TORONTO – From his vantage point across the field, Randal Grichuk first assumed Houston’s lineup was simply better than anyone else’s. Someone had to be the best – why couldn’t it be the Astros?
Then, starting in the fall of 2017, the Toronto Blue Jays outfielder began hearing rumblings that the Astros’ league-leading offence was benefitting from a little extra help. And in recent weeks, as MLB has announced precedent-setting discipline for the Astros amidst further allegations about buzzers, Grichuk’s suspicions have been realized.
No doubt about it anymore, the Astros were cheating. Not only does that new reality bother some players around the league, it prompts a reassessment of what constitutes going too far for an edge.
“It’s frustrating,” Grichuk said Saturday at Toronto’s Winter Fest. “We thought they were so good. Head and shoulders above. Maybe their talent was better, maybe they have an analytics department that’s just better. They’ve beat the curve. To find out this, it’s definitely saddening.”
Or maddening, for members of the 2017 Dodgers team that lost to the Astros in the World Series. Then you have the fans who spent lots of money only to watch players breaking rules.
As starter Chase Anderson said, “it’s kind of been the shock heard around baseball.”
Even on a smaller scale, how many pitchers were lit up by the ’17 Astros team that led MLB in scoring? Those inflated ERAs don’t help you stay in the majors or look great in a contract negotiation.
“I think what a lot of people don’t realize is how much it affects the game,” said Grichuk, who lives in Houston during the off-season. “Not just wins and losses, but guys at triple-A trying to get an opportunity, guys who are compared to them in arbitration. I think it’s just bad for baseball.”
The Blue Jays’ clubhouse includes two people who were members of those 2017 Astros: bench coach Dave Hudgens and closer Ken Giles. Hudgens’ name wasn’t mentioned in MLB’s nine-page report detailing Houston’s scheme, and appears to remain in good standing with the Blue Jays. As for Giles, he said he wasn’t aware of any rule breaking but declined to discuss the topic further.
“The punishment has been sent out,” he said. “My main focus is right here in Toronto.”
On a practical level, teams must be sure about what they can and can’t do when such serious punishments are in play. As Anderson points out, some video work is perfectly fine. Teams review all kinds of footage between games, and mid-game video sessions are now common, too. Hitters will often retreat to the clubhouse between innings for a second look at their own at-bats. Pitching coaches will sometimes do the same on behalf of their pitchers.
“I think that’s a fair advantage,” Anderson said.
Some sign stealing is fine, too. If a runner picks signs up from second and relays them to the hitter, it’s fair game.
“That’s the pitcher and catcher’s fault right there,” Anderson said. “They need to change that up.”
The same goes for any pitcher who develops a “tell” in his delivery. Opposing coaches might notice and pass the message along to hitters, but the pitcher can only blame himself.
As Anderson said, “that’s on me.”
But once a team combines live video feed with signs the way the Astros did, they’ve gone too far.
“That’s where you’re breaking the line,” Anderson said. “If the hitter knows what’s coming, it’s a lot easier to hit a baseball than if he doesn’t, so I think that takes away some of the competitive gamesmanship of baseball.”
With that in mind, the discipline issued by Rob Manfred on Monday was historic. MLB suspended Astros GM Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch for one year without pay while also fining the organization $5 million and taking away Houston’s top two draft picks for both 2020 and 2021. Hours after that announcement, Astros owner Jim Crane dismissed both Luhnow and Hinch.
From there, the fallout spread quickly with the Red Sox dismissing manager Alex Cora and the Mets parting ways with manager Carlos Beltran due to their respective roles in the Astros’ sign stealing scheme. Since then, further allegations have arisen about buzzers, prompting calls for continued investigation from MLB.
“I think they need to come down heavily,” Grichuk said. “I think first-round picks and second-round picks for the next couple years, that’s big. Obviously that hurts your farm system and you’re not going to be able to get the Alex Bregman first rounders, the George Springers, the (Carlos) Correas. Hopefully that hurts. I hope they go hard and even harder.”
Even if it means taking away those 2017 championship rings?
“I’d like to see that,” Grichuk said. “I bet the Dodgers would like to see that. I’ve got a few friends on the Dodgers that are very disappointed that possibly two years in a row they lost to a team going against the rules. I think the bigger the better.”