Report: MLB offered Astros players immunity in exchange for sign stealing testimony
One of the biggest questions in the fallout from MLB commissioner Rob Manfred’s investigation has been: why weren’t any players punished for what was defined as a player-driven electronic sign stealing scandal? The reason for that is now clear: there was an agreement between the league and players’ union to prevent any punishment from happening.
According to Jared Diamond of the Wall Street Journal, MLB and the MLBPA struck an agreement as the investigation got started to provide immunity for players in exchange for their honest testimony. The league was motivated to make such an agreement due to skepticism that they would be able to win MLBPA-filed grievances in the event of player suspensions.
The league had concerns about winning a grievance because of the Astros’ failure to communicate a message to its players. According to Manfred, ex-Astros GM Jeff Luhnow never passed on the league’s memos about sign stealing to players or staff, nor did he ever ensure the players were in compliance with them. That helped shield the players from consequences, as Manfred believed the MLBPA would win player grievances that would have stemmed from suspensions. The union likely would have argued that the players were ignorant to potential consequences due to the lack of accountability and information from their superiors.
The agreement the league forged with the MLBPA ensured that players could sit down with the league without fearing punishment or repercussions for truthfully describing what the Astros did in 2017. 23 current or former Astros ultimately sat down with the league. It also ensured that the MLBPA would not take actions to hinder the investigation or entangle the league in dozens of grievances.
As noted in his initial statement, Manfred was also hesitant to punish players because doing so would harm teams other than the Astros, who had nothing to do with the scandal, but had signed players who were involved. Due to the possibility of grievances, punishing only current Astros would have been impossible.
Many in the sport were not pleased with what seemed to be a light penalty for the Astros after a year of systemic cheating ended in a World Series title. Even some players wanted to see harsher punishments for their Astros counterparts. With this information, though, it’s easy to see why Manfred didn’t go that route. Such punishments would have led to lengthy grievances, slowed down an investigation, and made it harder to get accurate information. It’s not the optimal result for the league, but it’s the best they could have done given the circumstances.