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Report: Astros executive left paper trail in alleged sign-stealing scheme with 2017 email

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The electronic sign-stealing scheme the Houston Astros are accused of using on their way to the 2017 World Series championship reportedly has a paper trail.

An Astros front-office executive requested the team’s advance scouts look into potential sign-stealing methods that can be used in the stands ahead of the playoffs in an email during the 2017 season, according to Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich of The Athletic.

The reported email:

“One thing in specific we are looking for is picking up signs coming out of the dugout,” the email’s sender wrote in a message from August of 2017. “What we are looking for is how much we can see, how we would log things, if we need cameras/binoculars, etc. So go to game, see what you can (or can’t) do and report back your findings.”

The email was reportedly obtained by The Athletic on the condition that the sender and recipients were unnamed. ESPN’s Jeff Passan reports the executive behind the email is Kevin Goldstein, the team’s director of pro scouting at the time. Goldstein’s title has since changed to special assistant to the general manager, player personnel.

Goldstein did not return a message seeking comment on the ESPN story. Both MLB and the Astros declined to respond to The Athletic.

The Athletic also reports that scouts discussed sign stealing with the executives on phone calls and a group Slack channel. Multiple scouts were reportedly “appalled” at the possibility when asked to use a camera and voiced those concerns to management:

“Nobody wanted to do that, and take a chance of getting caught and ruining their reputation, not only as a scout but then even further damage what the Astros had going,” one person directly involved in the conversations said.

What Astros’ management did with any information learned through the project, or how they intended it to evolve, is unclear.

“It just goes to the story, for 2017, we were asked to electronically cheat in the playoffs,” one scout said of the long-term intent as he perceived it.

The Astros have since eliminated their entire pro scouting staff, according to The Ringer, opting to use Statcast and video instead to prepare for opposing teams. They laid off eight scouts in August 2017, the same month as the email.

The Athletic noted that MLB rules allow for scouts to steal signs from the stands, as long as the signs aren’t given to their own team during the same game and as long as the signs are stolen with their own eyes or binoculars. The rules do not seem to allow cameras, as the Astros executive requested.

A year later, an Astros employee by the name of Kyle McLaughlin was caught using a camera to monitor the dugouts of the Cleveland Indians and Boston Red Sox during the playoffs. The Astros escaped penalty, with MLB accepting the Astros’ explanation that McLaughlin was doing so to ensure the team’s opponents weren’t cheating.

HOUSTON, TX - OCTOBER 28: A general view from the outfield during game four of the 2017 World Series between the Houston Astros and the Los Angeles Dodgers at Minute Maid Park on October 28, 2017 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
The Astros were hit with explosive accusations of an illegal sign-stealing scheme last week. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Latest evidence of Astros’ alleged cheating

The email and quotes come while the Astros stand accused of using a covert camera to illegally monitor catcher signs and relay them to batters by banging on a garbage can (no bangs = fastball, one bang = breaking ball, two bangs = changeup) behind the team’s dugout during home games.

The executive’s request implies there could have been additional dimensions to the Astros’ alleged attempts to skirt MLB rules to get a leg up during the 2017 season.

Former Astros pitcher Mike Fiers went on record with The Athletic to accuse the team of using the scheme, and was backed up by concerns from former Chicago White Sox pitcher Danny Farquhar. Damning video and audio evidence has since emerged in which a banging noise can be heard before pitches at Astros home games.

Among those implicated in the scheme are Astros manager A.J. Hinch, Red Sox manager Alex Cora and New York Mets manager Carlos Beltran. The latter two were reported to have played a key role in devising the system when they were members of the 2017 Astros, Cora as bench coach and Beltran as designated hitter.

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