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MLB commissioner says punishments could be severe in sign-stealing scandal

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ARLINGTON, Texas — Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred said he believes the sign-stealing scandal that has engulfed the sport involves only the Houston Astros and that he can mete out discipline beyond the standard fine and draft pick penalties if necessary.

Speaking as the owners meetings began Tuesday, Manfred called the allegations of technology-driven sign-stealing by the Astros “the most serious matter.” He said “it relates to the integrity of the sport” and promised “a really, really thorough investigation.”

“Right now, we are focused on the information that we have with respect to the Astros,” Manfred said after a tour of Globe Life Field, the Texas Rangers‘ new stadium set to open in 2020. “I’m not going to speculate on whether other people are going to be involved. We’ll deal with that if it happens, but I’m not going to speculate about that. I have no reason to believe it extends beyond the Astros at this point in time.”

Cheating accusations are commonly levied by teams against other teams in discussions with officials in the commissioner’s office, although none had taken hold until former Astros pitcher Mike Fiers alleged the 2017 World Series champions used a camera feed near the home dugout to steal catchers’ signs and relayed them to hitters by banging on a trash can.

Fiers’ allegations prompted the league to open an investigation, which thus far has focused on the 2017 Astros but has included questions about more recent Astros teams, sources told ESPN.

The maximum penalties Manfred has handed out include a $2 million fine and docking of two first-round draft picks after a St. Louis Cardinals employee illicitly accessed the Astros’ proprietary database and a ban on international signings after an investigation into the Atlanta Braves‘ practices in Latin America.

MLB instituted new rules before the 2019 season in hopes of limiting the use of stealing signs via technology, and the scope of Manfred’s discipline could depend on the timing of any alleged wrongdoing.

“I’m not going to speculate on what the appropriate discipline is,” Manfred said. “That depends on how the facts are established at the end of the investigation. The general warning I issued to the clubs, I stand by. It certainly could be all of those [past disciplinary actions], but my authority under the major league constitution would be broader than those things as well.”

Manfred said he does not have a timeline for the investigation, but “I certainly would hope that we would be done before we start playing baseball again.”

Discussion of the Astros, sources told ESPN, is expected to be a common topic at the owners meetings, which run through Thursday.

The fear among a number of top executives, sources said, is that the practice of technology-driven sign-stealing has become commonplace in the game and that the Astros’ case will serve as a litmus test for Manfred’s ability to clamp down.

“Any allegations that relate to a rule violation that could affect the outcome of a game or games is the most serious matter,” Manfred said. “It relates to the integrity of the sport. In terms of where we are, we have a very active — what is going to be a really, really thorough investigation ongoing. But beyond that, I can’t tell you how close we are to done.”

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Tommy Pham headed to Padres; Rays to get Hunter Renfroe

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The San Diego Padres, intent on winning in 2020, agreed to a trade for outfielder Tommy Pham and a prospect from the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for outfielder Hunter Renfroe and prized second-base prospect Xavier Edwards, sources familiar with the deal told ESPN on Thursday night.

The trade, which the sides expect to be announced Friday upon the completion of medical reviews, will send Pham, who turns 32 in March, to a Padres team in need of a high-on-base offensive catalyst. The Padres, who had the fifth-lowest on-base percentage in the majors last season, already have acquired outfielder Trent Grisham and second baseman Jurickson Profar in trades this winter and are expected to continue dealing to alleviate an outfield glut as the winter meetings approach this week, sources said.

Tampa Bay, which bowed out to the Houston Astros in a tight five-game division series this season, will get Renfroe and Edwards, an athletic middle infielder with excellent bat-to-ball skills who is a favorite among evaluators.

For the better part of a year, Renfroe, 27, has been part of Padres trade talks, with his sub-.300 career on-base percentage a red flag for teams. But his prodigious power, well-above-average defense, elite throwing arm and four years of club control were strong selling points for the Rays.

After buying low on Pham in a deal with the St. Louis Cardinals, the Rays sold relatively high, as he will earn more than $8 million in arbitration this season and become a free agent after 2021. Still, the Padres, in win-now mode, see Pham as a strong enough upgrade to give up a high-floor, higher-ceiling prospect in Edwards.

Edwards was No. 46 on ESPN insider Keith Law’s midseason top 50 prospects list. Though he hasn’t developed power in his first two minor league seasons, Edwards has top-end speed and will play almost all of the 2020 season at 20 years old. The Rays could play him at shortstop, though a scout who saw Edwards multiple times this season says he believes he could be a Gold Glove-caliber fielder at second base.

The Padres dipped into a farm system considered perhaps the best in the game, and sent Edwards to a Rays team that is in contention with it for that title. After a frustrating 2019, the Padres fired manager Andy Green, hired the well-thought-of Jayce Tingler and have taken an aggressive tack to reflect owner Ron Fowler’s mandate to win next season.

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Tommy Pham traded to Padres; Rays get Hunter Renfroe

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The San Diego Padres, intent on winning in 2020, agreed to a trade for outfielder Tommy Pham and a prospect from the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for outfielder Hunter Renfroe and prized second-base prospect Xavier Edwards, sources familiar with the deal told ESPN.

The trade, which the sides expect to be announced Friday, will send Pham, who turns 32 in March, to a Padres team in need of a high-on-base offensive catalyst. The Padres, who had the fifth-lowest on-base percentage in the majors last season, already have acquired outfielder Trent Grisham and second baseman Jurickson Profar in trades this winter and are expected to continue dealing to alleviate an outfield glut as the winter meetings approach this week, sources said.

Tampa Bay, which bowed out to the Houston Astros in a tight five-game division series this season, will get Renfroe and Edwards, an athletic middle infielder with excellent bat-to-ball skills who is a favorite among evaluators.

For the better part of a year, Renfroe, 27, has been part of Padres trade talks, with his sub-.300 career on-base percentage a red flag for teams. But his prodigious power, well-above-average defense, elite throwing arm and four years of club control were strong selling points for the Rays.

After buying low on Pham in a deal with the St. Louis Cardinals, the Rays sold relatively high, as he will earn more than $8 million in arbitration this season and become a free agent after 2021. Still, the Padres, in win-now mode, see Pham as a strong enough upgrade to give up a high-floor, higher-ceiling prospect in Edwards.

Edwards was No. 46 on ESPN insider Keith Law’s midseason top 50 prospects list. Though he hasn’t developed power in his first two minor league seasons, Edwards has top-end speed and will play almost all of the 2020 season at 20 years old. The Rays could play him at shortstop, though a scout who saw Edwards multiple times this season believes he could be a Gold Glove-caliber fielder at second base.

The Padres dipped into a farm system considered perhaps the best in the game — and sent Edwards to a Rays team that is in contention with it for that title. After a frustrating 2019, the Padres fired manager Andy Green, hired the well-thought-of Jayce Tingler and have taken an aggressive tack to reflect owner Ron Fowler’s mandate to win next season.

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Ex-Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild hired for same position with Padres

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SAN DIEGO — Former New York Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild has been hired in the same position by the San Diego Padres.

Rothschild is one of several newcomers on rookie manager Jayce Tingler’s staff announced Thursday. Rothschild spent the last nine seasons with the Yankees before being fired after last season. He replaces Darren Balsley.

Other newcomers include bench coach Bobby Dickerson, first base coach Wayne Kirby, and Ben Fritz as bullpen coach. Dickerson comes from the Phillies and Kirby from the Orioles. Fritz enters his sixth season with the Padres organization and his first at the big league level.

Glenn Hoffman returns as third base coach. Skip Schumaker has been elevated to associate manager after serving as the first base coach the last two seasons. Damion Easley was promoted from assistant hitting coach to hitting coach. Rod Barajas will serve as catching and quality control coach. He was bench coach last season before being named interim manager for the last eight games after Andy Green was fired.

San Diego finished last in the NL West in 2019.

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