The MLB on Wednesday stripped the Boston Red Sox of their second-round pick in this year’s amateur draft for sign stealing back in 2018.
Additionally, former manager Alex Cora was suspended through the 2020 postseason as a result of his previous conduct as bench coach with the Houston Astros.
Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred, in announcing his decision, said that Red Sox replay system operator J.T. Watkins broke the rules by using in-game video to change sign sequences provided to players. Watkins has been suspended without pay through this year’s postseason. He is also prohibited from serving as the replay room operator through next year’s season.
However, Manfred also found Boston’s conduct to be less of a violation than that of the Astros, whom he determined used video to steal catchers’ signs on their way to a 2017 World Series title and again during the following season.
Back in January, he suspended Astros manager AJ Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow through the 2020 postseason and fined the team $5 million, the maximum under the Major League Constitution. The Astros were also penalized their next two first- and second-round amateur draft picks.
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“Unlike the Houston Astros’ 2017 conduct, in which players communicated to the batter from the dugout area in real time the precise type of pitch about to be thrown, Watkins’ conduct, by its very nature, was far more limited in scope and impact,” Manfred wrote.
He continued, “The information was only relevant when the Red Sox had a runner on second base (which was 19.7% of plate appearances league-wide in 2018), and Watkins communicated sign sequences in a manner that indicated that he had decoded them from the in-game feed in only a small percentage of those occurrences.”
Manfred called Watkins, who is a former minor league player, a “key participant” in the 2017 incident, when the Red Sox used a smartwatch in order to relay decoded signs from the replay room to the dugout.
However, Manfred added that Cora did not know and had no reason to know what Watkins was involved in. Cora left the Astros following the 2017 season and managed the Red Sox to the 2018 title.
Cora and newly hired New York Mets manager Carlos Beltrán ultimately lost their jobs. Cora and Beltrán, who was the senior player on the 2017 Astros, were named as the key figures in a scheme to place a camera near Houston’s dugout and have players signal breaking pitches by banging on a trash can.
“MLB acknowledged the front office’s extensive efforts to communicate and enforce the rules and concluded that Alex Cora, the coaching staff, and most of the players did not engage in, nor were they aware of, any violations,” Red Sox president Sam Kennedy said in a statement. “Regardless, these rule violations are unacceptable. We apologize to our fans and Major League Baseball.”