Red Sox sign-stealing punishment is nothing compared to Astros

The Red Sox were no Astros in the opinion of MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred.

The commissioner ruled Wednesday that in response to the Red Sox’s sign-stealing during their 2018 championship season, the team’s video replay system operator is the only current Red Sox person penalized. That person, J.T. Watkins, is suspended for the entire 2020 season and postseason.

Boston also loses its second-round pick in this year’s draft.

Alex Cora, who was the Red Sox’s manager in 2018 but was let go by the team this past offseason due to his involvement with the Astros’ scandal, was not deemed to be part of this cheating scandal. However, his penalty for his Houston involvement had been delayed until the commissioner completed his Red Sox investigation. Cora, who became Boston’s manager in 2018 after serving as Astros bench coach in 2017, has now been suspended for the rest of this season and postseason for his illegal Astros activities.

“The evidence uncovered during the investigation is insufficient to conclude that the (Red Sox) conduct continued in the 2018 Postseason or 2019 regular season,” the commissioner’s statement reads.

MLB’s investigation determined that Watkins at times during the 2018 season used the game feeds in the replay “in in violation of MLB regulations, to revise sign sequence information that he had permissibly provided to players prior to the game.”

Red Sox owner John Henry, chairman Tom Werner and team president Sam Kennedy.Getty Images

But unlike what MLB found, compared to the more illegal behavior of the Astros in which Houston players communicated to batters in real time from the dugout what type of pitch was going to be thrown, Watkins’ information was limited to when Boston had a runner on second, according to MLB’s findings. MLB also found that Watkins used the decoded information “only a small percentage of those occurrences.”

The commissioner’s findings were that neither Cora, his coaching staff, the front office nor most of the players were aware of the scheme.

“Communication of these violations was episodic and isolated to Watkins and a limited number of Red Sox players only,” the commissioner’s statement said.

Besides his suspension without pay, Watkins is banned from serving as a replay room operator for the 2021 season as well.

As for players, the statement read: “Although the Commissioner’s Office agreed not to discipline players who were truthful in their interviews, based on the findings of the investigation, this is not a case in which I would have otherwise considered imposing discipline on players.”

The Commissioner’s Office and the MLBPA agreed that, in return for cooperation and honesty during their interviews, current and former Red Sox players would not be subject to discipline based on the investigation, and that the names of the current and former Red Sox players who cooperated with the investigation would be kept confidential and not publicly disclosed.

The statement says that 65 witnesses, including 34 current and former Red Sox players, were interviewed by MLB’s Department of Investigation — a few of them multiple times. Like with the Astro investigation, MLB’s sleuths also reviewed tens of thousands of texts, emails, video clips and photos.

According to the statement, “Watkins vehemently denies utilizing the replay system during the game to decode signs,” which by 2018 was expressly stated by MLB to be against the rules. Thirty of the 44 players told MLB they had no knowledge if Watkins was revising pre-game decoding reports (legal) with in-game updates from the video room (illegal). “However, a smaller number of players said that on at least some occasions, they suspected or had indications that Watkins may have revised the sign sequence information that he had provided to players prior to the game through his review of the game feed in the replay room.”

Manfred decided to levy a strong penalty on Watkins, in part the statement reads, because he also was a “key participant” in the 2017 Apple Watch incident, in which the Red Sox were using that implement to relay signs in real time.

In response, the Red Sox issued a statement of their own, via President and CEO Sam Kennedy.

“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,” the statement reads. “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.”