You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

How Astros’ sign-stealing penalties will affect A’s

San Francisco Chronicle logo San Francisco Chronicle 4 days ago By John Shea

The Astros cheated. The A’s finished second to the Astros. Twice.

That’s a tough reality to grasp for a team that won 97 games in both 2018 and 2019 and was forced to play win-or-go-home wild-card games, both of which the A’s lost.

Major League Baseball made an enormous and historic statement Monday when it suspended Houston manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow without pay for the 2020 season following an investigation into the team’s sign-stealing schemes.

Not long thereafter, Astros owner Jim Crane announced he was firing both men and said, “Neither of them did anything about it.”

MLB’s investigation initially focused on the 2017 season when the Astros defeated the Dodgers to win the World Series in seven games — the A’s were a last-place team that season — but the probe found the Astros were still illegally using technology to steal signs for at least part of 2018.

That was the season the A’s went from a 75-87 team to a 97-65 team. However, the Astros won 103 games and followed that with 107 wins in 2019.

This coming season, the A’s — who have said publicly that their goal is to win the American League West to avoid a wild-card game — will be competing against a Houston team with a new manager and GM.

Although some of Oakland’s core players are entering their primes, the Astros lost starting pitchers Gerrit Cole and Wade Miley to free agency and will rely on Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke, both in their late 30s.

Perhaps more significant in the long run is the other major punishment handed down by Commissioner Rob Manfred: the loss of first- and second-round picks in the 2020 and 2021 drafts.

A key reason for Oakland’s 2018 turnaround was former Houston right-hander Mike Fiers, a starter acquired from Detroit on Aug. 6, 2018. Fiers helped lead the A’s down the stretch that season and was the team’s most reliable starter in 2019.

Three weeks after Fiers joined the A’s, they played a series in Houston and later told MLB that their players noticed Astros players clapping in the dugout before pitches, supposedly giving stolen catchers’ signs to batters, according to a Yahoo report.

In November, Fiers was quoted in the website the Athletic saying the Astros illegally stole signs in 2017 using a live video feed, television monitor and garbage can.

The MLB probe found the Astros used a sign-stealing system not only during the regular season but the postseason, and the scheme included banging on a garbage can below the dugout to signify which pitches were coming.

The A’s were beaten by the Astros in 2018 more than any other team, losing 12 of 19 games. An A’s spokesperson said neither executive vice president Billy Beane nor general manager David Forst immediately would comment on the Astros’ sentence, but Forst told The Chronicle in November, “It’s not about it being Houston or a team in our division. You want the playing field to be level.”

Forst noted the Astros’ sign-stealing wasn’t an isolated case, saying, “I think our players have voiced concerns about what other teams are doing.”

The only Houston player cited in Manfred’s nine-page report was Carlos Beltran, now the Mets’ manager, but MLB didn’t discipline any players.

However, all players and officials from the 2017 World Series team will continue to hear that their championship is tainted. That includes bench coach Alex Cora, who was implicated by Manfred as a major player in the scheme.

Cora left the Astros after that season to manage the Red Sox, who won the 2018 World Series and are the focus of another MLB investigation involving illegal use of technology. Cora is facing a likely suspension.

The Astros also were fined $5 million, but that’s the least of Crane’s worries.

John Shea is The San Francisco Chronicle’s national baseball writer. Email: jshea@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @JohnSheaHey

AdChoices
AdChoices

More from San Francisco Chronicle

San Francisco Chronicle
San Francisco Chronicle
image beaconimage beaconimage beacon