Astros sign steeling story rises again

by Dan M | Posted on Friday, February 14th, 2020

Image result for Astros chetingscandal

BY DIC HUMPHREY                                                                                                                                                  DHUMPHREY24@GMAIL

     Spring Training camps opened in Arizona and Florida this week.  Usually the big stories early in spring training are about roster spot battles and each team’s outlook on the season, but not this year.    The opening of training camps has rekindled the story of the Astros electronic sign stealing scandal that rocked baseball last month.  So far, it has cost three managers and one general manager their jobs, and the carnage may not be over.  The commissioner’s report on the Red Sox is expected momentarily, and rumors persist that the electronic sign stealing was not limited to just these two teams.

     On Thursday in West Palm Beach Florida, the Astros opened camp with a press conference to supposedly apologize for the mess, and hopefully put the controversy behind them.  It didn’t work.  Players Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman opened with brief statements.  Very brief.  The total time the two collectively spent on the podium was only about a minute and a half.  I.E., they didn’t say much, though they did meet with media members in the locker room afterward.  Owner Jim Crane emphasized that players should not be punished for their part in the sign stealing, that the episode is a failure of management.  It sounded like a directive from the Commissioner’s office.  Relations with the powerful players’ union are tenuous at this point; and with a new collective bargaining agreement on the horizon, going after players for their part in the scandal would bring the angst of the union.  There is no question though that fans and even former players are outraged that no penalties will be levied against the guilty parties.  

     The players were asked about the use of a device strapped underneath their uniforms to receive electronic messages as to what pitch is coming.  Neither Altuve nor Bregman flat out denied the use of buzzers.  They referred to the commissioners’ report that indicated there was no evidence the players were alerted to pitches by the use of buzzers.  It raises the question – if they didn’t do it, why aren’t they flat out denying it in no uncertain terms?  It leaves the strong impression they are guilty as charged with the further insinuation that the sign stealing was not confined solely to the 2017 season when the Astros won the World Series.

    The press conference was a disaster.  First, there is the question of timing.  It’s been a month since the Commissioner’s report was made public and the Astros’ penalties announced.  Why did it take so long to apologize?  It appears spin doctors have been working with the Astros for a month to get everyone’s story straight.  Crane contradicted himself.  The players sounded insincere.  Instead of putting the story to bed, it has given it new life.  Clearly, the Astros’ organization as well as their World Series win is tarnished.  The players involved are tarnished.  The sport itself is tarnished.  It’s a black eye on all of Major League Baseball.  

    The questions surrounding the Astros sign stealing scandal hit home in the Rangers’ camp.  Catcher Robinson Chirinos was an Astro last season.  He initiated the conversation that he did not take part in electronic sign stealing.  Chirinos was interviewed by MLB as part of their investigation of the Astros.  He flat out denied that buzzers were utilized last year.  

    In the World Series, something was seen flying off his bat.  He retrieved the object and put it in his back pocket.  That raised suspicion that he was utilizing a device to know in advance what pitch was coming.  The night before the event, Chirinos had hit a home run, and MLB put an authentication sticker on the bat that he used.  He claims that sticker is what flew off his bat.  There has been independent verification that an authentication had been put on his bat.  Chirinos feels that he has been wrongly accused and wants MLB to speak out on their findings to clear his name.

Other Rangers’ news

    It is an odd situation, but the Rangers’ starting rotation is basically set with veterans.  Usually, there are two or three rotation spots allocated, and a host of candidates trying to prove they deserve one of the other two or three slots.  Injuries can happen to change the outlook, but at this point, the only crack in the armor is Kyle Gibson.  He has suffered health issues with ulcerative colitis that zaps his strength and endurance.  He may not be ready when the season begins.  That could open the door for one of the young pitching candidates to make the opening day roster.  They are lefties Taylor Hearn, Joe Palumbo, Brock Burke and Kolby Allard and righties Jonathan Hernandez and Ariel Jurado.  

    The closer role is up for grabs, and Jose Leclerc is the leading candidate.  He was the closer when last season began after a strong finish to 2018.  He failed early, but came back to be the closer at season’s end.  However, he still doesn’t have a solid hold on the job.  Last week, the Rangers signed Cody Allen to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training.  Allen was once a premier closer as he recorded 147 saves for Cleveland from 2014 through 2018.  Injuries derailed his 2019 season, but if he’s healthy, he might be a very pleasant surprise for the Rangers’ opening day roster.

    The Kris Bryant watch is on.  The Cubs third baseman and former National League MVP Award winner lost his grievance about playing time.  He will not be a free agent until after the 2021.  With that question settled, teams can now asses his trade value.  As always, the media has dubbed the Rangers as a leading candidate to make a deal for the third baseman.  They were also the leading candidates for Anthony Rendon, Josh Donaldson and Nolan Arenado.  Texas still needs a middle of the order bat, preferably right handed, to shore up the offense.  Rangers’ GM Jon Daniels said nothing is working now, but told MLB.com’s T. R. Sullivan, “I would love to add another middle-of-the-order offensive player.”

   If Bryant were acquired, the Rangers likely would put him at third base and move recently signed Todd Frazier to first base.

    Center field at this point looks like Danny Santana.  The questions the Rangers have to answer are if Santana is better utilized as a center fielder or in the super sub role he held last season.  Nick Solak and Eli White are athletic middle infielders that are center field candidates. Scott Heineman and Adolis Garcia are primarily outfielders that have played the corner positions, but might slide over to center.  Leody Taveras is a minor league prospect that is probably Major League ready defensively, but needs more offensive development to join the Rangers.  MLB.com ranks Taveras as the Rangers’ number five minor league prospects.

    First base is a question. Ronald Guzman is outstanding defensively but hasn’t hit to expectations.  Guzman was demoted to AAA last season to work on his hit tool and was better when he returned in September, but questions still persist.  This is Guzman’s third year on the Rangers, and it is likely to be a make it or break it season for Texas.  If he’s going to be a core player for the Rangers going forward, he needs to hit this year. 

    Catcher Sam Huff is the Rangers’ number two minor league prospect and is in the Major League camp this spring.  He won’t be on the Opening Day roster this year, but he’s a player that is expected to be part of the core in the next couple of years.  Huff is likely in Frisco this season giving local fans the opportunity to see the Rangers’ future in person.  

    Demarcus Evans is another interesting farm hand in camp.  Evans is a hard throwing pitcher that registers 100 on the radar gun.  He hasn’t pitched above AA, and has control problems; but he has an outside chance to make be on the opening day roster as a reliever.  

    The position players report to camp this weekend.  The first full squad workouts will take place next week.  Spring Training will be in full swing when the exhibition games begin next weekend.

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