Red Sox sign-stealing investigation: MLB strips draft pick, pins wrongdoing on replay operator


Major League Baseball has determined that the Red Sox’s replay official is primarily to blame for the team’s 2018 sign-stealing scandal, the league announced Wednesday.. The Red Sox will be stripped of their second-round draft pick in 2020, and replay operator J.T. Watkins will be banned through the 2020 playoffs and forbidden to perform replay duties during the 2021 season. 

As well, former Red Sox manager Alex Cora has been banned from MLB until the end of the 2020 postseason; however, his ban is pursuant to the Astros’ cheating scandal, which was resolved earlier this year

In 2018, the Red Sox won a franchise record 108 games during the regular season and then prevailed over the Dodgers in five games in the World Series. 

Back in January, the Houston Astros were fined $5 million (the maximum under the Major League Constitution) and stripped of four draft picks after Major League Baseball’s investigation found evidence they had improperly used technology to steal signs during the 2017 season, the same year they won the World Series.

In MLB’s report on the Red Sox, commissioner Rob Manfred highlighted reasons for the lighter punishment handed down to Boston. To wit: 

  • Most notably, Manfred found “that J.T. Watkins, the Red Sox video replay system operator, on at least some occasions during the 2018 regular season, utilized the game feeds in the replay room, in violation of MLB regulations, to revise sign sequence information that he had permissibly provided to players prior to the game.”
  • Manfred writes that Watkins’ conduct was “far more limited in scope and impact.” Specifically, the information provided by Watkins was of benefit to the Red Sox only when they had a runner on second base. In contrast, the Astros’ “trash can banging scheme” did not require a runner’s presence in order for signs to be illegally relayed to the hitter. 
  • Manfred further found that then manager Cora, the Boston front office, and most Red Sox players were likely unaware of the sign-stealing effort. 
  • Manfred found no evidence that the Red Sox’s sign-stealing carried over into the 2018 postseason or into the 2019 regular season.
  • As well, Manfred found that the Red Sox front office “consistently communicated MLB’s sign stealing rules to non-player staff and made commendable efforts toward instilling a culture of compliance in their organization.”
  • The MLB-MLBPA agreement means that Manfred cannot discipline any players who cooperated with the investigation. Manfred writes that, “Even if I were not so bound, I do not believe that the Red Sox players who suspected that Watkins used game feeds to decode sign sequences should be held responsible for his conduct.”

MLB’s report on the Red Sox sign-stealing can be accessed here: 

Following MLB’s announcement, Red Sox president and CEO Sam Kennedy released the following statement through the team: 

“As an organization, we strive for 100% compliance with the rules. MLB’s investigation concluded that in isolated instances during the 2018 regular season, sign sequences were decoded through the use of live game video rather than through permissible means.

“MLB acknowledged the front office’s extensive efforts to communicate and enforce the rules and concluded that Alex Cora, the coaching staff, and most of the players did not engage in, nor were they aware of, any violations. Regardless, these rule violations are unacceptable. We apologize to our fans and Major League Baseball, and accept the Commissioner’s ruling.”

It’s worth noting that the Red Sox’s penalties were always going to look less severe when stacked against the Astros. Part of Houston’s punishment entailed season-long suspensions for general manager Jeff Luhnow and skipper A.J. Hinch, each of whom was subsequently fired. No such penalties could be handed to current Red Sox employees, as they changed GMs late in September (Dave Dombrowski was dismissed) and parted ways with Cora due to his involvement in Houston’s mess.

The Red Sox have since hired former Tampa Bay Rays executive Chaim Bloom to guide their baseball operations department. Ron Roenicke, formerly Cora’s bench coach and at one point the skipper of the Milwaukee Brewers, will serve as the manager in 2020. Boston is expected to conduct a full managerial search after the 2020 season, if one is played.

These sanctions cap off a turbulent stretch for the Red Sox, who earlier this offseason traded former MVP Mookie Betts and left-handed pitcher David Price to the Los Angeles Dodgers for a prospect package in order to save money. 





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