WINNING COMES AT A PRICE

Here’s the one problem that is still stumping MLB’s most successful analytics guru

Here’s the one problem that is still stumping MLB’s most successful analytics guru
Sorry goes a long way. Composite image by Jack Brame.

You know Earth is about to spin off its axis when the sitting President of the United States is suing to have a free election overturned … and that's only the second most-stupifying court case on the docket.

Disgraced Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow is suing the Astros for breach of contract and $22 million. Luhnow claims that Astros owner Jim Crane unjustly fired him as part of a shady deal with MLB commissioner Rob Manfred that allowed the Astros to keep their 2017 World Series title.

The lawsuit is a 17-page document filed in Harris County District Court. Here's the Cliff's Notes version: Luhnow says he was an innocent scapegoat in a "negotiated settlement" between the Astros and Manfred. Luhnow claims that he had "no knowledge" and "played no part" in the Astros sign-stealing scheme during 2017 and 2018.

Luhnow wants the Astros to pay him the guaranteed $22 million in salary, performance bonuses, profits, interest and benefits he lost when Crane fired him (along with team manager A.J. Hinch) last January.

Luhnow claims that MLB's investigation into the scandal included interviews with 70 witnesses, and only one, a mid-level Astros executive, fingered Luhnow as the culprit. Luhnow says the Astros employee was told he could keep his job if he ratted out Luhnow.

In collateral damage, Astros manager A.J. Hinch and Boston manager Alex Cora also lost their jobs because of their involvement in the scandal. Cora was the Astros bench manager during 2017. After that season, Cora was hired to manage the Red Sox and guided them to the World Series title in 2018.

Hinch immediately apologized for not doing more to stop the Astros from illegally stealing signs. Cora eventually apologized, too. Luhnow never admitted any guilt and protested his innocence, from the start and more recently in an exclusive interview with Channel 2 sports reporter Vanessa Richardson. The day after Luhnow's interview ran on air, Manfred stood his ground, saying, "He (Luhnow) damaged the game and as a result he was disciplined."

Now that the dust has somewhat settled, Hinch is the new manager of the Detroit Tigers, and Cora is back as manager of the Red Sox.

And unapologetic Jeff Luhnow? Elton John was right, sorry really does seem to be the hardest word. Even if Luhnow is telling the truth and didn't know about the Astros' shenanigans, and it's possible he didn't, he was the boss and should suck it up and accept the consequences.

Hinch and Cora took their lumps and now they're back. Luhnow, by suing the Astros and attacking the commissioner, well, good luck finding another job in baseball.

Sorry goes a long way. Tiger Woods owned up to his "infidelities" and "affairs," and it looked like millions of cheering fans followed him up the 18th fairway of the 2019 Masters, all forgiven.

Alex Rodriguez admitted that he lied about taking steroids and cheating baseball, served his suspension, and offered a hand-written apology to fans. Today A-Rod is practically the face of baseball, working for both ESPN and Fox. He's a multi-gazillionaire on ABC's Shark Tank. Oh, and he's engaged to Jennifer Lopez.

Kobe Bryant was accused of sexual assault. He tearfully apologized to his wife in public, saying "I sit here in front of you guys, furious at myself, disgusted in myself, for making the mistake of adultery." For that, plus his tragic death, he's Saint Kobe.

Remember when Andy Pettitte nearly broke down in tears admitting that he took a performance enhancing substance (HGH)? He was welcomed back to baseball. The next time he took the mound, fans gave him a standing ovation.

Roger Clemens and Rafael Palmeiro and Barry Bonds have never admitted knowingly taking steroids. Whether they did or not, despite their historic careers, it's unlikely they'll be voted into baseball's Hall of Fame.

Pete Rose lied so many times about betting on baseball that when he ultimately fessed up, he was a lost cause and he'll never see Cooperstown, either. Same with Lance Armstrong, too late to salvage his reputation and legacy.

I know that it would kill Luhnow to apologize for his role in the Astros scandal, especially if he deep down believes that he's innocent. Remember what the famous legal scholar George Costanza said, "It's not a lie if you believe it."

Innocent or guilty, Luhnow would have been better off, possibly running a big league baseball team today, if he had said "sorry." He may never recover professionally, at least not in MLB, from suing the Astros. Baseball owners stick together.

These days, if someone says to me, "Why did you …?," I immediately apologize. "You're right, I'm sorry. I'll never do it again. Now tell me what I did."

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Who holds the power in Houston? Composite Getty Image.

It should come as no surprise that after a slow start to the season, fans and media are starting to voice concerns about the organization's leadership and direction. The latest evidence of this involved Astros adviser Reggie Jackson and the comments he made on Jon Heyman's podcast, The Show.

Jackson discussed the Astros reported interest in starting pitcher Blake Snell. He said that ultimately, Snell was looking for a deal the Astros weren't comfortable with in terms of money and structure of the contract.

Which is interesting considering the Astros were okay with paying 5-years, $95 million for closer Josh Hader, but not willing to pay Snell 2-years, $62 million. We believe the opt-outs in Snell's contract were a dealbreaker for Houston. And of course the money played a role.

However, the Astros passing on Snell is not the intriguing part of the story. It was Jackson talking about the club's power structure in the front office and how they go about making decisions.

“Being fiscally responsible is what kicked us out of the Snell deal… That's too much for him… Between the 4 or 5 people who make decisions with the Astros, we don't play that game,” said Jackson.

Based on Jackson's comments in the interview, the decision makers are Jim Crane, Dana Brown, Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, and Reggie. But not necessarily in that order. He also mentioned that they had conversations with manager Joe Espada and his staff, plus some input from the analytics department.

These comments add to the concerns we've had about the front office since Crane moved on from GM James Click and operated without a general manager for several months. Which led to the disastrous signing of Jose Abreu and to a lesser extent Rafael Montero.

Which begs the question, are the Astros in a better spot now with their front office? Many blame Dana Brown for the state of the starting rotation. While there were some red flags this spring, anticipating injuries to Jose Urquidy, Justin Verlander, and Framber Valdez is asking a lot.

But only bringing in Hader to replace all the innings left behind by Hector Neris, Phil Maton, Kendall Graveman, and Ryne Stanek always felt risky.

Finally, what can the Astros due in the short-term to weather the storm while Framber and JV rehab from injury?

And is Hunter Brown the biggest liability in the rotation?

Be sure to watch the video above for the full in-depth discussion.

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