A.J. Hinch and Jeff Luhnow can serve their suspensions even if there's no baseball in 2020

Even if there’s no baseball in 2020, both A.J. Hinch and Jeff Luhnow will be eligible to return to the majors in 2021. Both men — who were fired by the Houston Astros as a result of the sign-stealing scandal — can serve their suspensions even if a season doesn’t take place, according to Buster Olney of ESPN.

How, exactly, does that work? It has to do with the way their suspensions are worded.

According to the wording from commissioner Rob Manfred's decision, both punishments end "following the completion of the 2020 World Series."

Sources told Olney that, because the suspensions are tied to the end of the 2020 postseason rather than a specific number of games, MLB will view Luhnow and Hinch as having served their discipline this year.

Had commissioner Rob Manfred suspended Hinch and Luhnow for 120 games — or any specific number of games — the two men may have had to wait until actual games were played. Instead, the two were suspended “following the completion of the 2020 World Series.” If no season takes place, MLB will view 2020 as time served for Hinch and Luhnow.

Will A.J. Hinch and Jeff Luhnow return to MLB in 2021?

Being eligible to return and actually getting a job are two different things. Given the outrage over the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal, it’s unclear whether teams will want to hire Hinch and Luhnow. Both men experienced plenty of success with the Astros, but it’s tough to know how much of that success was due to the scandal. And even if teams believe both men are smart, the fallout from hiring either Hinch or Luhnow could be too big a risk. The amount of media coverage and fan outrage would make it tough, at least for a time, and any success those men achieve with their new organizations would be met with skepticism.

Does the long MLB layoff actually help Hinch and Luhnow?

While the optics of hiring Hinch and Luhnow would be bad now, the long baseball layoff could help them get back into the majors. Prior to the season getting postponed due to the coronavirus, the Astros’ cheating scandal dominated the headlines. Anything the Astros did was newsworthy, and the response from other players around the league was significant too.

Had the 2020 Major League Baseball season started on time, the Astros would have remained a huge story. Would their hitters get hit by pitches at alarming rates? How would opposing fans react when the Astros were in town? The scandal wasn’t going away.

But the longer the year drags on without baseball, the more the focus changes. The Astros’ cheating scandal isn’t as important as everything else going on in the world. When baseball returns, fans will feel triumphant to have it back. They may still be angry with the Astros over what occurred in 2017, but those feelings will be muted.

That would lessen the blow should a team hire either Hinch or Luhnow.

Should a team hire A.J. Hinch and Jeff Luhnow?

The short answer is, “no, probably not.” There’s just too much heat on both men right now, and their transgressions are pretty significant. The fact that everything Hinch and Luhnow would do with their new teams would always come with the caveat “if they aren’t cheating” seems pretty damning.

But baseball teams love getting a competitive edge. If any organization feels Hinch or Luhnow can make their team significantly better, that organization would at least consider bringing Hinch or Luhnow in.

It would be tough, at least initially, but winning games tends to push everything else — even the unsavory stuff — to the background.

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