MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has gotten heat for not punishing any Houston Astros players in the aftermath of the club's 2017 sign-stealing scheme, but he received support from anonymous league officials in a story by The Athletic's Evan Drellich on Monday night:
"Any potential punishments to Astros players would have prompted grievances and wound up before an arbitrator. And in the words of an official with knowledge of these matters, MLB would have been 'smoked.' Another person experienced in this area said that MLB's case would have been 'brutal' and the league would 'look a fool.'"
MLB's findings from an investigation into the Astros were made public Jan. 13. The commissioner's report said Houston used in-game technology to illegally steal opponents' signs and relay which pitches were coming to batters throughout the 2017 World Series-winning campaign and "at least for part of" 2018.
The Astros' punishment was a $5 million fine, the loss of first- and second-round draft picks in 2020 and 2021 and yearlong unpaid suspensions for manager AJ Hinch and general manager Jeffrey Luhnow, who were promptly fired by the club.
Manfred told ESPN's Karl Ravech on Sunday that he understood the outpouring of demand for players to be punished but felt they are paying a price by having "to deal with this issue publicly."
"In labor relations, the concept of giving notice is hugely important. Management must clearly lay out how the workplace is to be run. That means providing both notice of the rules and notice of what type of punishment will follow if those rules are broken.
"MLB had not worked out the right to punish anyone with the Major League Baseball Players Association, though that may change for the 2020 season."
Numerous players have spoken out against the Astros. Reigning American League MVP Mike Trout and Los Angeles Dodgers All-Star Justin Turner aimed their comments Monday at Manfred's punishments and his diminishing the World Series championship as "a piece of metal":
Boston Red Sox designated hitter J.D. Martinez said giving players immunity was the right move.
"I understand players' frustrations and stuff like that, but I think, in my opinion, it's already getting a little bit too much," Martinez said Monday, per ESPN's Joon Lee.
The three-time All-Star added, "If it weren't for players talking and getting that immunity, I don't think no one would have ever have said anything."
The league's investigation was launched after Oakland Athletics pitcher Mike Fiers, who pitched for Houston in '17, told The Athletic's Drellich and Ken Rosenthal that the Astros had electronically stolen signs. Three other anonymous members of the organization in 2017 also spoke on the matter.
While the Astros were not stripped of their 2017 title and players were unscathed by MLB, newly hired manager Dusty Baker told ESPN's Jeff Passan over the weekend he is "depending on the league to try to put a stop to this seemingly premeditated retaliation" against Astros players during the 2020 season.