The Astros and Red Sox, winners of the 2017 and 2018 World Series titles, have received their punishments from MLB for sign stealing, and have affirmed what may have been obvious all along: cheaters do prosper.
Sure MLB made a scapegoat of a couple individuals along the way: the Astros GM and manager got a one-year suspension; as did Red Sox manager Alex Cora, and his video replay operator J.T. Watkins. Most will be allowed to return in 2021 in whatever capacity their teams would like to reward them, Watkins cannot work in video replay until after the 2021 season. (Also worth noting: the GM of the Red Sox had already stepped down before the investigation took place.)
In addition to those four individual suspensions of team employees, the following costs were levied:
- $5 million cash fine (Houston)
- 2020 1st round draft pick (Houston)
- 2020 2nd round draft pick (Houston and Boston)
- 2021 1st round draft pick (Houston)
- 2021 2nd round draft pick (Houston)
There is a reason that players, in the aftermath of these investigations, were gleeful at the results. Not a single baseball player who benefited from the cheating scandals was punished. The front office took the heat every step of the way.
The value of first round draft picks for a competitive team is around $10 million, and the value of second round picks around $6 million, so in a way the Astros paid a steeper price, but not by much.
The value of a postseason run in ticket revenue, television revenue, and merchandising — particularly one that results in a World Series victory — most assuredly makes up for penalties that do not even surpass $40 million. The Astros have already driven up their attendance, their playoff appearances, their television ratings, their merchandise sales, and their franchise value for several years.
MLB’s punishments are a slap on the wrist.
MLB’s light punishments show the Astros/Red Sox calculus was correct. The benefits of cheating massively outweigh the downsides. A chilling realization given the league’s increasing involvement with gambling. Delegitimizes the entire sport.— Bill Baer (@Baer_Bill) April 22, 2020
And the lack of severity in these punishments reveal that the biggest loser in these scandals are the Tampa Bay Rays, who were facing off against the Astros and Red Sox along the way to fielding a competitive team again.
For instance, the Red Sox had a 102wRC+ with RISP prior to hiring Alex Cora, and then a 128wRC+ with Cora in 2018-2019. At Tropicana Field, the Red Sox had a .879 OPS over 20 games with RISP over the last two years. The Astros, on their way to an American League title, mysteriously knew everything Tyler Glasnow would throw in Game 5 of the ALDS.
Also of note, the rival Astros and Red Sox also nabbed two of the top three executives in the Rays front office to run their teams moving forward, with the departure of the head of research and development James Click to become the Astros general manager, and co-general manager Chaim Bloom to the head of baseball operations in Boston.
It’s arguable that the Rays were far more damaged by losing games — and furthermore by losing two key minds in the brain trust — to these cheating teams than they every will be. The Red Sox and Astros retain all of the benefits that come from winning it all.
The lesson from MLB is clear: these penalties were designed to not hurt anyone other than a couple individuals. The franchises who cheated continue to reap benefits, the ones who had playoff victories and front office executives stolen away are not compensated.
In other words, the consequences of cheating are, at worst, meager in comparison to the vast benefits that await a franchise. The players will not be punished. The fans will have been rewarded.
So what’s the real lesson? The Rays should be cheating. It’s as simple as that.
MLB’s investigations and the associated consequences have shown that neither morality or integrity are relevant to the sport’s priorities, so why should it be relevant to the team’s?