At winter meetings, the Astros sign-stealing saga still commands baseball's attention

SAN DIEGO — There’s plenty of mystery left about who will sign Gerrit Cole at these winter meetings and plenty of money for Stephen Strasburg to count now that he’s re-signed with the Washington Nationals.

But there’s also plenty of chatter floating around about the biggest offseason story in baseball: The Houston Astros, the accusations of electronic sign-stealing and how Major League Baseball will deal with the fallout of this controversy.

Perhaps the sign-stealing talk isn’t as feverish as it was a few weeks ago, before we started trying to guess Gerrit Cole’s contract figure. But rest assured that opposing managers have been thinking about it and — in some cases — have sharp words about what it could mean for MLB.

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Take, for instance, new Los Angeles Angels skipper Joe Maddon on Monday compared the sign-stealing saga with baseball’s PED era.

“We've had our concerns,” Maddon said. “Everybody's had their concerns about that. It's not like it's anything new. I want to believe that MLB will do something to eradicate that. I like a level playing field, period.”

New Phillies manager Joe Girardi, who lost to those 2017 Astros when he was the Yankees skipper, said he wasn’t surprised when the Astros scandal erupted.

“I wasn't shocked,” Girardi said. “You know, word gets around.”

Baseball can't escape questions about the Houston Astros and their sign-stealing saga. (Elsa/Getty Images)
Baseball can't escape questions about the Houston Astros and their sign-stealing saga. (Elsa/Getty Images)

While everybody in baseball waits to see what sort of punishment the Astros will get and what other layers of this MLB’s investigation reveal — in Houston or elsewhere — right now, there’s just a lot of talking. And in a place like the winter meetings, which is crawling with reporters, there are also a lot of questions.

“We're kinda like you guys, waiting to hear,” said Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash. “But as of now, I don't know what's taking place.”

“I think we’re all paranoid,” said Texas Rangers manager Chris Woodward.

Alex Cora, the Boston Red Sox manager, who was a bench coach for the Astros in 2017, didn’t have a lot of answers. Not to give reporters, anyway.

“I know you have a job to do and you have to ask the question,” Cora told a scrum of reporters, “but out of respect to the investigation that MLB has and the Astros, I'm not going to answer that question.”

He did confirm that he talked to MLB investigators “early in the process” and left it at that.

It was Maddon who had the most to say on the issue, comparing it to another of MLB’s biggest controversies — the PED era.

“Good old-fashioned sign stealing from your eyeballs, that's not cheating. It's just good baseball. When you use electronic cheating, that's not good,” Maddon said. “It's almost tantamount to steroids in regards to an imbalanced playing field. If we could level that out and eradicate that and you get guys going out there naked every night just based on their own abilities, I'll take it.

“But to do it from a centerfield camera or from banging an object in the dugout or whistles. Whistles were big too. One city was big on whistling. That's the kind of stuff I want to get rid of.”

Until there’s a resolution to this case — and that doesn’t seem like it’s going to happen soon; there’s a better chance Cole signs this week — and we find out the fate of the Astros and MLB’s stance on electronic sign-stealing, get used to this.

Because there will continue to be more questions than answers.

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