On Monday, Major League Baseball released its findings on the Houston Astros’ sign-stealing scandal, wherein the team used video to steal opposing teams’ signs during the 2017 season in which it won the World Series, issuing harsh penalties to an organization whose rebuilding model the Orioles are attempting to follow.
MLB fined the Astros $5 million, revoked the team’s first- and second-round draft picks in 2020 and 2021 and issued season-long suspensions to manager AJ Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow, both of whom owner Jim Crane fired shortly after the announcement of the penalties. The league’s report detailing the investigation’s findings made no specific mention of any of the several members of Orioles leadership who worked for Houston during that 2017 season, including executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias, whose work with the Astros focused on scouting and not on the field level.
MLB’s department of investigations interviewed 68 individuals, including 23 current and former Astros employees, and reviewed “tens of thousands of emails, Slack communications, text messages, video clips, and photographs,” per the report.
According to the report, the Astros’ methods in 2017 and 2018 to decode and communicate opponents’ signs to the batter were not an initiative that was planned or directed by the club’s top baseball operations officials. Rather, the 2017 scheme in which players banged on a trash can to communicate signs was, with the exception of then-bench coach and current Red Sox manager Alex Cora, player-driven and player-executed.
The investigation also revealed that Luhnow neither devised nor actively directed the efforts of the replay review room staff to decode signs in 2017 or 2018, though “there is both documentary and testimonial evidence that indicates Luhnow had some knowledge of those efforts, but he did not give it much attention.” MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred held Luhnow accountable for the club’s conduct, saying “It is the job of the general manager to be aware of the activities of his staff and players, and to ensure that those activities comport with both standards of conduct set by club ownership and MLB rules.”
“Some lower-level Astros employees were aware of the rules violations or participated in the violations at the direction of others,” Manfred wrote in the report. “I will defer to the Astros whether the conduct of these more junior employees merits discipline or other remedial action.”
Elias was a longtime deputy of Luhnow, both in Houston and previously with the St. Louis Cardinals. Elias joined St. Louis as a scout in 2007 during Luhnow’s tenure as the Cardinals’ vice president of scouting and player development. When Luhnow became Houston’s general manager in 2011, Elias followed, eventually serving as the organization’s director of amateur scouting and an assistant general manager. Several players Elias drafted, including top-two draft picks Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman, were heavy contributors to Houston’s 2017 World Series title.
The Orioles hired Elias in November 2018 to head their baseball operations department. He has since worked to rebuild the Orioles in a similar manner to what was done in Houston, where resources were diverted from the major league roster — leading to prolonged losing — to building infrastructure in amateur and international scouting, his specialties during his Houston tenure. With Baltimore, Elias has made several hires linked to his time working with Luhnow, including assistant general manager of analytics Sig Mejdal, director of baseball development Eve Rosenbaum, director of pitching Chris Holt and director of player development Matt Blood. All but Blood worked for Houston in 2017, with Mejdal and Holt in on-field roles in the minor leagues and Rosenbaum working under Elias in international scouting.
“I can’t comment on the specific [sign-stealing] investigation that we read is taking place for obvious reasons, but I think negative attention that’s been directed towards the Astros recently is a shame,” Elias said at the general manager meetings in November. “I’m very aware of all the good things and good people and incredible work and hard work that was done there basically over most of this decade to build that franchise into what it is now.
"I hate to see those accomplishments and those people disparaged just by association with a couple of weird episodes. We’ll see how it all shakes out, but there are a lot of positives — the people who run that place and the operation as a whole that just unfortunately is being overshadowed by some negativity right now. We’ll see where in regards to this latest situation, we’ll see where the league takes it. But I hope for the best.”
Elias declined to comment Monday.
In the report, Manfred condemned the Astros’ culture, referencing an incident after the 2019 American League Championship Series where then-assistant general manager Brandon Taubman yelled at three female reporters. Although the Astros initially denied multiple accounts of Taubman’s actions, he was eventually fired and Monday was placed on baseball’s ineligible list through the end of the 2020 World Series.
“Luhnow is widely considered to be one of the most successful baseball executives of his generation, credited with ushering in the second 'analytics’ revolution in baseball and rebuilding the Houston Astros into a perennial Postseason contender,” Manfred wrote. “But while no one can dispute that Luhnow’s baseball operations department is an industry leader in its analytics, it is very clear to me that the culture of the baseball operations department, manifesting itself in the way its employees are treated, its relations with other Clubs, and its relations with the media and external stakeholders, has been very problematic.”
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