- The Washington Times - Monday, January 13, 2020

The Houston Astros fired manager AJ Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow Monday, just hours after Major League Baseball suspended them for one year after an investigation concluded the team used technology to steal signs.

Hinch managed the Astros for five years, including their run to a World Series title in 2017 — the season that was the focus of MLB’s investigation. Luhnow was worked for the team since 2011 and was considered a wizards with analytics.

The team also will be fined $5 million and docked first- and second-round draft picks in 2020 and 2021.

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MLB’s findings also implicate Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora. Cora was the bench coach for the 2017 Astros team in question before taking the Boston job. The Red Sox are also reported to be under investigation for similar charges of technology-aided sign-stealing in 2018.

It is unknown who will manage the Astros in 2020. Joe Espada is the team’s bench coach, a position usually viewed as the manager’s second-in-command. ESPN also reported that “harsh” punishment is coming for Cora.

According to the league’s findings, Hinch told investigators he disapproved of the sign-stealing methods players were using and twice damaged the TV monitors on purpose to try to put a stop to it.

Nonetheless, in a statement, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred criticized the Astros‘ culture under Luhnow.

“But while no one can dispute that Luhnow’s baseball operations department is an industry leader in its analytics, it is very clear to me that the culture of the baseball operations department, manifesting itself in the way its employees are treated, its relations with other Clubs, and its relations with the media and external stakeholders, has been very problematic,” Manfred said.

Manfred likely was alluding to another incident that arose during the 2019 playoffs, weeks before the first reports of a sign-stealing system, when former assistant GM Brandon Taubman directed obscenities toward female reporters when shouting his support for alleged domestic abuser Roberto Osuna. The Astros‘ PR staff initially accused reporter Stephanie Apstein of fabricating the story before the team relented and fired Taubman.

Luhnow released a statement in which he apologized and accepted responsibility for the rule violations MLB discovered, but claimed that “I am not a cheater” and denied direct involvement.

“As the Commissioner set out in his statement, I did not personally direct, oversee or engage in any misconduct: The sign-stealing initiative was not planned or directed by baseball management; the trash-can banging was driven and executed by players, and the video decoding of signs originated and was executed by lower-level employees working with the bench coach (Cora),” Luhnow said.

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