Rob Manfred is an avid golfer, so he is very familiar with the concept of a mulligan. And this baseball commissioner never needed a second chance.
No manager of a company wants to set the precedent that a decision can be withdrawn by the mood and outrage of the public / employees. But Manfred must now see that his decision to steal the scandal in the Astros sign is insufficient. It has left an entire industry – including fans and competing players and front offices – convinced that crime pays off, that Houston players skate with zero penalties, except that their peers, media and fans publicly reprimand.
Manfred shouldn't worry that the change in his initial sanctions will look weak – since that's already the general impression that he was afraid to take over the Players Association or to punish one of his bosses, Astros owner Jim Crane. A mulligan would make Manfred appear open to the continuing legal outrage. He would look bigger, not smaller, because he accepts that not everything he does is flawless and that he will try to do it right if there is a wrong right, even if it was his wrong at first. Incidentally, my injustice too – I thought his initial punishment hit the Astros hard. The unprecedented anger between player and player on the record has forced it to be re-examined.
Manfred cannot waive his agreement with the Players Association, which granted immunity to any player who testified to MLB during the investigation in exchange for honesty. The Commissioner cannot go there as much as want to see so many suspensions of Astros 2017. He had to find ways on the side or rethink his first decision to better target the scammers.
Here's a way to do this:
1. A three-year ban on every Astro 2017 – batsman or pitcher – from appearing in the All-Star game. Not every batsman on the team participated in the program, and the pitchers obviously didn't hit. But the pitchers benefited from the racket's success by being supported by runscoring. In addition, the message here is: If your team cheats, say something even if you are not directly involved, otherwise you will be punished.
The Players Association would probably fight back in part because many players' contracts include all-star bonuses. MLB should be ready to fight – and force the union to choose a side between the players. Because the rest of the union members who aren't Astros in 2017 don't want these players to enjoy further rewards. If Yordan Alvarez (no Astro 2017) does the all-star game, that's fine. But no Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman or Justin Verlander etc. By the way, would an Astros want to go to a game in 2017 in which it could be criticized and ostracized by its colleagues?
The Players Association could also argue that the promise was not to punish players – and this is a punishment. But the tacit understanding was not a suspension for the players, as former GM Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Suspensions were raised. I would call this less of a punishment than more of an honor for the players.
Second No member of the Astros 2017 should ever get a post-season clearance again. The union would probably bark again. But here the other players should move up. The playoff stock pool is not reduced by a cent. This just means that a group of players who have cheated their way to a title and World Series stock check should never get another. It is more money for the non-fraudsters.
Third For 2020 and 2021, the Astros in their 81 home games will have to land in all innings rather than below. This way they get the fan base at home, but not (among other things) the last licks. This confirms that the theft of signs was mainly carried out in Minute Maid Park.
4th No home games for the next three seasons. There were some calls that – like in college – the Astros should be banned from the playoffs for a period of time. But why should they then call prospective customers and start their service watch, or why should their best jugs try their best in September etc.? Houston can still go into the tournament, but players don't benefit from a home crowd, and property doesn't get the benefit of goals. Yes, I can imagine that the AL playoff teams that do not face the Astros think that this is an advantage for the club that is playing against Houston. So be it. There are no perfect penalties, and the key here is to hurt the Astros tactically and in the pocket of its owner.
5th Houston cannot host the all-star game for the next 15 years. The property received not nearly enough fines to oversee such a rogue organization.
6th No international signatures for 2021 and 2022. It's too late for this year. In the first round, Manfred only removed the draft picks from the first and second rounds in 2020 and 2021. This will hurt. But not enough as the Astros will definitely pick in late 2020 and probably 2021. The international ban will prevent this breakaway organization from reloading easily.
7th Hang up the crane for two years. Manfred relieved Crane for the first time. Even if Crane didn't know what was going on – what he claims – he hired Luhnow. He hired Hinch. He created the tenor of an organization that claimed it had no tolerance for domestic abuse and then acted against Roberto Osuna (so forgive me if I don't believe the word of the astro leadership now because they have no tolerance for further cheating). Crane led an organization that not only hired and raised Brandon Taubman, but also issued a malicious and false press release to defend him during last year's playoffs.
If Luhnow and Hinch are to be punished for terrible oversight, the ultimate leader must also feel that anger.
Here's the thing: Crane should be the one who comes forward to essentially ask for the sanction. This is what a real leader would do, not talk about his total innocence and say that he did everything to settle the matter by firing other people to look tough on crime.
If Crane refuses – the likely result – Manfred must be strengthened. Because part of the mistrust of the commissioner's decision is that he tried to find the middle ground by making a deal with the players and protecting one of his bosses. And as we have seen, it sinks on this middle course.
He has to swing again. Time for a mulligan.