Nationals Baseball: What to do about the Astros?

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

What to do about the Astros?

I haven't really addressed it here but if you only get your news from Natsbaseball (good choice I'll add) then the Astros are cheaters! No need to link anything but the problem isn't going away despite that being the initial goal of major league baseball. Do an investigation, punish a few people that were in management roles at the time, and move on. Fans would be upset, but let's face it they are going to be upset regardless. The end.

But it wasn't because other players were really pissed off at the lack of player punishment and the seeming shrug of shoulders at what the league could do about what already happened.

I think though the problem wasn't the punishment but the messaging. In terms of the punishment - what can major league baseball can do?  Here are some of my thoughts...

Vacate the 2017 World Series title - Man, I hate when the NCAA does this. Even though it makes sense in a way "You wouldn't have won if you didn't do this wrong thing" it still feels like trying to deny what we saw. The Astros won and vacating just changes the story to "that's dumb - we can't pretend it didn't happen". The focus should remain on the cheating. 

Alternative - Note everywhere the Astros cheated.  Any sort of official write-up of the history of baseball will note that the Astros were later punished for cheating during this time frame.

Alternative - Don't let the Astros celebrate the title. Allow no official team sponsored celebratory event. Banners come down. Decorations packed up. No merch related to it. No bobbleheads or anniversary special nights or anything. It's nothing to celebrate. It's something to be ashamed of. 

Ban the Astros from playing in the playoffs for X years - this is tough because it could change the nature of competition. If the Astros can't play in the playoffs all of a sudden they have no impetus to win. Things like "not signing free agents" or "looking for trades" would ultimately be spread among the other 29 teams as they decide to try to benefit, but the end product, a garbage Houston Astros team, would create unequal benefit. The AL West teams would be more likely to get more wins out of it, leading to an imbalance in chance to make the playoffs or get home field.  It could be said this is fine. It makes up for the fact they were hurt by the Astros cheating more than other teams. However, two wrongs don't make a right. MLB can't be in the business of creating winners and losers.

Alternative - Astros get no money from post-season appearances - whatever the TV split is or the revenue from games, the Astros have to give that to some charity somewhere.  Sure it could have the same effect but try selling that to your fanbase. "We aren't winning because we can't make the extra money that comes with it"

Suspend the players involved for X games  - talk about a can of worms. Who gets suspended and for how long? Everyone on the 2017 team, or 2017-2019?  Pitchers as well as hitters? What about guys who got called up and played like a game? What about guys who got traded?  On an extreme end you could have a minor league pitcher traded to the Astros in late 2018, a season they weren't officially pegged as cheaters in, called up for a game, traded away in the off-season suspended for multiple games. That seems completely unfair. Oh - "he knew about it"?  Sure. But apparently probably less than like the majority of other major league players. Why does he get punished when say some Mariner who heard about it from his friend on the Astros in 2017 played against them 57 times noting the cheating to his teammates, but not the league, gets off?

Not to mention we're punishing other teams who may have picked up Astros. You want Will Harris suspended for 30 games? What happens to their contract money? They still get paid for not playing as they normally would? So now teams are paying twice for the Astros cheating?

Alternative - all Astros in 2017 play for the minimum in 2020, difference in salary goes to same place fines go - Take the money. Almost all you can do is take the money. That's what it comes down to. This way teams that signed guys don't get punished (unless these guys are real jerks and stop trying because they aren't getting paid millions) but they also don't get some sort of competitive balance advantage. I'm sure you'd agree the Yankees don't need an extra few tens of millions of found money to spend.

To get back to the messaging, all this could have been conveyed originally. "We want to punish the team and the players with suspensions but we see no way of doing that without disturbing the competitive balance in the league and hurting other, uninvolved teams, in the process." Make everyone understand this was a goal but an unobtainable one.

Of course they didn't do this in part because that never was a goal and it's clear. The goal was to make it go away as quickly as possible. People are going hard after Manfred but Manfred is little more than the mouthpiece of owners. The question is why do the owners want it to go away as soon as possible. The answer, like always, is probably money. Make it a big deal and maybe people turn away from the game. Have it go away quickly and the money train keeps rolling. At least that's my guess.


G Cracka X said...

Interesting thoughts here.

Of all the alternatives you present, which one would you have personally done if you were Manfred and had approval from a majority of owners?

JWLumley said...

Here's my suggestion: Vacate the title, not because it's denying history, but because it stops the selling of merch, brings the banners down etc. Also, make everyone give their ring back. From the owner on down to anyone else, rings have to be returned. I hate when the NCAA does this too, but there's a big difference. In the NCAA's case, we're not talking about teams that played with 12 players, or tapped into their opponents headsets, we're talking about kids who generate millions of dollars for universities getting gifts or money. None of that impacts what happened on the field.

No Astros hitters from 2017-2019 are eligible for All-Star Game or postseason awards for next 2 years

Continue the investigation However, let players know that if they withhold information they will be suspended for at least one year. Let's find out if they were using buzzers and still cheating in 2019.

RKIRKER said...

Agreed with JWLumley. The NCAA strips championships for players like Reggie Bush getting gifts. He still went out and killed it in the championship game and the games leading up to it. The Astros got a ridiculous advantage for not just the 2017 regular season but also the 2017 post season ( Can you imagine if Bonds knew what pitch was coming in 2002?

Strip the title and move on. They can think it was legit all they want but nobody else will.

JWLumley said...

@RKirker - Heck, can you imagine if teams had just pitched to Bonds in 2002? I think he would have hit 100 homeruns, but still a good point. What if Juan Soto knew every time he was getting a fastball?

RKIRKER said...

@JWLumley We might have actually won a home World Series game!

two cents said...

Vacate the title or not, it still comes with an asterisk. And maybe that's the solution...make everything literally come with an asterisk. Their very own scarlet A. Banners, merch, official records...even anything that ever might count pennants or titles. In the year 2030 if they sell a shirt with 2 or 3 WS trophies on it, there has to be a literal asterisk on the shirt.

As for the players, I don't think league minimum would ever fly with the union. But perhaps 10-25% of their salary as fines would. Batters could pay 25% of their current salary for equivalent number of games played during "official" cheating. Pitchers pay 10% for the same equivalent.

Of course spitballing here won't get these or any other results. Manfred and Co has screwed this up.

JE34 said...

Turn their logo into a Scarlet A!

Dmitri Young said...

Manfred’s report was so transparent in its goal of minimizing the scandal instead of discovering the full extent of the problem that it makes the clearing of the Astros in 2018-19 unbelievable. Also, if you won the World Series and 100 games stealing signs you aren’t suddenly stopping without explanation.

I think Manfred should admit MLB has handled this poorly, explain why player punishment wasn’t possible, and detail the investigative steps MLB took in determining no evidence of sign stealing in 2018-19. I’m okay with the punishment for 2017 but have 0 faith that the investigation is sufficient for 18 and 19.

Robot said...

Alternative - All teams get to steal the Astros' signs for the 2020 and 2021 seasons.

Robot said...

Personally, I don't care whether they formally vacate the 2017 WS title or not. It's like the 1919 WS or Barry Bonds's home run "records." The asterisks are already there.

The completely lame response from Manfred with respect to the players involved is what gets me. He basically just asked the union if he could discipline those involved. Union replies, "No, they don't really want to be punished." And that was that.

I get why the rest of the players in the league are pissed. I am 100% against any intentional throwing at players, as suggested by some, but their frustration is understandable.

SM said...

Harper has provided enough, if not all, of the permutations that have turned this issue into a proverbial can of worms. (Or is it a Gordian Knot?)

Only one person in the entire world, however, has offered a clear, unbridled solution. I refer to the Great Clubhouse Balm himself: the bon vivant, boulevardier, raconteur, spliffeur and bluesman known as Dusty "Toothpick" Baker.

His Solomonic judgment? "Just lay off the Astros, man. You're way too hard on them."

Barney said...

If bank robbers stole $10,000, ran away and were quickly caught, the money would be taken from them and returned to the rightful owners of it.

The Astros received (stole) extra money for playing in the playoffs and WS. And they got more extra for winning the WS. They should return that money to the teams they played, maybe including the regular season teams they played. The money should come from major deductions from their current salaries until it's all paid back.

The Union objects? But, aren't the players who are threatening retaliation ALSO in the Union and have voices there??

But wait! There's more!

If the bank robbers referred to at the top of this post only gave the stolen money back, would they be allowed to go free? ("Yeah, sorry. We regretted doing that.") No, a conviction would be followed by jail time.

So, if my above suggestion of the Astros giving back the money is taken, that STILL isn't enough. There needs to be even MORE punishment so others wouldn't try to cheat again.

Currently, there is no punishment for cheating. They don't have to give back their stolen money and there's nothing on top of that. Seems to me cheating is now free for anyone. If Manfred is only doing the owner's bidding, why do they want anyone to cheat without consequences??

Anonymous said...

You left out I think the best alternative, have everyone bring a trash can lid and something to bang it with to our home games with the Astros. They'll get the message.

blovy8 said...

I bet the umpires will never be more popular than before an Astros series.

blovy8 said...

After they get one in the ribs, the message will be, didn't your algorithm see the sign my catcher put down for an inside pitch?

blovy8 said...

Also, lest we get carried away with the BS rule changes employed by the "just a title for an empty suit" commissioner, in 2014 these three teams won their divisions in the AL: Orioles/Tigers/Angels. More desolate fanbases are hard to find outside Seattle. Kansas City was in back to back WS, St. friggin Louis is a powerhouse and is tiny as a metropolitan area or cultural force. Minnesota has the most fearsome offense since the 90's Indians (another rust belt town casualty). Why do they keep messing with my sport? Nothing actually needs to change about the damned game except the promotional aspects. The rules are fine.

blovy8 said...

Well...apart from live feeds during the game. Just eliminate the access. Maybe the compromise is that the manager can hold his hand up and get a replay on the jumbotron once and decide.

blovy8 said...

Sorry - for a replay challenge, that is.

G Cracka X said...

I love Anon@11:43am's cultural solution: every time the Astros travel, the opposing fans pull out trash cans and start banging loudly during all of the Astros at-bats

Cautiously Pessimistic said...

I've advocated it before, and while you say it still opens up a can of worms, I think banning the Astros from the postseason sends a huge message without negatively impacting the rest of the league too badly. One year would probably do the job, two may be extreme. But the reason I like it is that it forces the Astros into a tough financial/managerial situation. Do players want to play for a team when they know their wins "don't matter"? Will Correa or Bregman or Altuve demand a trade? Will fans want to show up to useless games? It's a HUGE hit on the Astros that I think sends the message to both them and any other team that you shouldn't dare desecrate the game again.

The way I look at it, baseball is a $10 BILLION industry. To put that in perspective, that's about the size of the ENTIRE CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY in the US. If Clark Construction was caught lying on bids to build Nats Park, that would be a federal crime under the Sherman Act. I put what the Astros did in the same ballpark. They cheated to get ahead, gaining tons of money for themselves and screwing their competition in the process.

So to hell with competitive balance. Send a message.

G Cracka X said...

You know you spend too much time on Natsbaseball when your kids get a Paint By Numbers project, and the first thing you think of when you see the description is: "Hey, that's what Ole PBN's name refers to on the Nats blog!"

Unknown said...

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