The Boston Red Sox avoided sweeping penalties Wednesday in baseball’s second sign-stealing investigation this year.
They will lose their second-round choice in the 2020 draft after Commissioner Rob Manfred determined that they cheated but that their conduct in 2018 was “far more limited in scope and impact” than that of the 2017 Houston Astros, whose sign-stealing scandal roiled the sport earlier this year.
Manfred disciplined only one person involved, J.T. Watkins, Boston’s video replay operator, who is suspended without pay for this season and forbidden from running the replay room in 2021. Manfred also suspended Alex Cora, who managed the Red Sox to the World Series title in 2018 and coached for Houston before that, for a year for his role in the Astros’ cheating scandal, but he did not punish him for anything related to the Red Sox, who fired him in January.
M.L.B. said that it reviewed thousands of emails, text messages, photos and video clips and interviewed 65 people — including 34 current and former Red Sox players — in the investigation, which was prompted by a report in The Athletic on Jan. 7. The Athletic also broke the news of the Astros’ more elaborate scheme in their championship season of 2017, including an on-the-record account from former Houston pitcher Mike Fiers. The Red Sox story did not cite a player by name, and neither did Manfred’s report.
Manfred said that while the players were granted immunity in exchange for their compliance, “this is not a case in which I would have otherwise considered imposing discipline on players.”
He said that Watkins decoded signs by reviewing video of prior games and conveying that information in scouting meetings before games. A runner from second base could then communicate those signs to the hitter via body movements. All of that is legal and widely accepted throughout baseball, but Watkins was found to have sometimes updated players during games based on signs he had decoded while watching live video, which is illegal.
Watkins was said to have “vehemently denied” the charge, but some players said they suspected him of doing it. Manfred said there was no indication that the activity took place during the 2018 postseason, because opponents’ sequences were too difficult to decode.