Were the Pittsburgh Pirates Victims of the Houston Astros Cheating Ring?
By Marty Leap
As the Houston Astros cheating scandal continues to grow, it appears it’s possible the Pittsburgh Pirates were victims in this mess
The story of the MLB off-season has been the Houston Astros and their cheating ring. What started as a complicated sign stealing system that helped the Astros win the 2017 World Series, has evolved into one of the biggest scandals in the history of professional sports.
Astros manager AJ Hinch and general manager Jeff Lunhow have both lost their jobs and face bans from baseball. Due to their role when they were a coach/player for the Astros, Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora and New York Mets manager Carlos Beltran, who never even got to manage a game with the Mets, also lost their jobs. As more news continues to come out of this scandal, it appears the Pittsburgh Pirates may have been victims in this scandal.
In January 2018 the Pirates traded ace starting pitcher Gerrit Cole to the Astros. In return, the team received third baseman Colin Moran, starting pitcher Joe Musgrove, reliever Michael Feliz, and outfield prospect Jason Martin. Now, it appears the Pirates may have received invalid information on these players prior to executing the trade.
According to a report on Thursday, the Astros tinkered with their TrackMan systems in the minor leagues. These systems track things such as a hitter’s exit velocity and the spin rate on a pitcher’s pitches. If the Astros were indeed tampering with TrackMan, it could allow them to make lesser prospects they would want to trade to look better than they actually are and make their best prospects look like lesser players, lowering their trade value.
Since this trade was made, only Mugrove has performed well for the Pirates. Well he has turned into an above average MLB starting pitcher, Moran has posted a 0.8 fWAR in two seasons as the team’s third baseman while hitting for little power and Feliz has been largely poor out of the bullpen. As for Martin, he has battled injuries and inconsistencies in the minor leagues and his ceiling appears to be that of a fourth outfielder at the MLB level. Not exactly the return you would expect for a pitcher of Cole’s ability.
The previously linked report from Thursday mentioned that at least one team that made a trade with the Astros in 2018 had serious concerns over Houston tampering with TrackMan. Was this the team the Pirates? It is certainly possible.
While Neal Huntington had his shortcomings as a GM, he would not have traded Cole to Houston for the package he received if he did not believe Moran would be a middle of the lineup thumper and Feliz and future shutdown high leverage reliever. Was Huntington and his scouts given false info by the Astros that led them to believe Moran and Feliz, potentially Martin and/or Musgrove too, were different players than they actually are? Were they led to believe other top Astro prospects were lesser quality players? It all seems possible.
The Astros actions already should lead to stiffer action than we have seen from Major League Baseball. Players and coaches involved in the systematic stealing of signs should face potential lifetime bans from baseball. If it is proven they did indeed tampering with TrackMan data, then that is infinitely worse than stealing signs. That would be a violation worthy of the Astros shutting down operations for a year, members of the coaching staff/front office immediately receiving lifetime bans, and the team being forced to put together an entirely brand new ownership group/front office/coaching staff/roster before they are allowed to play baseball again.
Also, if the TrackMan tampering is proven, any team that made a trade with the Astros during that time should be eligible for some sort of compensation. It could be additional draft picks, international free agency pool money, or something else. But teams like the Pirates that may have been bamboozled by the Astros due to them faking TrackMan data should receive something in compensation.