There's only one way Astros sign-stealing story blows back on Red Sox, and we're not there yet


Let's say for the sake of argument that Alex Cora played the role of lead drummer when the 2017 Astros were stealing signs like a merry band of trash-can pounding subway buskers.

So what?

That's an institutional crime and Houston should pay the price, not a former bench coach. Think of it like Deflategate. The Patriots deserved their punishment, but taking Tom Brady within a whisker of the Supreme Court was overkill.

Here's where things get dicey. What if Cora imported some of Houston's less savory tactics to Boston, a team that has already been censured by MLB — under former manager John Farrell, to be fair — for using Apple watches to help steal signs in 2017?

Because Cora and bullpen coach Craig Bjornson were both members of that compromised Astros staff, and because the arms race to gain even a tiny edge can very easily blur the line between gamesmanship and fraud, the only way this story truly becomes relevant to the Red Sox is if an MLB investigation reveals that Boston has enacted some of Houston's worst practices over the last two seasons.

There's no evidence that the Red Sox have deployed technology with similar nefariousness, and the numbers under Cora don't reveal any wild home-road splits. Since 2013, for instance, the Red Sox have outperformed their road OPS at Fenway Park by anywhere from 3.34 percent (2014) to 17.65 percent (2015). Cora's two Red Sox clubs fall in the middle of that range — 9.66 percent in 2018 and 7.33 percent last year.

In conversations with multiple executives at this week's GM meetings in Scottsdale, Ariz., one theme emerged consistently — the Astros don't consider their actions cheating, because they believe they live in a world where Everybody is Doing It, and if they happen to be better at finding those edges at the margins, that's not their problem. Don't hate 'em 'cuz you ain't 'em, so to speak.

This issue has burst into the public eye because The Athletic has broken a series of stories about the Astros stealing signs. Former Astros reporter Evan Drellich and national writer Ken Rosenthal first reported that the Astros stole signs in 2017 by positioning a center field camera on the opposing catcher, connecting it to a monitor outside the dugout, and banging on a trash can in real time to warn the hitter when a breaking ball was coming.

The Athletic followed up on Wednesday night with a report that Cora and Mets manager Carlos Beltran — Houston's DH in 2017 — will also be summoned as part of MLB's investigation. ESPN added that the league has already spoken to Bjornson, who served as Houston's bullpen coach in 2017.

While the involvement of Cora and Bjornson makes this tangentially a Red Sox story, for the time being it's just an Astros story. That will change if MLB determines the ex-Astros didn't want to fall behind their former team in the information race after they arrived in Boston, but so far there's no indication that they're under suspicion.

Making all of this murkier is Cora's well-earned reputation for sign stealing and pitch tipping. He was considered one of the best in the game at these very particular skills as a player, and he hasn't lost his touch as a manager. Of course, there's a big difference between noting glove placement on a fastball and cracking opposing signals on a high def monitor over the toilet next to the dugout.

So let the Astros take the heat on this one, at least for now. If something changes, we can reconvene.

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