Potential ripple effects from Astros' sign-stealing scandal
From left, key figures in the Astros' sign-stealing scandal: former Mets manager Carlos Beltran, former Red Sox manager Alex Cora and former Astros pitcher Mike Fiers, who blew the whistle on Houston. USA TODAY Sports: Kamin-Oncea | Andy Marlin | Kelley L Cox

Brawls and pain: Potential ripple effects of Astros' sign-stealing scandal

The Astros' sign-stealing scandal has shaken Major League Baseball to its core. 

After a lengthy investigation, MLB came down hard on Houston, suspending manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow for a season, taking away first- and second-round draft picks over the next two years, and fining the team $5 million. Subsequently, Astros owner Jim Crane fired Hinch and Luhnow. The fallout wasn't limited to Houston: Managers Alex Cora of the Red Sox and Carlos Beltran of the Mets were fired. Both were with the Astros in 2017 -- Cora as a bench coach and Beltran as a player -- and each was implicated in MLB's investigation.

The Astros' illegal scheme raises numerous questions, among them:

What's next?

Here are potential ripple effects:

Veterans Buck Showalter, Dusty Baker may get managing jobs

In today's age of analytics, with more game-day decisions coming from upstairs in the front office rather than in the dugout, the job of Major League manager has evolved. Baseball lifers are being phased out, replaced by advocates for analytics. Four rookie managers were hired over the winter:  Jayce Tingler (Padres), David Ross (Cubs), Derek Shelton (Pirates) and Beltran (Mets). Showalter and Baker have impressive resumes, but neither has landed another MLB position since recent exits from the game. More than ever, the Astros, Red Sox and Mets need the calming influence of an experienced manager. Either Showalter or Baker would be ideal. Showalter has interviewed with the Astros; Baker will soon. 

Houston will face extreme pressure

The scandal will be an epic distraction all season for the defending American League champion Astros, who lost ace Gerrit Cole to the Yankees in free agency in the off-season. His defection tilted the balance of power in the American League toward New York. Houston still may be the best team in the West, but it will face a stiff challenge from the Angels, who have added superstar third baseman Anthony Rendon and get back pitcher/DH Shohei Ohtani and outfielder Justin Upton from injuries. Allegations the Astros were stealing signs last season opens up even more issues. What happens if Houston stars  Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa, George Springer and Yuli Gurriel regress? Accusations they benefited from sign-stealing will be omnipresent.

Bench-clearing brawls

Opposing players, particularly pitchers, are pissed. When Houston was alleged to have transitioned from trash can banging to the use of buzzers in 2019 to signal pitches, the league collectively lost its mind. The outrage will manifest itself with pitchers throwing at Astros hitters. Prediction: This will get very ugly.

Cora won't get a baseball job

According to the commissioner's report on the scandal, the sign-stealing camera in center field in Houston was Cora's idea. He allegedly came up with trash can banging as a way to communicate pitches to Houston hitters. Following the 2017 season, he became Red Sox manager, and Boston won the World Series in 2018. Now the league is in the midst of an investigation into whether Boston was sign stealing then. Hinch got a year's suspension; what will the ringleader face? Cora could go down as one of the greatest cheaters in the sport's history. No matter the length of his suspension, he'll be radioactive.

Pain of losing draft picks

Houston clearly was on the cutting edge of sign stealing. It wasn't long ago that it led the charge in another area: tanking. The Astros suffered through six straight losing seasons from '09-'14, three in which they lost more than 100 games. Houston emerged from that era as a powerhouse by drafting stars George Springer, Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman and Kyle Tucker in the first round. Clearly, Houston knows how to draft, too.  

Astros will suffer in free agency

Because of the high altitude of Denver, where a baseball travels farther when hit in the air, Rockies players are often looked at differently. Are their offensive numbers inflated? Expect the sign-stealing scandal to have a similar effect when Astros hit free agency. Did sign stealing inflate their numbers? Outfielder Josh Reddick, who becomes a free agent after this season, will be the first premier Houston hitter who could be affected.

Woes for Astros pitchers?

Fair or not, Astros pitchers will be tarred by the scandal. Outspoken former Cleveland and current Cincinnati starting pitcher Trevor Bauer broached the subject almost two years ago. Justin Verlander experienced a career renaissance after he was traded to the Astros in August 2017. Gerrit Cole went from good in Pittsburgh to unhittable in Houston. Charlie Morton had spent a decade in the big leagues as a mediocre starter before becoming an all-star as an Astro. Do you see where this could head?

Fiers will be a household name among fans forever

The baseball community has conflicting views of Fiers, who pitched for the Astros from 2015-17. (He went 15-4 for the A's last season.) Is he a hero or a snitch? He blew the doors off the Astros' sign stealing, sending MLB into a frenzy. Some believe he turned his back on former teammates. Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez called him a "bad teammate." What a travesty. He really should be best known as a guy who threw two no-hitters in the big leagues. 

It won't happen again

In the court of public opinion, the Astros are cheaters. Players could lose endorsements opportunities, all-star game nods and individual awards. If any of them come up for Hall of Fame consideration, they may face the same obstacles as Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds. Was sign stealing worth it? Hardly.

Justin Mears is a freelance sports writer from Long Beach Island, NJ. Enjoys being frustrated by the Mets and Cowboys, reading Linwood Barclay novels, and being yelled at by his toddler son. Follow him on twitter @justinwmears

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