Astros: Reaction to Hinch interview, WSJ codebreaker report

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 27: AJ Hinch #14 of the Houston Astros returns to the dugout after a mound visit against the Washington Nationals during the seventh inning in Game Five of the 2019 World Series at Nationals Park on October 27, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 27: AJ Hinch #14 of the Houston Astros returns to the dugout after a mound visit against the Washington Nationals during the seventh inning in Game Five of the 2019 World Series at Nationals Park on October 27, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) /
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HOUSTON, TEXAS – OCTOBER 05: Manager AJ Hinch #14 talks with Jeff Luhnow, General Manager of the Houston Astros, prior to game two of the American League Division Series against the Tampa Bay Rays at Minute Maid Park on October 05, 2019 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TEXAS – OCTOBER 05: Manager AJ Hinch #14 talks with Jeff Luhnow, General Manager of the Houston Astros, prior to game two of the American League Division Series against the Tampa Bay Rays at Minute Maid Park on October 05, 2019 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) /

The Takeaway

I mentioned earlier that I developed my own theory as to why Hinch didn’t simply step up and tell the players to stop the sign stealing. My theory was that Hinch felt he couldn’t do that because the operation was actively supported by the front office. If the directive came from higher up in the organizational ladder, Hinch could easily have felt that he didn’t have the authority to stop it.

While I can’t prove that, the WSJ report certainly lends credence to it. It gives off the impression that Luhnow was not only aware of the sign stealing but was also an active supporter of it. He seems to have maintained a degree of plausible deniability, which saved him from a harsher punishment, but it’s hard to see him as blameless at this point.

And if we’re being honest here, it’s not at all surprising. While Luhnow proved himself to be both incredibly smart and shrewd, seemingly running circles around other GMs, he also had developed a reputation as someone who only cared about winning. He fostered an “insular culture” in his front office that was blasted by Manfred and had culminated in the Brandon Taubman incident.

He traded for Roberto Osuna at a time when no one else wanted him, willingly absorbing the negative reactions that would come with it. He never really came across as a scrupulous guy, so the fact that he likely supported the sign stealing isn’t a shock.

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In the future, Luhnow will likely have a place in some team’s front office, but he should never be the head of a baseball operations department again. He has skills that teams can and should value, but he needs to be directly overseen by someone. He can’t be allowed to run the show and repeat the things that have happened these past few years.

The combination of the report and the Verducci interview make Hinch look much less culpable. I truly believe he felt he was powerless with respect to the sign stealing, and the destroying of the monitors was a logical manifestation of that. In the end, he probably should have spoken up anyway, but it’s hard to find a great deal of fault in him at this point.

Hinch can and should manage again, and it’s a shame this whole fiasco resulted in such a strong punishment for him. On the other hand, it looks like Luhnow deserved what he got and possibly even more. Kudos to Jim Crane for at least getting rid of him and getting a fresh start in the front office. Let’s hope James Click gets things cleaned up on that front.

What this means for the Astros is even more scrutiny than before. The WSJ’s indication that the sign stealing took place on the road as well as at Minute Maid Park makes things look worse, and the players will need to answer some questions once they report for Spring Training.

In the end, as a lifelong fan, I wish the Astros had never stolen signs. I’m convinced that they were talented enough to win without it, and in the end there’s really no way of knowing how much it helped them on the field.

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But it’s time to get ready for 2020. We have a new manager who won’t allow any shenanigans, and these players have a chance to silence the haters if they can keep their heads down and just win ballgames. For the fans, that can’t happen quickly enough.

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