By Jeff Capellini
On the one hand, MLB decided not to punish the nine-time All-Star outfielder for his role in the scandal, despite the fact that he was the only player mentioned in Commissioner Rob Manfred’s nine-page report.
On Monday, the league came down hard on the Astros for using technology to cheat during their 2017 World Series championship season. Manfred handed out one-year suspensions to general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch, fined the franchise $5 million and took away first- and second-round draft picks in 2020 and ’21.
Both Luhnow and Hinch have since been fired by Astros owner Jim Crane.
According to the report, Beltran was seemingly neck deep in all of it. He was the only player mentioned.
“Approximately two months into the 2017 season, a group of players, including Carlos Beltran, discussed that the team could improve on decoding opposing teams’ signs and communicating the signs to the batter,” the report stated. “[Then Houston bench coach Alex] Cora arranged for a video room technician to install a monitor displaying the center field camera feed immediately outside of the Astros’ dugout. (The center field camera was primarily used for player development purposes and was allowed under MLB rules at the time when used for that purpose.)”
Despite his involvement, Beltran will not face discipline from the league. Manfred decided not to punish any of the players due to the sheer number involved and the fact that several now play for other teams.
“I made the decision in September 2017 that I would hold a club’s general manager and field manager accountable for misconduct of this kind, and I will not depart from that decision. Assessing discipline of players for this type of conduct is both difficult and impractical,” the commissioner said in a statement.
General manager Brodie Van Wagenen didn’t seem concerned about the sign-stealing investigation when he was asked about it not long after hiring Beltran to replace Mickey Callaway as manager back in November.
“Anything that happened, happened with another organization, with Houston,” Van Wagenen said at the time. “I have no idea if anything did or did not, but at this point I don’t see any reason why this is a Mets situation.”
He later admitted the subject never came up during the interview process.
But like it or not, this is now very much a Mets situation. It’s coming at them like a triple-digit Noah Syndergaard fastball. Starting in late February, when pitchers and catchers report to the team’s spring training facility in Port St. Lucie, Fla., Beltran is going to be hounded about his role in the scandal. He is on record telling Joel Sherman of the New York Post what the Astros engaged in was more about doing due diligence.
“We took a lot of pride studying pitchers [on] the computer,” Beltran told the newspaper not long after being hired by the Mets. “That is the only technology that I use and understand. It was fun seeing guys get to the ballpark to look for little details. … The game of baseball for years, guys have given location and if the catchers get lazy and the pitcher doesn’t cover the signs from second base [then] of course players are going to take advantage. I don’t call that cheating. I call that using small details to take advantage. I think baseball is doing a great job adding new technology to make sure the game is even for both teams. It’s easy to blame someone when they win.”
Beltran also sent a text to Sherman saying, “I am not aware of that camera. We were studying that opposite team every day.”
However, MLB’s report clearly says Beltran is nowhere near as innocent as he has claimed.
CBS2 reached out to the Mets to find out if they knew of Beltran’s guilt before hiring him, but they had no comment.
If Beltran stays on as manager, he will be the ultimate distraction for a franchise that has struggled with its public identity for decades. Not only would he be hounded by the press daily, he’d carry with him the stigma of being a cheater and a liar. That’s no way to go through your first stint as a major league manager. Regardless of the fact that sign-stealing has been around forever and is generally considered a minor infraction, the lengths the Astros went to to get an edge were so elaborate and determined, they left MLB no choice but to make an example of them.
The Mets are coming off a tumultuous 86-76 season that easily could have been a lot better had it not been for, in many instances, the manager. They figure to have a competitive roster in 2020, as they look to get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2016. The last thing they need is every move this manager makes being viewed through the lens of a scandal that is in many ways bigger than both Spygate and Bountygate.
With Beltran on the bench, opposing teams and fans will always be skeptical of what the Mets could be up to, their eyes fixated on center field, imagining a camera positioned secretly in the shadow of the Home Run Apple.
It’s simply not worth it.
Read more columns by Jeff Capellini and follow him on Twitter at @JCapGLJ