In the last two seasons, there has been one team in the way of the A's winning the AL West: The Houston Astros. Led by Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Justin Verlander and more, they have been the cream of the crop in the division.
They also have been crowned the kings of cheating. The Astros on Monday were handed some of the harshest penalties in MLB history for their part in using technology to illegally steal signs during Houston's 2017 championship season.
Astros manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Lunhow have each been suspended without pay for the 2020 season. Houston also forfeits its first- and second-round picks for the 2020 and '21 MLB Drafts. The Astros also have been fined $5 million -- the highest allowable fine under the Major League Constitution -- and former Astros assistant GM Brandon Taubman has been placed on baseball's ineligible list through the end of the 2020 World Series.
Shortly after the penalties were levied, the Astros announced that they have fired Hinch and Lunhow. Bench coach Joe Espada is expected to serve as interim manager.
A's pitcher Mike Fiers, who was on the Astros' World Series-winning team but didn't pitch in the 2017 playoffs, found himself in the center of Houston's scandal. In a November report from The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drelich, Fiers was the first player to confirm the Astros used technology to steal signs.
“I just want the game to be cleaned up a little bit because there are guys who are losing their jobs because they’re going in there not knowing,” Fiers said.
Hinch has finished in the top five of AL Manager of the Year voting the last three seasons, and has led the Astros to a 311-175 regular-season record in that span. The Stanford alum surely will be missed on the bench in Houston's dugout.
The Astros have been quiet this offseason and have yet to make any big moves in free agency. We might now know why. It's clear Lunhow had other things on his mind while he polished his World Series ring, and staying low was probably a pretty good idea.
While these penalties are harsh and historic, this won't be the last we hear about the scandal. Players could speak up, and other repercussions easily could be on the way.
The A's, meanwhile, have dreams of winning the AL West for the first time since 2013, and certainly could benefit from the Astros' turmoil.
One thing is for certain: The Astros still are World Series champions. But now they're paying the price of doing it their way -- the wrong way.