CLEARWATER, Fla. — As a rookie, Vince Velasquez played alongside Mike Fiers for the final two months of the 2015 season with the Houston Astros.
But the Phillies pitcher can’t begin to imagine what life must be like for his former teammate this spring.
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In November, Fiers went public to The Athletic with details of the Houston Astros’ system of illegal electronic sign-stealing throughout their 2017 World Series run. An investigation by the commissioner’s office ensued, resulting in one-year suspensions — and subsequent firings — of Houston general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch.
Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora and New York Mets manager Carlos Beltran were also dismissed for their roles in helping mastermind the scheme as the Astros’ bench coach and designated hitter, respectively. Also, Houston was fined the maximum allowable $5 million and forfeited its first- and second-round picks in the 2020 and 2021 drafts.
And none of it would have happened without Fiers’ blowing the whistle.
“That’s a big-[guts] move right there, man,” Velasquez said Friday after the Phillies’ spring-training workout at the Carpenter Complex. “That’s all I could say.”
What Velasquez can’t say is whether he would have done the same thing.
Velasquez has claimed he wasn’t privy to the Astros’ scheme. When he got traded to the Phillies after the 2015 season, Houston was only beginning to rise from a full-scale rebuilding effort under Luhnow. Hinch had just completed his first year as manager. Cora was still working for ESPN; Beltran was playing for the New York Yankees.
After the findings of the investigation were released last month, Velasquez said, it was “a devastating thing to hear about.” Fiers, who played for the 2017 Astros but spent the last two seasons with the rival Oakland A’s, was largely lauded for coming forward.
But some critics, notably ESPN analyst Jessica Mendoza, believed he should have kept it to himself. And if that’s Mendoza’s opinion, you can bet several of Fiers’ peers feel the same way, even though players in camps across Florida and Arizona have expressed anger over the Astros’ actions.
Fiers, who went 15-4 with a 3.90 ERA in a career-high 184 2/3 innings last season, is in camp with the A’s but has declined to discuss the Astros or his decision to go public.
“For what he did, that was his choice,” said Velasquez, who was coincidentally moved to the bullpen in 2015 after the Astros acquired Fiers in a trade with Milwaukee. “I have nothing against the guy. I’m not knocking the guy for anything at all. There are consequences that come along with it.
"Some people make their own decisions [about it], but I’m not saying he was a bad person for doing what he did. I don’t know how to approach it because I’m just glad I’m not part of it.”
Phillies president Andy MacPhail praised Fiers, adding that he was “delighted” the Astros’ transgressions came to light.
Further, as commissioner Rob Manfred grapples with ways that future incidents of sign-stealing can be avoided, MacPhail supported the idea of locking the video-replay room during games, thereby denying access to players and coaches who could use the technology for the purpose of illicit sign-stealing.
Even then, MacPhail stressed the need for teams to be protective of their signs.
"Am I confident that [the Astros' punishment] is going to put an end to it? I think you have to be vigilant," MacPhail said in his annual spring-training news conference Friday. "There's always going to be some people that try to get an edge and bend the rules no matter what you do, and you have to be aware of that."
MacPhail also took note of commissioner Rob Manfred's critique of the Astros' culture under the leadership of Luhnow and Hinch. In his ruling, Manfred wrote that the Astros "valued and rewarded results over other considerations."
“This wasn’t, in my view, the first instance,” MacPhail said. “How they treated some of their employees in the past is not something that would be tolerated by our ownership.”
By not remaining silent, Fiers made sure it all came to light.