Phillies president Andy MacPhail cheers whistleblower, jeers cheating Houston Astros

Phillies president Andy MacPhail cheers whistleblower, jeers cheating Houston Astros

CLEARWATER, Fla. – Pitcher Mike Fiers, who blew the whistle on the Houston Astros for cheating during the 2017 season, has a fan in Phillies president Andy MacPhail.

“I'm delighted this has come out,” MacPhail said during his annual spring-training address Friday. “I have all the respect in the world for Fiers for coming out and talking about it. I think the game's better as a result of it.”

MacPhail, a third-generation baseball executive, had no words of praise for the Astros organization.

“The Commissioner's office did a pretty exhaustive study,” MacPhail said. “They made their decisions. I have no reason to doubt it. I do think that the Commissioner went to some length to talk about the culture that was there that was disturbing. This wasn't, in my view, the first instance. How they treated some of their employees in the past is not something that would be tolerated by our ownership. You had the whole Taubman thing that went on and their reaction, and this was just another example.”

The Astros have spent plenty of time in the news – for all the wrong reasons – over the last five months.

In October, Brandon Taubman, one of their assistant general managers, was fired for directing an expletive-filled tirade toward a group of female reporters during a clubhouse celebration after the American League Championship Series.

In November, Fiers, now a member of the Oakland Athletics, went public in a story published by The Athletic with details of how the Astros used illicit methods to steal signs during their run to the World Series title in 2017. The firestorm led to an investigation by Major League Baseball and stiff penalties for the Astros, who ended up firing manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow. The scandal resulted in the Boston Red Sox and New York Mets letting their managers go.

The Red Sox remain under investigation by MLB for possible cheating infractions during their run to the 2018 World Series title. Alex Cora, the Red Sox manager that year, was Houston’s bench coach in 2017 and one of the alleged ringleaders in a scheme that used technology to steal signs. Carlos Beltran, an Astros player, at the time, was another ringleader. The Mets last month fired him as manager before he ever managed a game.

The use of technology around dugouts has increased in recent seasons as Major League Baseball has introduced instant replay as a way to challenge disputed umpire calls. Some players like having a video area close to the dugout so they can watch their at-bats and make adjustments in real time.

But the proximity of this technology and these video areas to the dugout can create problems, as evidenced by the Houston scandal and the black mark it has put on that organization and on baseball, in general.

MacPhail offered a potential solution.

“As far as I'm concerned, you could lock that video room at the first pitch and not open it up again until the last pitch,” he said. “We don't need to be going in there every five minutes. Am I confident that that's going to put an end to it? I think you have to be vigilant. There's always going to be some people that try to get an edge and bend the rules no matter what you do, and you have to be aware of that and you need to dam up every place you can where water's coming down because they'll try to find a way.”

MacPhail was asked if he would set a trend and order the Phillies’ video room locked at the start of games.

“I’m not going to do it if we’re one out of 30 and then MLB decides that they’re going to allow it,” he said. “I’m hopeful that MLB is going to create an even playing field and lock it down. If not, do other things in addition to that.

“I know they’re looking at a variety of things. I’m just speaking for myself. I’m probably going to get myself in trouble. But yeah, I’d lock the darn thing.”

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Virus has Phillies in holding pattern with J.T. Realmuto and Seranthony Dominguez

Virus has Phillies in holding pattern with J.T. Realmuto and Seranthony Dominguez

Because of the coronavirus health crisis and the delay in starting the Major League Baseball season, the Phillies remain in a holding pattern on a couple of significant baseball matters, general manager Matt Klentak said Thursday.

It's still unclear whether reliever Seranthony Dominguez will opt to have his injured right elbow surgically repaired. The health crisis has prevented Dominguez from getting a second opinion from orthopedic surgeon James Andrews. Dominguez is currently with family in his native Dominican Republic.

"Medicine is not always black and white," Klentak said. "There's a possibility it may head down that (surgical) road, but until he gets the second opinion, we have no firm declaration. For a lot of players, surgery is a last option, particularly when the surgery keeps you out as long as Tommy John surgery does. Before we go down that road, we want to make sure everyone is in agreement on what the right course of action is."

Dominguez saw Andrews shortly after injuring his elbow in early June last season. Surgery was not recommended at that time, but Dominguez missed the remainder of the season. He had a setback in August and again in March and all signs point to his needing surgery. Andrews would be a likely person to handle the surgery, but he is not seeing patients at the moment because of the health crisis.

Surgery, whenever it happens, would sideline Dominguez for more than a year.

The other matter currently on hold involves All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto and the team's effort to sign him to a contract extension before he becomes a free agent in the fall. The two sides had begun negotiations in February, but those talks, by mandate from Major League Baseball, are now on hold because of the health crisis.

Could the freeze on negotiations and the uncertainty of whether or not there will be a 2020 season hurt the Phillies in their quest to keep Realmuto off the free-agent market?

"Whenever we resume playing, we'll see what the circumstances are and re-engage," Klentak said. "Nobody can predict what the parameters will be at that point or what will happen, but I think everyone knows we love J.T. and he's a player we'd love to have for the long haul."

Thursday would have been the Phillies' home opener. They had been scheduled to play their first seven games on the road before MLB suspended action on March 12 and encouraged players to head home. Training facilities have subsequently been closed except to a handful of players who are rehabilitating from injuries. 

MLB still hopes to have a season in some form, but nothing is certain. Like the rest of the world, it is at the mercy of the virus.

"I don't have enough information to know what's going to happen and I'm not sure anyone does," Klentak said. "What I am confident about is owners, players, front offices, fans, media, everybody is aligned in wanting to play baseball as quickly as we can. When all parties are as aligned as that, it gives me confidence that we'll get back as soon as we can get back. But I'm not in a position to make any predictions as to when that might happen.

"We'll do the best we can in the interim to prepare for the season. If it's a traditional season, we'll be prepared. If it's a modified season, we'll be prepared. I have a lot of confidence in league operations."

A resumed spring training would be required before any type of regular season, but Klentak would not speculate on what that might look like.

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Layoffs? Pay cuts? Phillies hope to avoid measures like that with full-time staff

Layoffs? Pay cuts? Phillies hope to avoid measures like that with full-time staff

The suspension of the Major League Baseball season due to the coronavirus health crisis has already hurt the revenues of all teams and will continue to do so as long as the game is shut down.

This has some people who work for teams all over baseball concerned about their jobs. 

Every MLB team, according to sources, has informed its full-time employees that business will run as usual through the end of April at which point teams will assess their respective situations.

Phillies general manager Matt Klentak on Thursday was asked about the potential for layoffs or salary cuts within the organization.

"That's a situation that is not unique to baseball, unfortunately," Klentak said. "A lot of decisions will be made above my pay grade, obviously. For all of us, we are hopeful that we'll resume and not have to take measures like that. We trust that the Phillies are owned and run by very good people — and have been for a long time. Everybody is trying to do the best thing right now."

Layoffs and salary cuts were a big issue during the work stoppage in 1994-95. Some teams did cut full-time staff and pay. The Phillies did not.

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