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Manfred hints Red Sox sign-stealing discipline is imminent

2019 Major League Baseball Winter Meetings

BOSTON, MA - DECEMBER 10: Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred speaks during the 2019 Major League Baseball Winter Meetings on December 10, 2019 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

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At the owners meetings yesterday Rob Manfred talked about the ongoing drama surrounding baseball’s sign-stealing scandal. Specifically, he talked about the imminent punishment for the Boston Red Sox and what Major League Baseball intends to do with respect to sign-stealing in the future.

First, with the Red Sox: Manfred said that he expects to level punishment “before camps open,” which is next week. So brace yourself for a Jeff Passan tweet followed by a press release that someone gave Jeff Passan before it was sent out sometime soon.

As for that punishment, Manfred said that, as was the case with Houston, Red Sox players have been given immunity in exchange for information. It’s simply a practical thing, Manfred correctly noted. The league office would not get cooperation from players if they were at risk of punishment. Manfred made the analogy to law enforcement cutting deals with smaller crooks in order to get the bigger ones. In this instance, per his memo to all 30 teams a couple of years ago, and per the reality that managers and general managers have the power to stop such schemes in ways that individual players don’t, it’s the GM and manager who are going to get popped.

Not that such a state of affairs will exist going forward. There have been increasing noises that, in the future, players will be subject to punishment if technology-aided sign-stealing occurs again. Again, it makes sense: fair punishment in any context involves an element of would-be perpetrators knowing ahead of time what it prohibited and what consequences exist for transgressions. In light of that, I would be shocked if Manfred’s statements in the wake of the Red Sox punishment do not include at least some signal that these retrospective cases led to player immunity for practical reasons, players will be in the crosshairs in future cases.

Finally, Manfred spoke about how to better prevent such schemes going forward. Refreshingly, he didn’t make reference to convoluted means of pitchers and catchers communicating via wristwatches or buzzers or other means of technological signaling. Rather, he correctly noted that the issue with the Astros and the Red Sox was access to real time video and talked about limiting players’ access to such things, Manfred:

“I think you should assume that before the season starts, we will have new guidelines with respect to the use of video equipment . . . I think we have too much video available in real time right now.”

This suggests that new rules may come out that would limit who is allowed in the video room used for instant replay purposes.

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