The Houston Astros, as speculated by many, did in fact get hammered for their part in sign-stealing via technology. Major League Baseball suspended their general manager, Jeff Luhnow, and manager AJ Hinch for the 2020 season. Then Astros owner Jim Crane went further than that. He fired both Luhnow and Hinch.
Houston also lost first- and second-round draft picks in both 2020 and 2021. They will also lose the significant bonus pool dollars for each slot of the four picks. That will hurt their entire draft. Plus, the team got fined $5 million.
It should be noted that no current Orioles staff that was employed then by Houston was even mentioned in the lengthy MLB report. They were not implicated in any way, so any fan concerns over that can now be forgotten.
What impact will yesterday’s news have?
As I wrote less than a week ago, this was a “Judge Landis” moment for commissioner Rob Manfred. And in my opinion, he handed out a strong penalty. The penalties here should serve as a clear deterrent to any player or team that considers using technology to cheat going forward.
This is likely the biggest impact the Houston scandal has on the rest of the sport. A lot of this cheating was player-driven, per MLB’s report. But moving forward, GMs and managers surely will strongly spread the word throughout their clubhouses: Don’t even think about it.
The loss of the draft picks will be very significant. For two drafts Houston will have little money to spend on picks and it will hard to produce much impact out of those drafts starting with selections in round three.
One benefit for the Orioles will be moving up a spot in the draft order. Not with their No. 2 overall pick, of course. But they currently hold the No. 31 pick in June, the first pick after round one, which is in Competitive Balance Round A. With Houston losing pick No. 30, the O’s move up to No. 30.
Last year the slot amount at No. 31 was $2,312,000, and at No. 30 the figure was $2,365,500, so the Orioles gain a few dollars in their overall bonus pool as well. If Boston gets busted and loses a first-rounder too, the Orioles could move up to No. 29, which last year had a pool amount of $2,424,600.
Baltimore’s second-round pick moves from No. 40 to No. 39. And its third-round pick moves up two slots after Houston loses its two picks, from No. 76 to No. 74. So the O’s, as of today, will select at No. 2, No. 30, No. 39 and No. 74 with their first four selections.
We can’t put any stat on it but the losses of Luhnow and Hinch are big. However you feel about those gentlemen, they proved very talented at what they do. They won. They set a tone for the organization that produced big on-field success. They came close to winning two World Series titles in three years.
But MLB had to take a hard-line against the cheating, and in my opinion it did the right thing with Houston.
Feeling a draft: Speaking of the First-Year Player Draft, Baseball America has posted a rather early 2020 mock draft. It has Detroit, selecting first, taking Vanderbilt shortstop Austin Martin at 1/1. Martin has hit .376/.479/.521 in two years in the Southeastern Conference. It has the Orioles at No. 2 taking right-handed pitcher Emerson Hancock from the University of Georgia. At No. 3, the projection is for Miami to select Arizona State first baseman Spencer Torkelson, who has hit 48 homers over two seasons.
Baseball America notes that, “as with the Tigers, we expect the Orioles to be choosing one of the Martin/Hancock/Torkelson trio at this point. While Torkelson makes sense here as the best hit/power bat in the 2020 class, it’s worth noting that Mike Elias and Sig Megdal have always taken up-the-middle hitters or pitchers with top-five picks, going back to 2012 with the Astros.”
Hancock made 14 starts last year, going 8-3 with a 1.99 ERA, a .185 average against and a 0.84 WHIP that led the SEC. He fanned 97 and walked 18 over 90 1/3 innings. He went 4-2 with a 1.69 ERA in SEC games.