Astros could learn punishment soon for sign stealing: Sources

Major League Baseball's investigation into the Houston Astros' illegal use of technology is in its final stages and members of the organization expect commissioner Rob Manfred to decide on the severity of discipline within the next two weeks, sources familiar with the situation told ESPN.

With witnesses admitting that the Astros used a system to relay pitch types to batters before they were thrown, according to sources, MLB's coming decisions are twofold: whom to discipline and how harshly to do so.

RELATED: Ex-Astros pitcher accuses team of stealing signs in 2017

The targets for discipline will be employees of the team, including the front office and on-field coaching personnel, but will not include the players involved in the scheme, according to three players who have been interviewed. Those who could face discipline include Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow, Astros manager AJ Hinch and other front-office members, sources said. The team also could face a record fine.

An MLB spokesman declined to comment.

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The existence of a memo from Manfred on Sept. 15, 2017, explicitly stating he would punish teams that run afoul of rules outlining the use of technology, offers him a wide berth in discipline.

Past penalties for rules violations have included suspensions and even a lifetime ban, which former Atlanta Braves GM John Coppolella received for bundling signing bonuses with Latin American prospects and former St. Louis Cardinals scouting director Chris Correa received after he admitted to accessing the Astros' proprietary database and stealing information.

Cheating with technology remains among the most serious issues in baseball heading into the 2020 season, and an Athletic report Tuesday that accused the 2018 Boston Red Sox of using their video-replay room to decode sign sequences, relay them to runners on second base and allow the runners to feed coming pitches to hitters underscores the problem's pervasiveness. Alex Cora, the Red Sox's manager, was the bench coach for the 2017 Astros and could be facing discipline because he was part of that staff, according to sources.

Multiple executives see the Astros' coming discipline as a litmus test for MLB: The stronger the penalties, the likelier they will be to deter teams from using technology to cheat. Two Astros officials said they expect the league to issue a transparent statement upon the announcement of the discipline, outlining how the team cheated, how the league went about gathering information and how Manfred arrived at the penalties.
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