty. We need to move forward with a clean slate, and the Astros will become a stronger organization because of this today. You can be confident that we will always do the right thing and will not have this happen again on my watch. 

The Astros now have two positions to fill: their GM, and their manager. Crane:
We'll quickly look for someone to manage the team. As soon as we get out of here today. Certainly, we have possibilities internally; we'll also look outside. The baseball operation, I will oversee. We have a number of capable guys that can run that operation. A number of them were interviewed for GM spots, one in particular (whom McTaggart notes is Pete Putila). And so we'll sit down today and start working on that and move as quickly as we can.

It's logical to assume that bench coach Joe Espada, who was a finalist for both the Cubs and Giants' managerial openings, would take over the Astros, and I'm perfectly okay with that. Joe Espada is a highly-respected bilingual baseball man who has been around the Astros players (some of whom, let's not forget, sunk this whole thing with an alley-oop from Mike MF Fiers). Crane:
Certainly, we have a bench coach that's capable. We'll certainly look outside, but we know we've got to have somebody in charge when we go to Spring Training. That could be interim. I don't have the answer yet, but we'll make it work.

If the Astros promote Espada, he'll need a bench coach to replace...himself.

Teh Medier's Reaction:

The Chronicle is loving it.

*Chandler Rome: Where do the Astros go from here?
With the firings, the most amazing era of Astros baseball is indelibly sullied by an electronic sign-stealing scheme that Major League Baseball confirmed was in existence during the 2017 and 2018 seasons.

Brian T. Smith: Cheating Astros* (sic) Pay Painful Price For Golden Era.

*Dodgers People are in a hipster canyon coffee shop just seething:

Bill Plaschke: Dodgers cheated out of a championship.

*My Dude Bill Baer: MLB's punishment for the Astros is both too harsh and also not enough.

My Reaction:

*No one will take away the joy I felt on November 1, 2017. What it does take away is Luhnow and Hinch's legacy. I've long been Anti-Asterisk. You don't need to know why Hugh Duffy needs an asterisk when he hit .440 in 1894. You don't need an asterisk on Barry Bonds' much-deserved plaque in Cooperstown. It's understood by anyone who would know who Hugh Duffy is or by anyone who would actually make the effort to go to Cooperstown. The 2017 Astros don't need an asterisk because now we all know. This is the outcome.

*The draft picks lost are more of a penalty down the road than they are an immediate penalty. It's way more of a long-term penalty than the immediate downer of today's news.

*The punishment levied on Hinch and Luhnow robs them of their legacy. That's the penalty. Hinch will probably, and deservedly, be okay, and God help us if Seattle hires him.

*Every time you get Excited About The Astros Online, you have to wear the tweets from other teams responding with an aforementioned asterisk, or a "27 Rangz" tweet, or a complete dismissal. That's how it is now. The Astros made the Yankees feel like they have the moral high ground. Do you know how hard that is to achieve?

*This is all because of unnamed players who are currently on the Astros, because of Alex Cora, because of Mike Fiers, because of Carlos Beltran, because of Brandon Taubman, because of Roberto Osuna, because of how the front office officially decided to handle the last two items. Everything came due today.

*Other teams were probably doing the same thing, but it doesn't make it okay to do it as well.

*Today wasn't fun. Let's not do this again.