We might not ever know all the details of the Astros’ sign-stealing scheme, which cost them multiple draft picks, their manager and GM plus $5 million as punishment from Major League Baseball and led the Los Angeles City Council to draft a resolution to strip Houston (2017) and Boston (2018) of their World Series titles while awarding them to the Dodgers.
This scandal is messy — still open to speculation and possibilities. Did the Astros benefit only at home or on the road, too? Was their method of transmitting information limited to the low-fidelity banging of trash cans, or did players wear buzzers?
The scope of the scheme potentially has broad-reaching ramifications — including many beyond the obvious such as “how much it benefited the Astros in winning the 2017 World Series.” To illustrate that, I dug back the last three seasons, 2017-19, to find five Twins players (current or former) potentially impacted by the chain reaction of the Astros’ cheating.
1 Marwin Gonzalez: This one is the most obvious. Gonzalez was a key member of the 2017 Astros, hitting 23 homers with a .907 OPS (his next-best OPS season was .759) and delivering a key homer in the World Series. His production dipped somewhat in 2018, but he was still coveted enough as a free agent in 2019 that the Twins signed him last February to a two-year, $21 million deal.
Twins Daily had an interesting look at how Gonzalez’s plate discipline improved dramatically in 2017, though the piece also showed how Gonzalez was even better in some areas with the Twins in 2019. Gonzalez might have benefited in some way from the Astros’ scheme. He won’t be at TwinsFest this weekend, so the first public comments from Gonzalez will probably have to wait until spring training next month.
2 Tyler Austin: The signing of Gonzalez didn’t necessarily have a direct 1 to 1 correlation with the Twins’ decision to designate Austin for assignment early last season, but without the late addition of Gonzalez it’s possible Austin — a utility player who played primarily first base and outfield along with a little third base in the minors — might have had a larger role last year after slugging .488 for the Twins in 2018. He bounced around the majors and minors last year and is now in Japan.
“I really do wish that we had the opportunity and at-bats for Tyler because I believe in him,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said last April. “I believe in him as a person and as a player. He’s a quality, quality righthanded hitter who I think can clearly hit major league pitching and if we had the opportunity for him here in those at-bats, I think we would have seen that.”
3-5 Drew Rucinski, Oliver Drake and Jason Wheeler: I’ve lumped these three together because their stories are similar. All three pitched briefly for the Twins, and all three were hit hard by the Astros — perhaps hastening their departure from the Twins’ roster.
Rucinski pitched twice for the Twins in 2017. The final outing was a one-inning, five-hit, three-run appearance against the Astros on May 29. Did they know what was coming? Would it have mattered against a journeyman? We don’t know, but what we do know is he never pitched for the Twins again.
Drake had an incredible and improbable 2018 season, pitching for FIVE different MLB teams including the Twins. And during three of those stops, he had to face the Astros. His ERA for the season was 5.29; but subtract his outings against Houston (5.1 innings, 7 earned runs) and it was a much more respectable 4.46.
Wheeler is the most interesting of all. He was an 8th-round pick of the Twins in 2011 and made his MLB debut in 2017 at age 26. He made two appearances for the Twins that season — both against the Astros, allowing five runs (three earned) in three combined innings. He has never pitched in the majors since then. Wheeler pitched in Korea for part of 2018 but was released in July of that year.
Was he an Astros victim? Would he have gained a foothold with a stronger start to his MLB career? We’ll probably never know.