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Everything you need to know (so far) about MLB's sign-stealing scandal

Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Major League Baseball launched an investigation into the Houston Astros' sign-stealing scheme back in November. Since the Jan. 13 publication of a nine-page report on that investigation, three managers and one executive have lost their jobs and multiple conspiracy theories have been hatched.

Here's everything you need to know about MLB's latest scandal ... so far.

What is going on?

If you haven't been paying attention to baseball this winter, you might feel a bit like you're finally arriving at the party with the pizzas only to find your home is on fire.

Some of the specifics regarding what the Astros did and didn't do are still unclear, so let's stick to the contents of the report released by MLB commissioner Rob Manfred.

In 2017, the Astros illegally used technology to monitor and decode opposing teams' pitch signals and relay them to hitters. Bench coach Alex Cora was an early architect of the system. Carlos Beltran, who sought to improve the scheme, was the only player explicitly mentioned in Manfred's report. We'll get to them later.

Houston used a center-field camera to surveil opposing teams' signals and experimented with methods for communicating pitch selections to hitters, occasionally using a massage gun to bang a trash can - as dissected here by Twitter user Jomboy:

Around this time, the New York Yankees accused the Boston Red Sox of also stealing signs. Manfred soon released a statement confirming the Red Sox had violated league rules by using smartwatches to illegally send information to their dugout. MLB subsequently issued a memorandum reminding all 30 teams that the use of unapproved technology in the dugout is prohibited and that punishments would be more severe moving forward.

The Astros chose to flagrantly ignore this memo and continued to use the replay-review room to decode and transmit signs to their dugout.

Prior to the 2018 season, MLB circulated another memo informing clubs that the league would now monitor communications between the dugout and the replay-review room. The Astros moved their replay-review room closer to the dugout. When the campaign began, Houston used in-person communication to relay signal information.

At some point during that season, the team stopped stealing signs altogether because players questioned its effectiveness.

Following the publication of its report, the league heavily sanctioned the Astros for their continued cheating, stripping the club of its first- and second-round selections in each of the next two drafts and handing them a $5-million fine - the largest permitted under MLB's constitution.

MLB also suspended Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow and skipper AJ Hinch through the 2020 World Series. Houston owner Jim Crane subsequently fired both.

Why did Cora get fired?

Manfred has commissioned another investigation into allegations surrounding the Red Sox and Cora, who served as Boston's manager through the 2018 and 2019 seasons before stepping down Tuesday.

The results of that investigation are still forthcoming, but Cora has already been dubbed an "active participant" in the Astros' scheme, originally arranging for the installation of the center-field camera and helping players develop the trash-can method.

That was enough for Red Sox brass to meet with Cora and agree to part ways, and a suspension for the disgraced skipper is likely on the way.

Why did Beltran get fired?

This one is a little more complicated.

A veteran in the Astros' clubhouse at the time, Beltran helped improve the team's decoding and communication systems. He is the only player explicitly named in Manfred's report (excluding Mike Fiers, who was named as a whistleblower rather than as a culprit). The fact Beltran wasn't granted the same immunity provided to active members of the MLBPA likely has something to do with that. No other player interviewed during the investigation was allowed to be implicated. Beltran was not afforded that anonymity because he had already retired.

None of this has anything to do with the New York Mets, who hired Beltran this offseason. But his involvement in the scandal represented sufficiently negative PR that team and skipper opted to part ways before he'd even managed a game.

It's worth noting the Mets officially hired Beltran on Nov. 1, before the investigation began in earnest. That timeline at least partly explains why Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen - by his own admission - never asked Beltran about his role in the scheme.

Who do the Astros, Red Sox, and Mets hire next?

Pitchers and catchers are reporting for spring training in less than a month, and three teams are suddenly without managers. The Astros are also lacking a GM and assistant GM.

To think Houston is rudderless would be foolish, though. Even without Luhnow, the club has settled its impasse with George Springer - avoiding arbitration with a one-year, $21-million contract - and reportedly interviewed both Buck Showalter and John Gibbons for its managerial vacancy. The Astros could also go for Chicago Cubs third base coach Will Venable.

The Mets haven't been tied to anyone just yet, but it should be noted that Eduardo Perez - who originally finished as the runner-up to Beltran - is reportedly not in the running. An internal promotion for Hensley Meulens - whom the team poached from the San Francisco Giants in December - seems like a possibility.

The Red Sox, meanwhile, have been tight-lipped about their intentions. Poaching an old co-worker of Chaim Bloom's from the Tampa Bay Rays - like bench coach Matt Quatraro - does not seem likely. For what it's worth, Jason Varitek currently leads the betting odds.

Why are people upset with Mike Fiers?

After the 2019 World Series, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported that four people who were with the Astros in 2017 claimed the team had been stealing signs at the time. One of those people attached his name to the report: Mike Fiers.

As previously mentioned, the commissioner's office was already monitoring this scandal dating back to the middle of the 2017 season. But a true investigation began shortly after Rosenthal published the allegations, so Fiers is being blamed as the chief whistleblower.

Playing "what if" might not be productive, but it's hard to imagine MLB failing to arrive at precisely the same conclusion even if Fiers never goes on record with Rosenthal.

Why haven't any players been suspended?

In the league-wide memo sent in September 2017 promising severe punishments for continued sign-stealing transgressions, Manfred stated no players would be disciplined. Instead, MLB would hold offending teams' managers and executives accountable.

Many players interviewed during the league's investigation were also granted some level of immunity in exchange for their cooperation.

That may change, though. Since the publication of MLB's report, unsubstantiated rumors surfaced suggesting some Astros players - specifically, Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman - used wearable technology to receive information about incoming pitches as recently as the 2019 American League Championship Series.

Altuve has since denied wrongdoing in a statement that said: "I have never worn an electronic device in my performance as a major-league player."

What's next?

It's anyone's guess. Since Monday's report, the commissioner has only publicly commented to say the league explored the use of wearable technology and did not originally find any evidence the Astros violated those rules.

Cora's suspension is still forthcoming, and the investigation could conceivably uncover further nefarious details about the Red Sox. Regardless of the result, Bloom - unlike Luhnow - will certainly not face punishment after being hired as Boston's chief baseball officer just this winter. There is, however, potential discipline coming for Dave Dombrowski, who served as the team's president of baseball operations while Cora was with the team.

What are players saying?

Though Fiers hasn't weighed in, other players around the league haven't been shy in stating their opinions.

Tommy Pham - whose Rays lost to the Astros in the ALDS - jumped in on theories regarding Altuve using wearable technology:

Los Angeles Dodgers superstar and reigning NL MVP Cody Bellinger said that, if true, the wearable-technology development would ruin the integrity of the game:

Rays ace Blake Snell agreed, and Bellinger's teammate Alex Wood expressed shock that there haven't been consequences for players already:

Indians right-hander Mike Clevinger, meanwhile, took the opportunity to issue a thinly veiled threat. He could conceivably face a suspension or a harsher punishment if he does indeed follow through on plunking a player:

Where does this rank among MLB's other scandals?

There have been four major cheating scandals in the history of the sport to date: The 1919 Black Sox, BALCO, Biogenesis, and, now, this.

A total of 20 players received suspensions for doping by the time the dust settled around the Biogenesis scandal, so it's hard to deny the significance of that one. But that was a couple of players acting on their own behalf.

By working as a team to steal and relay signs, the Astros - and potentially the Red Sox - committed a monumental breach of the sport's integrity. Moreover, the fact Houston did this during its 2017 World Series-winning campaign elevates these transgressions into a similar category as the 1919 Black Sox scandal. That incident saw eight players, including the legendary Shoeless Joe Jackson, receive lifetime bans for fixing the World Series.

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