SAN DIEGO – For a man hired to run the Mets last month, it should have been a rudimentary question. However, Carlos Beltran was unable to respond directly this week when asked if he would expect management to begin the 2020 season.
"I look forward to running this ball club," said Beltran, a weirdly vague response that underlined the extreme awkwardness of those involved in Major League Baseball's extensive investigation of the Houston Astros.
Beltran ended his career as a sage at the Astros clubhouse in 2017 when the team allegedly stole signs electronically in a brazen scheme that could have helped them win the World Series. The league had hoped to complete its investigation ahead of the winter gatherings that started on Sunday, but it has broadened the scope to extend to last season.
So while contracts were signed and free agents signed and a baseline health study released this week, the meetings ended with a thorough investigation that is still working on the league and many of its most prominent figures, including players.
"This is probably the most thorough investigation the Commissioner's office has ever carried out," said Commissioner Rob Manfred on Wednesday. "I think we've already interviewed nearly 60 witnesses, 76,000 emails, and a whole host of other instant messages. This review has led us to conclude that we need to do some follow-up interviews.
"I hope to complete the investigation as soon as possible, but it's really hard to predict how long it will take."
Baseball is said to focus on Astros leadership, including General Manager Jeff Luhnow and Manager A.J. Hinch, who is likely to face the most severe penalties, in addition to fines or loss of draft picks for the organization. All parties, including Alex Cora, managers of Beltran and Boston Red Sox, who were interviewed as part of the investigation, are uncertain.
The generally volatile Cora, the Astros bank coach in 2017, diverted questions on this topic on Monday when it became available in the news media. The equally sociable Hinch also tried it at his meeting on Tuesday.
"I have good relationships in baseball," said Hinch. "I stand behind what I am."
But how uncomfortable is that? In addition, Dave Roberts, the manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, is close lost to the Astros in a tense seven-game World Series in 2017. Roberts admitted that he had spoken to Hinch this off-season and said they continue to be good friends. But does he believe that the theft of electronic signs endangers the game's fundamental integrity?
"Yes," said Roberts. "Absolutely."
Roberts indicated that he had been thinking back to moments in this World Series since the investigation began – "Possibly," he said – which is logical. A win would have crowned the 2010s for the Dodgers, a decade in which they won 20 games more than any other National League team but couldn't win a title. It would have changed lives and legacies, but Roberts insisted that he didn't think about what could have been.
"Right," he said. "Because it won't change no matter how I feel."
In fact, there is no claim in baseball that actual results would never have been achieved, no absurd leaps from N.C.A.A. If the Astros cheated in 2017 for victory – whether in the regular season or in the postseason or in both – they got away with it and kept their rings and trophies.
The Dodgers were suspicious of the Astros anyway, but not all of the jars in Minute Maid Park in this World Series were careful enough. The Dodgers scored only 16 goals in their three games in Houston, losing twice.
"Have we taken additional precautions in this series? Yes, ”said Roberts, admitting that the team knew something shady could happen. "But to what extent did we not know to what extent."
That's what baseball hopes to discover when he immerses himself in the shady subculture of the sign stolen from his most tech-savvy franchise. The Astros have completed three seasons in a row with at least 100 victories and almost won a second World Cup in October The Washington Nationals fell in seven games – which, according to reports, used multiple characters to counter potential series fraud.
The investigation – triggered by the inclusion of former Astros thrower Mike Fiers in The Athletic in the file – could pollute everything. The Astros' uncanny talent for hitting without attracting attention could be an extraordinary skill to be commended. Or it could be the result of widespread fraud.
Amidst most of the franchise history, there is serious doubt about Astros' credibility. But Hinch would prefer not to take her legacy apart.
"We are trying to build the 2020 team," he said. "We used our energy to do this. Obviously it was a different off-season for us. I hope there will be a day when we can get past it and continue. But I can't talk about it until the investigation is done. "
However, others can talk, like Roberts and Yankees manager Aaron Boone. The Astros eliminated the Yankees – then managed by Joe Girardi – in the 2017 American League Championship Series and again in the A.L.C.S. this year. In both series, the Astros had a home advantage due to the superior balance in the regular season.
"Some of the things are, you know, eye-opening," Boone said Tuesday. "We'll see where it leads. We obviously know that Major League Baseball takes it seriously and goes through a thorough process of speaking to a lot of people and really trying to find out what really happened, what didn't, and what happened. "
Boone added: “Hopefully the result will be a better game, a fairer game between the lines. This is something that we should all strive for as a sport. "