Red Sox’ Sign Stealing Punishment and What It Means for MLB Fans
The Red Sox will reportedly give up a second-round pick in the 2020 First-Year Player Draft as part of the discipline delivered by the MLB
The day and age of instant communication continue to be a bear for Major League Baseball. In an article published Wednesday, Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich of the Athletic detailed the findings of the MLB investigation on the Red Sox’ illegal use of a video replay booth during the 2018 regular season.
The punishments are as follows: a suspension without pay for replay employee JT Watkins for the 2020 season (including postseason), a ban of JT Watkins from working as a replay operator in the 2021 season (including the postseason), and forfeiture of the second-round pick in the 2020 MLB Draft (52nd overall).
Additionally, former Red Sox manager Alex Cora has been suspended through the 2020 postseason–but only for his role in the Houston Astros’ own sign-stealing scandal. The report from the league states, “While I will not impose additional discipline on Cora as a result of the conduct engaged in by Watkins (because I do not find that he was aware of it), I do note that Cora did not effectively communicate to Red Sox players the sign-stealing rules that were in place for the 2018 season.
These punishments come at the tail end of the investigation into the Red Sox following a separate report by Rosenthal and Drellich published on January 7th, which alleged Boston had been using the replay room inappropriately. As both detail in the article, the video replay rooms were established in 2014 in response to the new replay rules the league had implemented in an effort to help teams make decisions on whether to challenge calls on the field.
The Red Sox had moved their replay room in 2018 from the box to the room in which the indoor batting cages were located; making it much more convenient to communicate with players, but also convenient to deliver signs. The flow of signs went from the replay room to the dugout; then from the dugout to the player.
Decoding signs was once something a player would try to do on second base to give the hitter an advantage (or just to get into the pitcher’s head) but has now somewhat become of an art-form. Decoding signs using video from prior games is actually legal; but doing so with in-game footage, as Watkins was found to do, is not permitted.
The obvious question plaguing every baseball fan is whether this punishment truly enough. The Red Sox were not shy to cheat in 2018 after being fined in 2017 over the famous Apple Watch incident. Players, while being beneficiaries to sign-stealing, have not been punished to this point; as Manfred mentions specifically in the findings that he does not feel the players knew about the violations while also expressing some players’ ignorance on the rule itself.
This “crackdown” from the league feels absolutely light, and I have a feeling the league knows it feels light too. Otherwise, why not announce Cora’s discipline along with the rest of the Astros? The argument can be made that the league needed to ensure that Cora was not involved in this particular violation in order to give out the more appropriate punishment, but adding punishment would not have been a tall task for the league, and separating the punishments would perhaps have delivered a drop of clarity in their discipline protocol which gets murkier by the incident.
I have never been a fan of punishment via draft picks in baseball. It is difficult to hit on first-round picks, let alone anything beyond that. While the jury is still out on many of these players, none of the last 52nd overall picks from the last five seasons are a Top 10 Prospect in their respective organization according to MLB Pipeline’s ratings. Take a look:
- 2019: Kendall Williams (Blue Jays)
- 2018: Griffin Conine (Blue Jays)
- 2017: MJ Melendez (Orioles)
- 2016: Andrew Yerzy (Diamondbacks)
- 2015: Chris Betts (Rays)
Fans should be frazzled and the league should be concerned. We are now to the point where the integrity of the game is at stake and fans have the right to the skepticism of a player or teams’ success. A second-round pick and a fall guy is a small price to pay in exchange for allowing your players to know what pitch is coming. In the age of high-turnover General Managers and front offices, it’s reasonable to wonder how many executives would take that exchange on a yearly basis.