Athletics

Why Astros' sign-stealing scandal still frustrates A's players, fans

Why Astros' sign-stealing scandal still frustrates A's players, fans

While the Houston Astros' cheating scandal is a national baseball story, certain MLB markets have added investment in what happened. 

Not just the New York Yankees, who lost a trip to the World Series in 2017 when the Astros beat them in the ALCS, or the Los Angeles Dodgers who lost that World Series to Houston, but also the A’s, who narrowly finished as runner-up to the Astros each of the last two seasons in the AL West.

Because of it, they had to settle for playing in the wild-card game in 2018 and 2019, which both resulted in season-ending losses.

Anyone involved with the A's can be frustrated on a number of levels. It doesn't seem fair when Astros players are doing this:

How should the A's, and A's fans feel about the scandal? Let's break down the main frustration points for Oakland:

Should the A’s have won the AL West in 2018 and 2019?

It’s impossible to quantify just how many extra wins the Astros took in recent years. While offensive statistics and commissioner Rob Manfred's report suggest 2017 was their most “involved” sign-stealing season, it is possible that the sign stealing continued in 2018 and 2019.

While the A's were well out of the playoff race in 2017, they only lost the division by six games in 2018 and 10 games in 2019.

Last season, Houston played in a whopping 48 one-run games, which equates to more than 25 percent of their schedule. While the result of those possible games was even at 24-24, what if knowing certain pitches were coming -- gaining “extra outs” -- helped them attain five-to-eight extra victories?

Given how the A's only lost the division by a handful of games, you can see how quickly all of this gets very interesting.

Campaigns to make Mike Fiers look bad

When Mike Fiers takes the mound at ballparks across the country this summer, fans in 29 cities (besides Houston) should give him an extra ovation. It took a significant level of fortitude to put his name with the quotes to The Athletic that got all of baseball’s attention back in November.

Despite the A’s previous knowledge and official complaints to MLB, it was the comments by Fiers that launched real investigations and public examination into what the Astros had been doing.

It's interesting to see the various spins used against the former Astros pitcher ever since. Did he break an unwritten locker room code? Why wait until after he left Houston to say something? Should he have gone to MLB first instead of being quoted in The Athletic?

To answer:

1) No.
2) He didn't because he would have been dismissed as a sour demoted bullpen pitcher
3) Clearly, that wasn’t already working.

No Astros players were punished

This is not necessarily a fault of the Houston organization, but there clearly was a trade of immunity for players, in return for the information they provided to MLB. It’s not that awards, stats, or recognition would have been taken away from any of the Astros in recent years.

But certainly, there could have been lengthy suspensions and punishments handed out to the most offending players moving forward. It could have been enough to set a precedent across baseball. We have thousands of audible bangs on a trash can if there was any question of personal involvement.

Another frustration point is the Astros' internal collaboration. It took multiple players and team employees. Had four Astros players cheated for a week, or a month, much of this could have been chalked up as the temporary insanity to win at any cost.

But it extended over months and potentially years, clearly because there was a measured positive result.

The skepticism of anyone and everyone as a cheater

From the proven banging of trash cans to the accusations of electronic buzzers, we already know a lot of cheating slipped through the cracks. It likely happened over the course of multiple seasons, and it would not be surprising if other MLB teams had their own methods as well.

All of this now puts MLB under a huge cloud of speculation, starting in 2020. Any team lucky enough to noticeably cut down on strikeouts and increase their offensive metrics most certainly is going to be accused of abusing the newest technologies.  

It’s sad but true -- a metal detector is almost needed between the on-deck circle and batters box in order to assure that technology isn’t aiding an active hitter.

[RELATED: A's Kemp claims he wasn't involved in Astros scandal]

The Astros still haven’t apologized appropriately

As far as baseball scandals go, whatever the Astros infamously did belongs right up there with the 1919 Chicago White Sox, Pete Rose’s betting, and steroid usage of the 1990s. MLB’s corresponding punishments have proven there was foul play, yet assurances and any sort of apologies over recent days have been weaved into clustered promises of Houston’s redemption in 2020. 

Their bats have all summer to “do the talking," but right now, the public is only here to witness sincere remorse. It’s baffling to hear the words “sorry for what happened " when literally zero details have been shared by the Astros organization, or its players, on the extent of what actually happened. 

Star Astros infielders Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman made their highly anticipated apologetic statements Thursday for a collective total of 1 minute and 26 seconds. This feeds a narrative that everyone involved wants this “over with” as soon as possible, instead of getting it “righted” as soon as possible.

MLB rumors: A's expected to sign prospect Pedro Pineda for $4M or more

ashatap.jpg
AP

MLB rumors: A's expected to sign prospect Pedro Pineda for $4M or more

The A's aren't known for handing out large contracts and could have some tough free-agency decisions to make on Marcus Semien, Matt Chapman and Matt Olson in the coming years.

But the A's are expected to make a splash on the international market. While MLB's season continues to be on hiatus with the coronavirus pandemic, the signing period still is scheduled to open on July 2 but the league does have the ability to delay the start date until Jan. 15, 2021. 

Baseball America's Ben Badler reported Monday that the A's are likely to hand out the largest J2 international contract this year. Oakland is expected to sign outfielder Pedro Pineda out of the Dominican Republic for more than $4 million. 

Pineda, 16, already is listed at 6-feet tall and 180 pounds. Here's how Badler describes Pineda's skill set: "He's a strong, athletic, physical center fielder with a loud tool set and a power/speed threat. He's a center fielder with excellent speed, a fast bat and the power potential to hit 25-plus home runs."

Here's a video of Pineda hitting and wearing A's gear last month.

Baseball America also has a longer video of Pineda launching homers.

[RELATED: Stewart addresses how short MLB season will affect players]

The A's signed shortstop Robert Pauson, MLB.com's No. 2 international prospect for 2019, to a $5.1 million contract last July. Pauson, 17, already is ranked as the A's No. 4 prospect by MLB Pipeline. He sits behind just Jesus Luzardo, A.J. Puk and Sean Murphy, all of whom made their big league debuts last year.

The A's can only hope Pineda has as much talent as Pauson. Both players should add to Oakland's top-heavy farm system.

Why Tony La Russa believes 1989 A's are best Bay Area team ever assembled

Why Tony La Russa believes 1989 A's are best Bay Area team ever assembled

The 1989 A’s were something special.

They were crowned World Series champions after defeating the Giants in four games that bookended the devastating Loma Prieta earthquake. Oakland also finished the regular season with a 99-63 record. And for Tony La Russa, the team’s manager at the time, he dubbed it the best Bay Area championship team ever.

“I’m a great believer in not disrespecting anybody, whether it’s a great 49er team, or the Warriors, or the Giants, but there isn’t any team that would be better than the ‘89 A’s,” La Russa said in a recent interview with 95.7 The Game. “Because they were absolutely complete in every way. Not just talented checking every box, but also in their attitude about teammates playing hard, playing tough.”

NBC Sports Bay Area asked fans last week to vote for the best Bay Area dynasty of all time. While the mid-1970s A's team was included, the late-1980s A's were not.

Still, the 1989 A's were pretty good.

Mark McGwire was 25 years old and hit a team-leading 33 home runs that season with infielder Carney Lansford hitting a .336/.398/.405 line with 185 hits. 

This team also had Dave Henderson and Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson roaming the outfield. Rickey would end the season leading the league with 77 swiped bags. World Series MVP Dave Stewart was a dominant starter. Out of the bullpen, Dennis Eckersley collected 33 saves on the season, boasting a 1.56 ERA.

“So, the ‘89 team had, not only was it a really good team, almost great, but once you added Rickey, then we became truly great, and we added Mike Moore, which added an outstanding starting pitcher to the rotation, but it had something else man, it had a fever going,” La Russa said.

La Russa named every aspect of the team that brought them back to the Fall Classic that season. The infield, the outfield, the pitching staff, and of course, the coaches.

[RELATED: Stew describes coronavirus scare]

The team also possessed the perfect balance of rookie and veterans to get to the big stage and win it all. 

“It was the perfect team,” he said.

Just about.