April 22 (UPI) — Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred on Wednesday suspended Boston Red Sox video replay system operator J.T. Watkins through the 2020 postseason and stripped the club of its second-round draft pick this year after the completion of the league’s sign-stealing investigation.
Former Red Sox manager Alex Cora, who mutually parted ways with the team in January as part of the fallout from the Houston Astros‘ sign-stealing scandal, also was suspended through the 2020 playoffs, but only for his conduct as the Astros’ bench coach in 2017.
Cora and former Astros veteran player Carlos Beltran were named as key individuals in the Astros’ scheme, which involved illegal use of technology to steal signs of opposing teams and relay them to Houston batters in real time. Cora left the Astros after the 2017 season and managed the Red Sox to the 2018 World Series title.
“As an organization, we strive for 100 percent compliance with the rules,” Red Sox president and CEO Sam Kennedy said in a statement. “MLB’s investigation concluded that in isolated instances during the 2018 regular season, sign sequences were decoded through the use of live game video rather than through permissible means.
“MLB acknowledged the front office’s extensive efforts to communicate and enforce the rules and concluded that Alex Cora, the coaching staff, and most of the players did not engage in, nor were they aware of, any violations. Regardless, these rule violations are unacceptable. We apologize to our fans and Major League Baseball, and accept the commissioner’s ruling.”
Manfred wrote in his report that Watkins, who denied the allegations, “on at least some occasions during the 2018 regular season, utilized the game feeds in the replay room, in violation of MLB regulations, to revise sign sequence information that he had permissibly provided to players prior to the game.”
Manfred noted that the Red Sox’s conduct was less egregious than the Astros, saying, “Unlike the Houston Astros’ 2017 conduct, in which players communicated to the batter from the dugout area in real time the precise type of pitch about to be thrown, Watkins’ conduct, by its very nature, was far more limited in scope and impact.”
MLB’s investigation didn’t find any evidence that the organization’s front office, Cora or his coaching staff were aware of Watkins’ actions, and Manfred said he won’t impose additional discipline.
“Communication of these violations was episodic and isolated to Watkins and a limited number of Red Sox players only,” Manfred said in the report.
Watkins, a 30-year-old from Tuscaloosa, Ala., is a 2012 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy. The Red Sox selected the former catcher in the 10th round of that year’s MLB Draft, and he played in Boston’s minor league system until 2015.
Manfred also called Watkins a “key participant” in the 2017 Apple Watch incident, noting that he relayed decoded signs from the Red Sox’s replay room to the dugout. Along with his suspension, Watkins is barred from serving as a replay operator through the 2021 postseason.
The Red Sox’s punishment comes three months after the league disciplined the Astros. Houston’s sign-stealing scandal led to the suspension and subsequent firing of former Astros manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow. Manfred also handed the club a record $ 5 million fine and stripped the franchise of four draft picks.