The 13th. In January 2020, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred released his findings and announced that the Houston Astros had been penalized for stealing electronic panels during the team’s 2017 World Series race. Principals AJ Hinch and GM Jeff Luhnow were suspended by MLB for a year before they were both fired by the Astros, and even during this time, the fallout from the scandal made headlines over the last 12 months.
A year later, we asked our MLB experts to tell us how much their view of the Astros had changed, what MLB might bring next year and how the team would be treated when fans finally return to the ballparks.
How do you see the Astros a year after their punishment?
Jeff Passan: Since the full story of the Astros fraud has not yet been revealed, the in-depth details that help to better understand – such as B. who benefited the most from the trademark theft scheme, as well as who sought it out – are difficult to understand. When it’s not, it’s a matter of organization, which is why, despite all the attention paid to individual players, the dislike of the Astros organization as a whole prevails. Although George Springer was present at the con, fans would like their team to sign him even though they still hate the Astros. Does that make any sense? No. Really? No. Will that change? No. Astros fans didn’t get what they wanted.
Alden Gonzalez: I still see the stars of the Astros from 2017 to 2018 – Carlos Correa, Springer, Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman, to name just the most notable – as extremely talented players who didn’t have to bend the rules to succeed, but did it anyway because they got away with it. It is a snapshot of a fundamental truth about human behavior, particularly at the highest levels of certain industries, and how external pressures and innate uncertainties often cause people to weigh the pros and cons of what is feasible against what is ethical. This is not an excuse, but a harsh reality – the reality that Major League Baseball survived when performance-enhancing drugs got out of control 20 years ago.
We’ll never know if the Astros could have won the 2017 World Series without their extended signing flight, which is a real shame. It was a dominant group of actors who are best remembered. Unfortunately, they only have themselves to blame.
Error! The file name is not specified. After a years-long panel theft scandal in Houston, it became clear that the legacy of fighters like Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa would never be the same. AP Photo/Rick Scooteri
Buster Olney: When you take a step back and think about the talent Jeff Luhnow has assembled, it’s really one of the most talented groups of baseball players we’ve seen in decades. Altuve could one day give a speech at Cooperstown, Springer will end his career as one of the most prolific postseason heroes in history, Bregman is one of the best players in the game, Justin Verlander should be unanimously elected to the HOF – and you could go on with the list of superlatives. But no matter what happens to each player, the first paragraphs of each historical reference always contain a reference to the flight of the feature. Like it or not, it’s their legacy.
David Schoenfield: Basically, I see the Astros today as a dynasty in decline. Gerrit Cole is already gone, Springer and Michael Brantley are free agents, and Verlander (who will likely miss the season after Tommy John surgery), Correa, Zack Greinke and Lance McCullers Jr. are free agents after 2021. The old star, José Altuve, is now 31 years old. He will be coming off a tough year in 2020 and is in a position where players often don’t age well. I enjoyed watching the Astros in 2017-19, but the cheating scandal clearly leaves an indelible stain on their performance. With this team now spread across the winds of baseball, the most interesting thing about this franchise is no longer the past, but what it will do in the future.
How the internet helped solve the case of the stolen astro sign. Jun Lee
– Passana: Good directions, burners and conspiracies: In the middle of a day of epic mayhem…
Jun Lee: As a reminder of how easy it is to exaggerate the proclamation of a dynasty after winning the World Series. That’s what happened to the Chicago Cubs after their World Series win in 2016, but when a group of young stars like Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa and George Springer help the team win the World Series, it’s not hard to imagine them coming back multiple times and eventually lifting the trophy again.
A few years later, Gerrit Cole is no longer with the team and Justin Verlander missed the season due to Tommy John surgery. This hard core will never get another chance to redeem themselves after the cheating scandal put a huge star on their 2017 title. So we will remember them in the context of baseball history as we look back.
Bradford Doolittle: I don’t see the current Astros being any different than the other teams. It’s a talented club with a Hall of Fame director and a young director trying to fill some key positions. I guess I’m hoping that the main breakers of 2017 who had worse than expected seasons last year (José Altuve, Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa) will come back, if only to confirm their performance from previous seasons. But there’s too much water under the bridge to keep trying to sew the scarlet letter all over the franchise. It’s now the Astros from the Dusty Baker-James press.
What is a true Astros injury: The team that reached .240 with a .720 OPS in the regular season, or the team that led Houston to a 7th game of the American League Championship Series in 2020?
Olney: Without Springer – assuming he moves to another team via free agency – it will be very difficult for the Astros to replicate what they had for the 2019 season. And one of my big questions about the team is the long-term impact on Altuve and whether it will regain the joy it played before the identity theft scandal broke. I never thought Roberto Alomar was the same player after the spitting incident, partly because it was very difficult for him to deal with the angry reactions he heard while playing on the road.
Error! The file name is not specified. After another poor season at home plate and a record of less than .500 before the playoffs, the Houston team comes alive in October. Sean M. Huffy/Getty Images
Lee: I agree with Buster. The talent on this team just isn’t there, especially with the loss of Springer. Altuve represents a huge pivot in projecting this team’s offensive ceiling, and when you combine the potential long-term impact of a scandal on his psyche at home plate with my personal concerns about his aging curve as a player, he represents an aggressive factor for Team X given his size/frame combined with his style of play.
Passana: It’s easy for me to talk about the offense in the postseason because I knew at every stage of the 60-game season that the Astros were going to play. They didn’t, sneaking into the 29-31 playoffs and then looking like they did in the preseason. While potential losers Springer and Brantley were demoted this winter, their top hitter, Yordan Alvarez, is back after playing two games last year. Bregman, Correa and Altuve will try to be standard versions of themselves and silence the idea that they are a creation of fraud, even though their excellent performances in the amateur and minor leagues are from before them. And with the arrival of Kyle Tucker in the middle of the order, the Astros may not be the most potent offense in baseball, but their postseason 2020 form should be much closer than the regular season.
Schoenfield: Thanks to advanced measures like generating weighted runs, Houston’s 2019 list was one of the best ever. Some games will disappear now, but as we saw in the playoffs when the Astros reached 0.270/.352/.442, it could still be above average. Keep in mind that we haven’t seen Alvarez all season, and his rookie season has shown that he can be one of the top three or four hitters in the game.
Doolittle: That’s definitely the postseason version, and if Houston brings back the same team this year, I expect it to be one of the best offenses in baseball. Of course, Springer played an important role, and losing him is a big deal. Still, the Astros’ draft is at least in the first third of the baseball offense. I don’t expect a repeat of Houston’s many disappointing performances in the 2020 regular season.
Gonzalez: I prefer to examine them individually because of their natural rotation. It would be easy to say that Altuve hit .219/.286/.344 because he didn’t know what was going to happen, or that Bregman PSO hit .214 because he didn’t hear the bump in the barrel, or that Correa had the worst scores of his career because he suddenly had to guess how he was hitting balls. But it would be just as easy to go around the league and judge all the great strikers who performed well below their career norms because the 2020 season was so unconventional. It’s still a very good offense.
What do you think the Astros will bring next season?
Schoenfield: In fact, he could qualify for the playoffs in what could be a soft AL West. It looks like the A’s are ripe for a possible fall, leaving the division open. If the Astros get better seasons from Altuve and Alex Bregman, combined with the return of Yordan Alvarez, the offense could bounce back from the 2020 struggles. Even without Verlander, there is depth in the rotation. The problem with 2020 is that the all-important confidence that Astros once had is gone. They need him back in 2021.
Passana: It all depends on the playback format. The American Western League isn’t quite the same disaster as the National Central League, but it’s pretty close. Oakland enters the season as the clear favorites, but the A’s will likely lose some key elements to the reigning division champions. The Los Angeles Angels have a few stars in their ranks, but they haven’t set up a rotation or a paddock with a lot of content yet and need a catcher. That’s at least a year away from Seattle. The same goes for Texas. So, an Astros team with this offense, a rotation that includes Zack Greinke, Lance McCullers Jr., Jose Urquidu and a breakout playoff led by framer Valdez. Yes, they desperately need the Bulls’ help, and the loss of Liam Hendricks and Blake Treinen leaves them alone, but the Astros could very easily return to the top of the division – or, due to the West’s weakness, a wild card position.
Is the Astros title tarnished forever? Is Jeter overrated? We offer the final word on each team’s hottest point. History
Lee: It’s always a good team here. Given the dynamics of COVID’s 2020 season, I tend to discard many of last season’s numbers due to their relatively small sample size in the context of a baseball season, but it will certainly be interesting to see how Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman bounce back from last year’s disappointing numbers. Verlander’s absence does little damage to the team’s chances of reaching the playoffs, given AL West’s opener.
Olney: They will continue to compete, but without Verlander for most of the year, without Springer, it will be increasingly difficult for them.
Gonzalez: They’ll be a slightly smaller version of what they were in 2020, which was a slightly smaller version of what they were in 2019, which will probably end up being the real end of the race for dominance of this team. Cole is somewhere else now. Rather, Springer and Michael Brantley probably do too. And a year from now we’ll probably be saying the same thing about Correa, Verlander and Greinke. The development of their young launch team and the resurgence of Yordan Alvarez could keep the Astros in operation until next September, but that won’t be the case. Nowhere near.
Doolittle: The Astros need to add two starters or bring back one or two from George Springer and/or Michael Brantley, but overall Houston is the big favorite in the AL West. His margin for error is smaller because Justin Verlander is on the board and Springer could end up with another bat and insufficient depth of positioning. But we’ve seen how good the Astros are for the 2020 season, and I expect them to come back in 2021 to try to win Dusty Baker’s first World Series manager’s crown.
How does the Astros’ outdoor reception compare to that of the 2020 regular season when fans return to the ballparks?
Olney: As long as the 2017 team has core members in Astros uniforms, fans of the other teams will be happy to see Houston on the road.
The response on social media provided an in-depth look at this reality during the 2020 season: Every time you post a neutral note about one of the great Astros players, you provoke a tsunami of reactions and words about cheating and cheating. Things will never get easier for these guys, which leads to the big question of how they deal with the teasing and the anger.
Lee: These Astros aren’t the same, but I guess that doesn’t matter to many baseball fans. It will be a long time before baseball fans, whether they are fans or not, will associate this team with anything other than a cheating scandal.
Passana: It’s still getting bad. Not as much as it would have been in 2020, but a year of growing anger and resentment – and the fact that Altuve, Correa and Bregman are still on the team – makes it inevitable that there will be some bickering and bullying, whichever way they go. It will likely focus much more on the faces of the scandal – those who were there in 2017.
Error! The file name is not specified. players like Joe Kelly, released by the Dodgers, make their feelings about the Astros known in 2020. How will Houston be treated when fans return to the ballpark in the future? David J. Phillip/AP
Schoenfield: When I was a kid in Seattle going to Mariners games at the Kingdome, there was nothing more fun than booing (and sometimes beating) the Yankees. Why? It was the Yankees, we didn’t need a reason. The fans have a reason to boo the Astros, and they won’t be afraid to take advantage of this opportunity.
Doolittle: There will be no demonstrations and events like last year, or at least there won’t be as many. AJ Hinch is in Detroit and will be booed for years when he takes the field. Springer, Altuve, Correa, Bregman will all face the tree for the rest of their careers, and I expect the tree to be stronger this year than next season. I’d be shocked if the general anger against the Astros was that strong if the 2020 season went normal. I mean, who’s gonna wake up Dusty Baker?
To what extent has the Astros scandal changed the sport?
Passana: Like the PED: not so much. The behaviors that led the Astros to this pattern – the deep and relentless desire to win, moral flexibility and professional ingenuity – cannot be eradicated. The people who executed him or failed to arrest him are almost all back. A.J. Hinch and Alex Cora are back in the running. Springer signs a mega contract this year and Correa next year. Jim Crane still owns it, and he owns the Astros very well. Rob Manfred is the commissioner. The only ones missing are GM Jeff Luhnow and deputy GM Brandon Taubman, and that has to do with the personal feelings of each, but also their connection to the scandal.
Perhaps the most obvious change is the disconnect between fans and the sports they love. It’s not that they fundamentally hate baseball. It’s hard. It’s baseball. They are simply disappointed that the World Series was won by a team that used such blatantly deceptive methods all year, and that they got off with a slap on the wrist.
Schoenfield: The history of baseball is one of players trying to gain an advantage, legal or illegal, by stealing signals, covering bats, covering baseballs, and even, in the early days, tripping runners as they walk across the bases. This scandal won’t stop (just look at the current controversy over launchers using sticky compounds to improve their grip, even though it’s technically against the rules).
– Important questions on MLB discipline for Astros-Passana : Why do so many people think the Astros have done well? – Olney: Five of
‘s biggest victims – Lachnow and Hinch fired for stealing the
sign – Daily Astros Podcast Episodes
MLB banned all game videos in 2020, but regarding COVID, not the Astros cheating scandal. While some players have attributed their struggles for 2020 to the absence of this video in the game, I would like to see MLB ban it permanently, which would make it harder to steal signs. Save the technique for the pre-game study. Play like we played Little League or high school.
Lee: I laughed at the fact that some players and teams in the Astros league were caught cheating when it was widely known that using video to steal signs was not uncommon. We see that cheating can occur almost every day in the stadium simply by watching the mound and watching pitchers use one sticky substance after another on their gloves or caps to increase their pitching velocity, which many in the league recognize as a common practice.
The advent of new technologies has shown how much velocity can affect the game every time a pitch is thrown, and I’m not sure we can quantify the cumulative effect in a season where a team steals signs or pitchers increase their throwing velocity. I personally think the MLB needs to better regulate the use of videos during games, but I also think we should stop making jokes and just legalize the use of approved sticky substances for pitchers if the people around the game just accept their use.
Olney: Players and staff finally accepted the idea after seeing in the video how well the Astros apply the rules of using electronics to steal signs. This could have happened in September 2017 if Commissioner Rob Manfred had not enforced the sanctions and expanded the rules after the Red Sox Apple Watch case.
The main practical effect is that criminals no longer have access to video. In an era where the constant use of video in the game to watch opposing swings and pitchers is part of the process, this is a debilitating change for some hitters.
Gonzalez: As Dave said – that remains to be seen, as we haven’t had a traditional season since the scandal. The ban on game videos was framed as a health and safety issue to keep players in the dugout and disoriented in the gym. I don’t believe that banning video in games – and thus removing a technology that has become so essential to the preparation and functioning of the modern gamer – is the long-term answer. There are ways to allocate more resources to law enforcement without severely punishing the innocent players who depend so heavily on it. We want the players to be the best versions of themselves. It would be wrong to ignore this because the MLB did not respond strongly enough at the beginning.
Doolittle: There are age-old criticisms of scientific innovation in this direction: We are so busy proving we can do something that we sometimes forget to ask ourselves if we MUST do it.
Baseball has undergone a rapid technological revolution for much of this century, and in many ways we are only now beginning to realize the unintended consequences of these new tools. The line between competition and sportsmanship in baseball has always been more blurred than the sport would like to admit, but the lines are there. The Astros scandal has brought to light some of these limitations, or at least what fans would like to see. In the end, that’s what matters: the sports fans’ confidence in what they see.
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