Astros owner Crane on Luhnow, Hinch firings

January 14th, 2020

HOUSTON -- Just an hour after Commissioner Rob Manfred levied unprecedented penalties on the Astros organization for an illegal scheme to steal and transmit signs, Astros owner Jim Crane took it a step further and dismissed president of baseball operations and general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager AJ Hinch.

The move comes barely two seasons after the pair -- both of whom were handed a season-long suspension by the Commissioner -- led Houston to its first World Series title. It was a move Crane said he felt was necessary to repair the franchise's tarnished reputation and reboot its future in the wake of Major League Baseball issuing discipline against the Astros for illegally using electronics to steal signs during their 2017 World Series run.

“I felt that, with what came out of the report, they both had responsibility -- Jeff running the baseball operation and overseeing AJ and all of those people associated with that,” Crane said. “And AJ, on the bench and was aware. If you read the report it's pretty clear AJ didn't endorse this, and neither did Jeff. Neither one of them started this, but neither one of them did anything about it. And that's how we came to the conclusion.”

The Astros were also fined $5 million -- the most allowable under the Major League Constitution -- and stripped of their first- and second-round picks in the 2020 and 2021 Drafts as part of their punishment from MLB. Houston does retain the compensation pick awarded after the Yankees signed Gerrit Cole. That selection, after the first round, will be No. 72 overall.

The investigation, which began after former Astros pitcher Mike Fiers told The Athletic about the Astros' scheme to steal signs via a camera in center and relay pitches to players by banging on a trash can, condemned Luhnow and Hinch for not doing enough to stop the sign-stealing operation.

“It's very unfortunate,” Crane said. “As I said earlier, if you read the report, neither one of those guys implemented this or pushed it through the system. It really came from the bottom up. It's pretty clear in the report how that happened. But neither one of them did anything about it. And that's unfortunate, and the consequences are severe.”

Luhnow and Hinch were the architects of one of the most successful runs in franchise history, culminating with a Game 7 victory over the Dodgers in the 2017 World Series. The Astros won a franchise-record 107 games last year and lost Game 7 of the World Series to the Nationals in what turned out to be the final game for Hinch and Luhnow.

“Whatever you want to say, AJ had five unbelievable seasons here, and Jeff put in a foundation that really changed how baseball operations work around the league,” Crane said. “People can talk about the people that left or weren't hired back, but there were also a lot of people out there that got promoted into GM jobs that came out of this environment. So I don't think it was all bad.

“I think it was a lot, a lot of good. And some unfortunate things that happened here, when you really break it down, it didn't make a lot of sense to why we were even doing it. So, I'm optimistic. This thing is deep here. There are a lot of smart people here. I think we'll have a speed bump here -- not to make this light, this is a tough day -- but can we recover? Absolutely. And we'll have a great team next year.”

Crane, who was cleared by MLB investigators, said Manfred assured him any allegations against other teams would be vetted. In the report, former Astros bench coach Alex Cora was identified as the one largely behind the attempt to steal signs from a video monitor near the dugout, working in conjunction with players. Cora managed the Red Sox to a World Series title in 2018, and as of last week Boston is now under investigation for sign-stealing allegations from that season. Cora was not disciplined as part of Monday's findings, but the report said that he could face sanctions when the investigation into the Red Sox is complete.

“It's clear, when you hear the guys talk -- they were talking about what other teams did it and this that and the other,” Crane said. “I have no proof of any of that, and it's not my job to investigate that. The Commissioner assured me that every team and every allegation will be checked out, and he'll conduct the same investigation he conducted on us. I'm focused on the Astros and that's all I'm going to talk about.”

Crane said he doesn't believe that the report tarnishes the Astros' championship run, during which Houston beat the Red Sox, Yankees and Dodgers en route to its first title. Books were written, a banner was hung and the Astros were the toast of baseball.

“I feel we had the best team on the field then,” Crane said. “I thought we had a great team in '18, things didn't fall our way. We got down to the last game in the World Series [in '19] and that didn't fall our way. Baseball's tough to win. I think we have a great organization, we have a great team still. We'll continue to work on that.”

The Astros' perch as baseball's best team began unraveling in the moments following their American League Championship Series win over the Yankees last October, when assistant GM Brandon Taubman taunted female reporters in the clubhouse. The club initially denied the Taubman incident but wound up firing him during the World Series. On Monday, MLB placed Taubman on the ineligible list for at least one year. He can apply for reinstatement at the conclusion of the 2020 World Series.

With Hinch and Lunhow both gone, Crane said Monday he would begin looking at the rest of the baseball operations staff and who knew what and when. Special assistant Kevin Goldstein, one of Luhnow's closest confidants, and Putila, the assistant GM for player development, are the highest-ranking members of the front office who remain with the club.

“We're still reviewing that,” Crane said. “Lower-level employees were taking direction from senior -- either players or coaches. In my opinion, it's going to be difficult to hold them to the same standard we hold to the leaders. But we'll review that after today and deal with that shortly.”

In an effort to prevent any future incidents, Crane said the organization is going to put in some checks and balances, but didn't have any specifics yet. But an emotional Crane made it clear he wasn't going to tolerate any more deception.

“We're going to study the rule book,” he said. “And we're going to have a compliance program in place to make sure that this doesn't happen again.”