Rob Manfred: MLB to expand sign-stealing investigation of Astros beyond 2017 season

As MLB owners meetings concluded on Thursday in Arlington, Texas, commissioner Rob Manfred told reporters that baseball’s investigation into allegations that the Houston Astros engaged in a sign-stealing scheme will expand beyond the scope of the 2017 season.

MLB opened an investigation into the alleged scheme last week after former Astros pitcher Mike Fiers gave detailed accusations to The Athletic that the Astros used a camera in center field to relay signs from opposing catchers to a TV in the Houston dugout.

Houston players and employees would then allegedly signal what pitch to expect to batters via code by banging on trash cans in the dugout. The investigation originally focused on the 2017 World Series championship season in Houston.

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MLB to investigate Astros ‘as thoroughly as humanly possible’

Manfred said on Thursday that MLB would expand the investigation into the 2018 and 2019 seasons.

“All I can tell you about that is we are going to investigate the Astros situation as thoroughly as humanly possible,” Manfred told reporters. “That investigation is going to encompass not only what we know about ‘17, but also ‘18 and ‘19.”

Former White Sox pitcher Danny Farqhar described experiencing the alleged scheme to The Athletic, recounting an incident from a 2017 game in Houston.

“There was a banging from the dugout, almost like a bat hitting the bat rack every time a changeup signal got put down,” Farquhar said. “After the third one, I stepped off. I was throwing some really good changeups and they were getting fouled off. After the third bang, I stepped off.”

Manfred alludes to strict punishment

That game was played on Sept. 21, 2017, six days after Manfred had laid out a strict new standard for advanced sign-stealing schemes that subjects offenders to fines and loss of draft picks.

Manfred laid out the new protocol in response to an alleged high-tech scheme that saw a Boston Red Sox trainer use an Apple Watch to relay information on New York Yankees signs to players.

On Thursday, he alluded to that stricter standard being in play for the Astros, echoing a statement he made earlier in the week noting a broad array of potential punishment.

Rob Manfred reiterated that he has broad authority to punish the Astros and said that MLB's investigation will look into multiple seasons. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
Rob Manfred reiterated that he has broad authority to punish the Astros and said that MLB's investigation will look into multiple seasons. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

“I think that when this began to bubble up during the ’17 season, you know I looked backward at how the issue had been dealt with,” Manfred said. “ ... I wrote what I wrote because I did not believe that the disciplines that had been handed out in the past were in line with the significance of the issues we were dealing with, so I do view it as a line of demarcation.”

What the potential expanded punishment could be isn’t clear, but Manfred said on Tuesday that he has authority to issue broader discipline beyond fines, the loss of draft picks and the loss of international signing pool allocations.

He declined on Thursday to speculate on what broader penalties might entail, but hinted strongly that he’s convinced that penalties are coming. And whatever those penalties might be would also consider any misconduct committed by the Astros since 2017.

“We know at least in one instance it probably wasn’t heeded. Right? I think we know that now. I do think the message was clear.”

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