The Houston Astros received an unprecedented punishment from Major League Baseball on Monday for a system created to steal signs from opposing teams, and the Boston Red Sox could be the next team to face harsh penalties.
Red Sox manager Alex Cora was the Astros' bench coach for the 2017 season and was a key player in the team's sign-stealing scandal. The league had been investigating the Astros for several months, and the penalties stemming from that are quite severe. Houston manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow both were suspended for a year. The Astros also lost first- and second-round draft picks in 2020 and 2021, in addition to a $5 million fine.
The harshest punishment could be yet to come, though. The league also is investigating the 2018 Red Sox for their own sign-stealing methods. Cora managed that Red Sox squad to a World Series title after winning a franchise-record 108 regular season games.
The MLB, in its report on the Astros, concluded Hinch neither created nor participated in the Astros' sign-stealing methods, and yet he still got suspended for an entire season. Cora, on the other hand, played a much larger role in the whole process. The league's conclusion of Cora's role does not bode well for his chances of managing for Boston in 2020 (or even beyond).
From the league's report:
Cora arranged for a video room technician to install a monitor displaying the center field camera feed immediately outside of the Astros’ dugout. (The center field camera was primarily used for player development purposes and was allowed under MLB rules at the time when used for that purpose.) Witnesses have provided largely consistent accounts of how the monitor was utilized. One or more players watched the live feed of the center field camera on the monitor, and after decoding the sign, a player would bang a nearby trash can with a bat to communicate the upcoming pitch type to the batter. (Witnesses explained that they initially experimented with communicating sign information by clapping, whistling, or yelling, but that they eventually determined that banging a trash can was the preferred method of communication.) Players occasionally also used a massage gun to bang the trash can. Generally, one or two bangs corresponded to certain off-speed pitches, while no bang corresponded to a fastball.
Here's the summary on Cora from the league's investigation of the Astros.
Alex Cora (Bench Coach). Cora was involved in developing both the banging scheme and utilizing the replay review room to decode and transmit signs. Cora participated in both schemes, and through his active participation, implicitly condoned the players’ conduct. I will withhold determining the appropriate level of discipline for Cora until after the DOI completes its investigation of the allegations that the Red Sox engaged in impermissible electronic sign stealing in 2018 while Cora was the manager.
Cora's name is mentioned 11 times in the nine-page report released by the league Monday.
The best way to deter a team and/or coach from participating in rule-breaking activity is to come down with a huge punishment. The league certainly did that with the Astros, and this should make Cora and the Red Sox very nervous. It's probably time for the Red Sox to come up with a list of potential manager replacements.