Manfred: Investigation of Astros on sign stealing continues toward uncertain discipline

SAN DIEGO - Evev though Major League Baseball has interviewed 60 witnesses, and read 76,000 emails and troves of instant messages investigating the Astros’ alleged electronic sign stealing, commissioner Rob Manfred isn’t sure when the investigation will finish and what the appropriate discipline will be.

“The review has caused us to conclude that we have to some followup interviewing,” Manfred said at a Winter Meetings press conference Wednesday at the Manchester Grand Hyatt. “It is my hope to conclude the investigation as promptly as possible, but it is hard to predict how long something like that is going to take.

“At this point, it would be wholly inappropriate for me to speculate about what types of discipline might be in play. I’m going to get all the facts in front of me and make a decision as promptly as possible.”

Teams aren’t allowed to use electronic equipment to steal signs. The Astros have been accused of using a camera in 2017 to steal an opposing catcher’s signs, then signaling the type of pitch to the batter by banging a trash can on one end of the dugout.

The Astros won the 2017 World Series against the Dodgers and went 8-1 at home during that postseason.

And even with the Nationals re-signing Stephen Strasburg and the Yankees signing Gerrit Cole, the investigation into the Astros is part of the daily conversation and questions at managers’ press conferences.

Phillies manager Joe Girardi was managing in his last season with the Yankees in 2017 when they lost to the Astros in the postseason.

Asked about the Astros’ allegations, Girardi said, “I wasn’t shocked. We put in a lot of things to combat certain things. You know word gets around.”

Sign stealing is part of the game as long as it is done on the field, Girardi said: “You can’t guard against technology and players off the field.”

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said that he and Astros manager A.J. Hinch have talked, and while they are good friends, stealing signs electronically “absolutely” hurts the integrity of the game.

On-field stealing of signs is fine, Roberts said.

Roberts said he doesn’t know if he’s upset or not, but when asked if he thought about how things turned out at the World Series and if it could have meant a different outcome, he answered, “Possibly.”

But he resigned himself to the fact that nothing is going to change and that the Dodgers lost the World Series. “Nothing is going to change it, no matter how I feel,” he said.

Astros manager A.J. Hinch met an overflow crowd of reporters at his press conference, and he began by joking that he can’t remember being so popular.

Then he talked about how he couldn’t answer questions until the investigation is complete.

“I hope there’s a day where I’m able to answer more questions, but I know today’s not the day,” Hinch said. “I know it will disappoint some people. It will not stop all of you from asking questions about, but I can assure you I’m not going to answer questions.”

The media questions came anyway. The next 11 questions were about the investigation, the Astros’ reputation and how much time he’s spent answering questions.

Each time, Hinch declined a comment, saying many times, “That’s part of the investigation.”

Manfred also said:

* That he expects the three-batter minimum rule for relief pitchers will start in 2020. He said the rules are in the agreement that MLB made with the MLB Players Association.

* That no decision has been made about contracting minor league teams. He said MLB is flexible and hopes that Minor League Baseball will come to the table and negotiate issues that make the game and its facilities better for the players.

* That MLB is constantly studying the baseball and that the variability of the ball doesn’t bother because the balls are man-made with natural products and “both teams use the same ball.” He also said MLB wants to get players more involved in the study of baseballs.

* That all 30 teams next season will have protective netting that extends beyond the dugout and that seven teams will have netting that stretches between the foul poles.

* That the amateur draft will be held in Omaha, Neb., site of the College World Series, on June 10, 2020 and that players from the College World Series will be able to attend the first round, along with youth baseball teams from the Omaha area.