Red Sox

Breaking down MLB investigation, and how even a 'light punishment' could be disastrous for Red Sox

Breaking down MLB investigation, and how even a 'light punishment' could be disastrous for Red Sox

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Ever since the Red Sox fired Alex Cora amidst an MLB investigation into sign-stealing during their 2018 championship season, ownership has asked us to withhold judgment.

Their implication is clear: we're clean.

This overconfidence has subtly shaped coverage, with report after report assuring us that whatever sins are uncovered, they won't be as egregious as the ones that cost the Houston Astros not only their manager, GM, multiple draft picks and $5 million, but also their standing as a model franchise.

But here's the problem. Somewhere along the way, we've transmuted "lesser punishment" into "zero punishment," and those are two very different things. If the Red Sox illegally used the video room to decode opposing signs, even just a handful of times, and even only with a runner on second, they may not feel the same sledgehammer of justice that has left the star on the Astros logo with three points instead of five, but their stitched B might still require thimble and thread.

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So as we await the conclusion of the league's investigation, let's examine where things stand.

1. It doesn't sound like MLB has much . . .

Here's what I've been able to glean through conversations with league and team officials, most of whom are reticent to say much of anything: MLB seems to be making the Apple Watch incident of 2017 central to its case, on the grounds that the Red Sox are repeat offenders with no mulligans.

That approach could both help and hurt the team's case. On one hand, if the league is focusing on an old incident, that suggests it hasn't unearthed much new information. On the other, the prior warning is only relevant if the Red Sox violated it.

MLB has cast a wide net in the hunt for information, reaching out to former employees and even retired scouts, per multiple sources. Maybe it's a desperate fishing expedition, or maybe the league has something. It's important to note that despite their public confidence, the Red Sox don't know everything the league has uncovered.

2. . . . but something is more than nothing

And so that brings us back to the idea of lesser punishment vs. zero punishment. The Red Sox may try to claim the former as vindication, but to use an on-field analogy, we all remember both Gaylord Perry (spitball) and Joe Niekro (emery board) as cheaters, even though it's safe to say the former did a lot more of it than the latter.

If MLB calls any aspect of Boston's 108-win championship season into question, the Red Sox may be able to claim they're better than the Astros, but they'll still be considered worse than everyone else, and that's going to leave a mark.

3. The delay does not help the Red Sox

First we heard the report would be issued the first week of February. Then it became the start of camp. Then it became the end of this week. Now we should receive it by the end of the month, which is two weeks away.

What's the holdup? It's possible that MLB is feeling some heat over continued revelations in The Athletic about the role of Carlos Beltran in Houston's sign-stealing scheme and doesn't want to let the Red Sox off the hook only to be embarrassed later for leniency.

It could also be that the investigation has uncovered something that requires further digging. Considering how motivated MLB should be to put a bow on this scandal, if the league believed it could slap the Red Sox with a minor penalty and call it a day, it probably would've done so, because the last thing it wants is more unplanned managerial vacancies.

After all, this was supposed to be about deterrence, not destruction.

4. Alex Cora is taking the fall

Watching Astros stars Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve treat their remorseless and insincere apologies like a nuisance, followed by owner Jim Crane declining to accept any responsibility for actions that happened on his watch, it's clear that Cora is being fitted to play the patsy.

While he's by no means innocent of wrongdoing and deserves the yearlong suspension (minimum) he's probably facing, he is becoming a convenient scapegoat for two organizations.

What happened in Houston was an institutional failure, but it's being presented as an individual one. All parties -- MLB, the Astros, and Red Sox -- have every incentive to lay this at Cora's feet like a live grenade before seeking cover.

Far easier to explain away the chicanery as the actions of one ruthless competitor, rather than acknowledge the much darker truth -- that even in Houston, Cora was just one of many who made it happen, from codebreaking interns to trash-can banging coaches to indifferent executives.

With no union or billionaires to protect him, Cora's on his own.

5. So how does this end?

If I had to guess, I don't believe it's in baseball's best interests to leave the Red Sox at such a competitive disadvantage (ie., lost draft picks) that it hamstrings one of the game's marquee franchises as it tries to rebuild. If that doesn't sound like justice to you, welcome to the real world.

The Red Sox have already paid a steep price by losing their manager, so I'd expect the league to come down extra hard on Cora -- blaming him primarily for whatever is uncovered in Boston -- and then putting this whole thing to bed.

Remember, baseball wants to eliminate electronic sign-stealing, not blow up the sport from within.

How Chris Sale was able to have Tommy John surgery amid coronavirus shutdown

How Chris Sale was able to have Tommy John surgery amid coronavirus shutdown

In a vacuum, it was a standard announcement from the Boston Red Sox on Monday.

"Left-handed pitcher Chris Sale today underwent successful left UCL reconstruction ('Tommy John surgery,')" the team's statement read. "The procedure was performed by Dr. Neal ElAttrache at the Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Los Angeles, CA."

But when you consider the circumstances -- that California is under a state-wide shelter-in-place order amid the global coronavirus pandemic -- it's pretty remarkable that Sale walked into a medical facility to undergo a non-essential operation.

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So, how did Sale and the Red Sox pull this off?

According to Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom, the team had plenty of internal debate before Sale flew to California on Monday.

"It was important to all of us to do this in a way that would not place any undue burden on anyone suffering due to coronavirus,” Bloom said Monday night in a conference call, via MassLive.com's Chris Cotillo.

"I spoke to Dr. ElAttrache personally to make sure that was the case here and he is just as mindful of the considerations that go along with surgery at a time like this. ... We know this is not life and death and that there are people who are suffering in situations that are life and death."

Los Angeles County (where Sale had his surgery) recently issued a memo recommending all elective surgeries be "limited" until further notice. But the memo didn't explicitly ban such operations, and ElAttrache is of the belief that they're borderline essential for top pitchers like Sale.

"I know that I’m going to get criticized for taking care of these kinds of guys, but it’s essential to their livelihoods," ElAttrache told the San Francisco Chronicle last week. "If you have somebody’s career at stake and they lose two seasons instead of one, I would say that is not a nonessential or unimportant elective procedure."

While ElAttrache's shop is still open, others are already shut down: Orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews recently announced he's suspending all Tommy John surgeries at his Florida clinic amid the pandemic.

The Red Sox revealed Sale would need surgery back on March 19 and didn't provide any updates until after Sale's operation Monday. So, why the delay?

Bloom told the reporters the team was working out logistics and making sure it was safe for Sale to go under the knife.

"I think under normal circumstances, we might have been able to have it happen a little bit sooner,” Bloom said. "Obviously, we’re still talking about a relatively short timetable. There’s usually a lag of a few days at a minimum to get something like this done, even in normal times. It was a little longer in this case just because of all the considerations that I discussed."

Sale faces a 14- to 15-month recovery that should sideline him until at least June 2021. But the 31-year-old likely is grateful he was able to have the operation at all before the pandemic worsens in the United States, which already has the most confirmed coronavirus cases than any country in the world.

Chaim Bloom estimates when Chris Sale could return from Tommy John surgery

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File Photo

Chaim Bloom estimates when Chris Sale could return from Tommy John surgery

Chris Sale turned 31 on Monday. He also had Tommy John surgery on his throwing elbow on that same day. The procedure will sideline him for at least the rest of the 2020 season and beyond. 

But when exactly can we expect Sale back? Boston Red Sox chief of baseball operations, Chaim Bloom, wouldn't confirm to an exact date, but he did provide some insight into how long Sale might be sidelined.

"We don't know exactly," Bloom said, per Christopher Smith of MassLive.com. "Typically you see around that 14-15 month range."

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Okay, so maybe that's not the most specific answer, but it at least gives us a ballpark idea of when Sale could return.

A 14-15 month recovery period would have Sale return sometime between early June and early July in 2021, if his recovery goes well. Of course, there are so many variables to take into account about how Sale may be progressing but also about how the Sox may be faring. If they aren't doing well, the team could take an extremely cautious approach with Sale in hopes of having him fully healthy for the 2022 season.

But Bloom's estimate at least gives Sox fans an initial target for Sale's potential return. The target date will certainly be fluid especially considering that some pitchers take 18 months to return from the surgery.

But no matter what, Sale won't be suiting up for the Red Sox until mid-2021 at the earliest. And that's bad news for the squad considering their lack of starting pitching depth.