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MLB expanding Astros investigation

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred

Major League Baseball’s ongoing investigation into the Houston Astros and allegations of improper sign stealing using electronic means has been widened and will encompass activity during the 2019 and 2018 seasons in addition to an original focus on the the Astros’ 2017 season.

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, speaking at the end of the league’s fall business meetings in Arlington, Texas, said the Astros probe will proceed as “thoroughly as humanly possible,” and incorporates a wide range of figures around the club and sport at large.

“To the extent we are talking to people all over the industry, former employees, competitors, whatever, to the extent we find other leads, we’re going to follow those leads,” Manfred said.

The league investigation also will incorporate elements surrounding the taunting incident of now-fired Astros assistant general manager Brandon Taubman.

As of now, the Astros are the only team being investigated for alleged cheating using a camera positioned in centerfield of Minute Maid Park, in violation of league rules. Manfred declined to detail a timetable for the probe’s completion or potential penalties, though measures could include stripping draft picks and international bonus pool money along with other fines and suspenions. 

But he did say that he maintains wide latitude to impose heavy discipline, if needed, under the league’s constitution.

“Our clubs, all 30 of them, recognize that the integrity of the competition on the field is crucial to what we do every day,” Manfred said. “I think there’s wide support across the industry for the idea that when we have a problem in this area, there should be firm, serious disciplinary action that discourages people from engaging in this type of behavior.”

This is not the first time that MLB has grappled with electronic sign stealing. The league fined the Boston Red Sox in 2017 for using an Apple Watch to steal signals from the New York Yankees.

Manfred said that prior incident represented a line of demarcation, and that it was followed by a memo to every club that every club was notified of a new penalty structure for electronic sign stealing that would include lost draft picks among other discipline.

“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 that we were dealing with,” Manfred said.

Astros owner Jim Crane declined to comment on the current allegations.

Manfred, meanwhile, also made another impassioned defense of the league’s bid to dramatically restructure the affiliated minor leagues. MLB’s proposal in ongoing Professional Baseball Agreement negotiations with Minor League Baseball, which includes 42 minor league clubs potentially losing their affiliations to the major leagues, has generated scorn from Congress.

Manfred, as he has in the past, said MLB’s primary objectives in the minor leagues overhaul plan are to improve the conditions of minor league facilities for big league prospects, as well as reduce team travel through geographic realignment.

“[Minor League Baseball] would like to keep the tens of millions of dollars in profit [they] make every year,” Manfred said. “I’m now sure why Major League Baseball should pay to fix a facility that the minor-league operators tell you can’t be fixed. It doesn’t make a lot of sense from our perspective, so we thought about an alternative.”

Minor League Baseball has said they are willing to help fund facility improvements, but contends there are also other considerations at play including needed time to conduct that work, as well as available space within various buildings.

The Yankees, for their part, have put their weight behind their short-season Single-A affiliate, the Staten Island Yankees, that are on the list to lose their affiliation and be relegated to an independent club.

“We have been assured today that there have been no decisions made regarding the elimination of the Staten Island Yankees,” Yankees president Randy Levine said in a statement the club issued during the league meetings. “We support the Staten Island Yankees and their facility (Richmond County Bank Ballpark), and people should give the negotiations a chance to conclude before speculating on any outcome.”