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Rob Manfred says probe into Astros' alleged sign-stealing will look at 2017-19 seasons

Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred speaks to the media

Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred speaks to the media at the owners meetings in Arlington, Texas, on Thursday. Credit: AP/LM Otero

ARLINGTON, Texas — Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred said he cannot be certain that the Astros were the only team that allegedly cheated by using technology to steal signs, and added that MLB's investigation of the team will not be contained to only the 2017 World Series winner but the 2018 and 2019 seasons as well.

Manfred, speaking at the conclusion of the baseball owners' meetings at the Live! By Loews hotel, said he hopes to have the investigation done by spring training but will not rush it if more information is needed. He also declined to specify what discipline will take place if the allegations are substantiated. Past cheating violations by other teams have included a $2 million fine, loss of draft picks, employee termination and a ban on international signings. 

"It's hard to answer in the negative," Manfred said when asked if he is confident that the Astros were the only team involved. "All I can tell you about that is, we are going to investigate the Astros situation as thoroughly as humanly possible ... We are talking to people all over the industry — former employees, competitors, whatever. To the extent that we find other leads, we're going to follow these leads. We will get to the bottom of what we have out there to the extent that it's humanly possible."

The Astros came under scrutiny when former Houston pitcher Mike Fiers — now with the Athletics — said the team used camera equipment to steal signs and banged on trash cans to relay the information to their players when he was there in 2017. While sign-stealing has a long history in baseball and is not against the rules, it is a violation to use electronic means to do it. Advances in technology further complicate the matter, with smart watches and other wearable items presenting a problem Manfred said baseball is trying to solve. In 2017, the Red Sox were caught using an Apple Watch to steal signs and the Yankees were caught using a dugout phone in a way that violated MLB's rules. 

"I'm concerned about the impact of technology in and around the field," Manfred said. "I think it's a challenge to our sport and all sports to regulate the use of that technology in a way that makes sure we have integrity of play."

Manfred said he viewed the Red Sox's 2017 infraction as a "line of demarcation." This is notable because that team was levied a fine but issued no further penalty, and Manfred issued a statement then that subsequent violations would be "subject to more serious sanctions," including but not limited to the loss of draft picks. This potentially means that if baseball's investigation finds evidence of cheating in the 2018 or 2019 seasons, the punishment could be hefty.  

"I think the message was clear," Manfred said when asked if the 2017 punishment was severe enough to materially discourage further electronic cheating. "I do think it had a prophylactic effect. I also think that it's important to recognize that the industry has not stood still on this issue. We have upgraded, altered and made more aggressive our policies with respect to this type of activity each and every year since then."

Manfred declined to disclose the substance of his conversations with Astros owner Jim Crane, who on Wednesday declined comment to the media. Manfred added that baseball essentially has combined two investigations surrounding the Astros: the possible sign-stealing scandal and the behavior of former assistant general manager Brandon Taubman, who is accused of taunting female reporters about the team's closer, Roberto Osuna, who violated baseball's domestic-violence policy. Manfred said he does have the option to levy further sanctions on Taubman, though he's been fired.

"I would like to get this done as quick as humanly possible," Manfred said of the investigation. "I don't think, however, that rushing is a good thing in an investigation like this. You can make a mistake by thinking you're at the end and it turns out later that you weren't really, so we're going to make sure we're at the end before we go."

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