Major League Baseball is having a nightmare week.
On Monday, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred issued his nine-page summary of the league’s investigation into sign-stealing by the Houston Astros in 2017. MLB concluded that some Astros players and low-level employees participated in a coordinated scheme to steal pitching signs, and it suspended Astros GM Jeff Luhnow and manager AJ Hinch for a year, and took away future draft picks from the Astros. On Tuesday, the Boston Red Sox parted ways with manager Alex Cora, who was named 11 times in Manfred’s letter.
But on Thursday, the scandal deepened: The New York Mets fired new manager Carlos Beltran, the only other person named in Manfred’s letter after Hinch, Luhnow, and Cora; and new allegations emerged that Astros stars Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman wore wires and buzzers under their jerseys that would alert them to what pitch was coming. Twitter users had a field day with photos and videos that looked like supporting evidence, and many critics are now calling for MLB to issue more punishments to Astros players, and potentially to vacate the Astros 2017 World Series title.
But as Cincinnati Reds pitcher Trevor Bauer knows, MLB is first and foremost a business, and MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred works for the 30 team owners.
“If you hammer the Houston Astros organization, that makes their organization worth less, it makes everybody’s organization worth less, it’s not good for the business side for all the owners,” Bauer tells Yahoo Finance. “On the player side, it’s really hard to prove who used what, and when, and to what extent. If I’m a [Astros] hitter and I go up there and I don’t want anything to do with this, but someone is banging on the trash can anyway, am I now involved in it? It’s a really slippery slope.”
Based on the difficulty of parsing through which players were guilty of the cheating and which weren’t, Bauer says Manfred has “done a pretty good job of walking a middle ground. There’s going to be people on both sides who say it’s too harsh or it’s not enough, but he’s done a decent job balancing everything.”
Trevor Bauer: This cheating scandal is worse than steroid era
Even though Bauer believes Manfred got the punishments right, he says the current scandal is extremely damaging to pro baseball’s reputation.
“It’s a huge black eye for the sport, and I would tend to agree that it’s worse than the steroid era,” he says. “If you’ve got an individual, or many individuals, who are on steroids, you still have to compete and hit the ball, you don’t know exactly what’s coming.”
On Thursday night, as new allegations against Astros stars flooded Twitter, Bauer, who is known for being very outspoken, retweeted Dodgers pitcher Alex Wood, who remarked, “I would rather face a player that was taking steroids than face a player that knew every pitch that was coming.” Bauer voiced his agreement: “All day every day for the rest of time.”
Bauer says all the new gossip emerging is a good thing—best to get it all out now, he reasons, so the league can deal with it and move on: “Hopefully we can just have it all come out now, get it all out, clean the game up, and then we can move on. Because fan trust is an issue that MLB struggles with.”
Did Altuve, Bregman wear buzzers?
The accusations about buzzers got loud enough on Thursday that Major League Baseball responded. The league said it “explored wearable devices during the investigation but found no evidence to substantiate it.”
But after everything that has come out about what the Astros did, the team and players have lost the benefit of the doubt with many fans.
Bauer says he never saw the buzzers, but that he had heard about them before.
“I don’t have any inside knowledge directly of the situation, I’ve never played for the Astros, but I’ve heard from three independent people—that don’t know each other—that this is a real thing, that it happened,” Bauer says. “I’ve been hearing about this for two years. Other players I’ve talked to have heard similar things.”
So: What should Manfred do next? And if, despite what MLB says, concrete proof emerges of the buzzers, will MLB punish Altuve, Bregman, and other players? Might it vacate the Astros 2017 title?
“I’m personally not in favor of vacating a title, because you don’t know how it would have turned out on a fair playing field,” Bauer says. “That’s one of the reasons I say Manfred has done a decent job of finding the middle ground. It’s a tricky situation. I’m more on the side of: Don’t vacate it, it happened how it happened, we’re going to punish people and move on.”
It is fitting of such an outspoken player that he would go his own way with his approach to managing his career. In November, Bauer left the traditional agency Wasserman to become the first client of Rachel Luba, a newly minted MLB agent. Luba is a former gymnast and friend of Bauer’s from UCLA.
“Sometimes having a fresh view of the industry, having not been in it, gives you a fresh look at things,” Bauer says of Luba, “where you can look at certain problems and say, ‘Why is this done this way? Okay, I’m just not going to do it that way.’”
Daniel Roberts is an editor-at-large at Yahoo Finance and closely covers sports business. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwrite.