The tentacles of Major League Baseball’s massive electronic sign-stealing scandal have reached the National League East and taken down the manager of a chief Phillies rival before he oversaw a single game.
Carlos Beltran lost his job Thursday, 76 days after the New York Mets hired him as a first-time manager and three days after he was cited by commissioner Rob Manfred as a central figure in the Houston Astros’ scheme to use video monitors in their clubhouse to decode the signs of opposing catchers during the 2017 and 2018 seasons. Beltran, 42, was the designated hitter for the World Series-winning 2017 Astros and the only player named in Manfred’s nine-page report that was released Monday.
Beltran’s dismissal -- he and the Mets “agreed to mutually part ways,” according to a statement from the team -- comes near the end of a week in which the Astros fired general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch, both of whom were suspended one year by MLB for not squelching the sign stealing, and the Boston Red Sox removed manager Alex Cora, a mastermind of the Astros’ scheme while serving as their bench coach. The Red Sox are also being investigated by MLB for sign-stealing allegations under Cora’s direction in 2018.
And so, while the baseball world catches its breath and attempts to digest the enormity of the Astros’ scandal, three prominent organizations are commencing managerial searches less than a month before spring training.
In the Mets’ case, it will mark their third manager in 27 months. They finished third in the NL East last season, five games better than the fourth-place Phillies, then fired Mickey Callaway after two seasons at the helm. Their search was exhaustive, and it included Joe Girardi, who ultimately got hired by the Phillies.
And just as the Phillies believe Girardi will represent the change they need to finally reach the playoffs, the Mets believed in Beltran. In listing his qualities that impressed the club during its interview process, general manager Brodie Van Wagenen described Beltran as “trustworthy.”
In a conference call with reporters Thursday, Van Wagenen said the Mets were “unaware of the Astros’ situation” when they interviewed Beltran, who later lied to multiple reporters about his involvement with the Astros. Although Manfred didn’t discipline any Astros players, including Beltran, the Mets didn’t want to deal with the distractions that might have stemmed from his involvement in baseball’s biggest scandal since the 1919 Black Sox or the potential public relations backlash from retaining him.
After meeting on Wednesday, the Mets and Beltran chose to move on.
"As a veteran player on the [2017 Astros] team, I should've recognized the severity of the issue and [I] truly regret the actions that were taken," Beltran said in a statement. "I am a man of faith and integrity and what took place did not demonstrate those characteristics. I'm very sorry. It's not who I am as a father, a husband, a teammate and as an educator."
Unlike the Astros and Red Sox, who must consider whether their coaches are tainted by scandal before promoting from within to fill the managerial vacancy, the Mets could reach a swifter resolution. Hensley Meulens, for example, was a Mets managerial candidate before being hired as Beltran's bench coach. As a longtime coach with the San Francisco Giants, he's seemingly untouched by the Astros' saga.
Then again, the events that occurred in Houston and possibly Boston have corroded the entire industry. For one thing, the commissioner’s office must address -- and presumably restrict -- the use of video in clubhouses across the league, setting forth clear and strict rules before the start of the season.
Sign stealing has been part of the game for generations. It also isn’t against the rules as long as electronics aren’t involved. But technological advances have allowed for higher-level espionage and increased the levels of paranoia that signs are being stolen.
Girardi was impacted directly by the Astros’ scandal. He got fired by the New York Yankees after the 2017 playoffs, a fate that wasn’t tied directly to losing to the Astros in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series but also wasn’t helped by it.
The allegations against the Astros were outlined in a November story in The Athletic. Girardi was asked at the winter meetings last month for his reaction to the Astros' activities.
“I wasn’t shocked,” he said. "We had put in a lot of [deterrents] to try to combat certain things. You know, word gets around. That’s a suspicion of mine at every ballpark that you go to. Wherever you go you worry about people trying to steal your signs, changing signs over and over, having mechanisms where the catcher doesn’t have to worry about running to the mound.