And then there was one.
The baseball industry, fixated on the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal, turns its eyes to … the Mets?
The Red Sox fired ring-winning manager Alex Cora on Tuesday night, continuing a string of eye-popping casualties from the report released Monday by commissioner Rob Manfred and twisting the tide toward Queens. Cora, Astros manager A.J. Hinch and Astros president of baseball operations Jeff Luhnow all lost their jobs via their connection to the scheme. That leaves Carlos Beltran as the most prominent person named in the report issued Monday by commissioner Rob Manfred still with a significant job title — Mets manager … at least for now.
The Mets have not commented on Beltran’s status since the disclosure of Manfred’s report, which fingered Beltran — a player on the champion 2017 Astros — as one of the masterminds behind the scheme to use a center field camera to decipher opposing catchers’ signals in real time on a video monitor positioned near the Minute Maid Park home dugout. Those signals were then conveyed to the batters via the thumping of a garbage can. Earlier Tuesday, the Mets were planning a news conference, the date and site not yet determined, that would give Beltran an opportunity to explain his side, which includes telling The Post twice in November via text that he was unaware of any cheating that went on with the 2017 Astros.
Nevertheless, that was before the Red Sox sent another shock wave through the baseball world. Rather than wait for baseball to conclude its investigation into recently published allegations that the 2018 champion Red Sox illegally stole signs, Boston’s ownership dismissed Cora, Hinch’s bench coach on the 2017 Astros.
The report issued Monday cited Cora as a primary culprit in the sign-stealing by the Astros. That combined with whatever was uncovered with the Red Sox had Cora likely also facing at least a one-year ban, possibly more. But after Hinch and Luhnow were nailed for a year and then fired, the Red Sox acted proactively to dismiss Cora rather than let the issue fester with what felt like an inevitable conclusion.
“Given the findings and the Commissioner’s ruling, we collectively decided that it would not be possible for Alex to effectively lead the club going forward and we mutually agreed to part ways,” the Red Sox said in a statement attributed to owner John Henry, chairman Tom Werner, CEO Sam Kennedy and Cora.
Added Cora in a statement: “We agreed today that parting ways was the best thing for the organization. I do not want to be a distraction to the Red Sox as they move forward.”
Will Beltran prove too great a distraction to the Mets’ cause as they field a win-now operation? General manager Brodie Van Wagenen, after firing Mickey Callaway, chose the nine-time All-Star (including four times with the Mets) as his first managerial hire over more conventional candidates such as Joe Girardi, Eduardo Perez and Derek Shelton; Girardi and Shelton wound up landing the gigs to manage the Phillies and Pirates, respectively. Yet just eight days after the Mets introduced Beltran at Citi Field, The Athletic reported the Astros’ high-tech chicanery.
On Nov. 12, Beltran told The Post in a text message, “I’m not aware of that [center field] camera.” He added, “We took a lot of pride studying pitchers [on] the computer. That is the only technology that I use and understand.”
Two days later, after The Athletic reported that Beltran and Cora led the efforts to illegally steal opponents’ signs, Beltran doubled down on his innocence, telling The Post, “I’m not concerned. There’s nothing illegal about studying your opposite team. We all have the same opportunity to look out for information and tendencies.”
On Nov. 14, Van Wagenen declared, “At this point, I don’t see any reason why this is a Mets situation,” and he voiced little interest in speaking to Beltran about the matter. It’s not publicly clear whether Beltran discussed his Astros involvement with his Mets superiors. Nevertheless, within the next month, Beltran met with Manfred’s investigation team and disclosed his role in the Astros’ sign-stealing operation. That spared him from discipline from Major League Baseball, as Manfred granted immunity to the players from that ’17 Astros team as long as they testified truthfully.
It does not, however, protect Beltran from getting let go from his first managing job before so much as spending a day in spring training if the Mets decide this will be too much of a nuisance and distraction for a win-now team.
The danger for Beltran and the Mets is that there is a strong sentiment within the game that the Astros were not punished harshly enough, including the fact no players were hit with penalties. Will that lead to more people coming forward to tie Beltran to being a mastermind of the Astros scheme and not just someone who benefited from the cheating? Also, will it be problematic for Beltran to lead — especially having never managed before — when his integrity will be in question?
For now, the Mets are sticking by their new manager. But they also are waiting to see what else surfaces and to see how Beltran handles facing reporters for the first time.
The Mets were not involved in this sign-stealing scandal — yet suddenly are in the middle of it.
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