The first two names in the “factual findings” section of Major League Baseball’s report on illicit sign-stealing by the Houston Astros were not current members of the club: They were Alex Cora, now the Boston Red Sox manager, and Carlos Beltran, who was hired as the Mets’ manager in November.
Both men were members of the Astros in 2017 — Cora as a bench coach and Beltran as a player — and were implicated in the scandal, but so far only Cora is facing a severe penalty.
Cora was the most culpable actor in the scheme to steal opposing catchers’ signs via a video feed and communicate them to the Astros’ hitters, coordinating the effort with several players starting early in the 2017 season, according to M.L.B.’s report. Beltran was the only Astros player named in the report, and M.L.B. declined to hold any players responsible, citing a 2017 memo in which Commissioner Rob Manfred said he would hold managers and general managers accountable for such schemes.
M.L.B. did just that on Monday, suspending Astros Manager A.J. Hinch and General Manager Jeff Luhnow until the end of the 2020 World Series for allowing the conduct to occur under their watch. Shortly after M.L.B. announced the suspensions on Monday, the Astros owner Jim Crane fired Hinch and Luhnow.
With that precedent set, Cora, who was hired by the Red Sox before the 2018 season and immediately led them to the World Series title, could face the same fate from his Red Sox bosses after their case is fully investigated in the coming weeks. M.L.B. is now investigating whether the Red Sox also illegally used technology to steal signs, and whether Cora was involved again. The league said it would refrain from issuing a penalty to Cora until that investigation was complete.
While nothing has been decided, two people familiar with both investigations who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter said that Cora’s conduct would earn him a suspension at least as long as Hinch’s.
And if Crane felt compelled to fire Hinch and Luhnow for not stopping the illegal activity, the Red Sox owner John Henry could feel pressure to do the same to Cora, who was an active participant in 2017 and was a central architect of that entire caper. The Red Sox declined to comment on the matter on Tuesday, and Cora, who is highly regarded in Boston from his two years as manager, did not respond to requests for comment.
In the primary Astros scheme, video equipment was used to decipher the catcher’s signs, and that information was then relayed to batters by various methods — most often someone banging on a nearby trash can with a bat; the number of hits on the trash can indicated what pitch was coming.
“Cora was involved in developing both the banging scheme and utilizing the replay review room to decode and transmit signs,” the report said. “Cora participated in both schemes, and through his active participation, implicitly condoned the players’ conduct.”
M.L.B. also stripped Houston of four future draft picks and fined the team $5 million. If M.L.B. discovers that the Red Sox were engaged in similar behavior in 2018, then Boston could lose draft picks and face a heavy fine, too.
The commissioner’s office announced its separate investigation into the Red Sox this month after an article in The Athletic, citing anonymous sources connected to the club, accused Boston of illegally using the replay video room next to the dugout to decipher signs.
Luhnow, in a statement issued on Monday through his law firm, blamed his underlings for the Astros’ cheating, particularly Cora, noting that the “video decoding of signs originated and was executed by lower-level employees working with the bench coach.”
Beltran’s situation is different. M.L.B. said in its statement that it would have been impractical to punish the players, because they were not in official leadership roles at the time. Players were assured immunity in return for their cooperation, and it is believed Beltran was forthright with investigators. But he was the only player named in the report because he played a central role, along with Cora, in initiating the scheme. The M.L.B. report also noted that virtually all of the position players were involved in sign-stealing and that many had migrated to different teams, making it even more cumbersome to issue suspensions that would hurt those teams and not the Astros.
Therefore Beltran, even though he is a manager now, might slip through unscathed. That is, unless the Mets decide to impose punishment of their own based on the precedent set by the Astros with Hinch. That pressure could mount depending on Cora’s fate. In November, Beltran stated in an article in The New York Post that he had not been involved. That has now been contradicted by M.L.B.’s findings.
The report said Beltran, who was in his final year as a player in 2017, was at least a consultant in the affair.
“Approximately two months into the 2017 season, a group of players, including Carlos Beltran, discussed that the team could improve on decoding opposing teams’ signs and communicating the signs to the batter,” the report said.
The Mets declined to comment for this article, and Beltran also did not respond to a request for comment.
With the investigation into the Astros’ scandal concluded, M.L.B. hopes to wrap the Red Sox investigation before teams head to spring training in mid-February.
Regardless of the outcome, Cora is likely to be suspended for his conduct with the Astros, and he is not expected to report to Red Sox spring training.
In its investigation of the Astros, M.L.B. said, it had interviewed 68 witnesses, including 23 current and former Astros players, and reviewed thousands of communications, video clips, photographs and documents. A similar effort is expected with Boston, with Cora in the cross hairs again.