New Mets manager Beltrán out amid sign-stealing scandal

MLB Baseball
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NEW YORK (AP)Carlos Beltrán is out as manager of the New York Mets before a single game, the latest fallout from the Houston Astros’ sign-stealing scandal that has rocked Major League Baseball.

The Mets announced the decision Thursday in a news release, saying Beltrán and the team “agreed to mutually part ways.” The move came two days after Boston cut ties with manager Alex Cora, who was Houston’s bench coach in 2017 when Beltrán played for the Astros.

A day before that, manager AJ Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow were fired by Houston soon after they were suspended for the 2020 season by Commissioner Rob Manfred for their roles in the cheating scheme.

Next to fall was Beltrán, the only Astros player mentioned by name Monday when MLB issued its findings from an investigation into the club’s conduct. No players were disciplined, but the nine-page report said Beltrán was among the group involved in the team’s illicit use of electronics to pilfer signs during Houston’s run to the 2017 World Series championship.

“We met with Carlos last night and again this morning and agreed to mutually part ways. This was not an easy decision,” Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen and Chief Operating Officer Jeff Wilpon said in a statement.

“Considering the circumstances, it became clear to all parties that it was not in anyone’s best interest for Carlos to move forward as manager of the New York Mets. We believe that Carlos was honest and forthcoming with us. We are confident that this will not be the final chapter in his baseball career. We remain excited about the talent on this team and are committed to reaching our goals of winning now and in the future.”

On a later conference call, Wilpon said the team had heard in advance “from sources” that Beltrán wasn’t going to be suspended by MLB.

“I think the change was that when the report did come out, how prominent he was in it,” Wilpon said.

The Mets said they will consider a number of internal and external candidates to be their next manager.

The 42-year-old Beltrán, with no managerial experience, was hired to replace Mickey Callaway as Mets manager on Nov. 1. The former New York slugger was given a three-year contract with a club option for 2023 and introduced three days later by Van Wagenen and Wilpon during a news conference at Citi Field.

“At a meeting this morning with Jeff and Brodie we mutually agreed to part ways. I’m grateful to them for giving me the opportunity, but we agreed this decision is in the best interest of the team. I couldn’t let myself be a distraction for the team. I wish the entire organization success in the future,” Beltrán said in the statement.

Beltrán becomes the first manager to be let go without managing a game since Wally Backman, who was hired by Arizona in November 2004 and fired four days later after legal and financial problems were revealed.

When the Mets hired Beltran in November, Van Wagenen said: “We can trust Carlos, and that goes a long way.”

A little more than two months later, Beltrán is out in the wake of transgressions that occurred with a different organization, according to MLB.

And the Mets are looking for a new manager again. They will be the 10th team to change managers since opening day of last year, with the Mets making a pair of switches.

Beltrán played the last of his 20 big league seasons with the Astros in 2017. Manfred said that year Cora was “an active participant” and developed the sign-stealing system used by the team, strongly hinting he will face severe penalties. Even though Cora was subsequently let go, the Red Sox remain under investigation for stealing signs during Cora’s first season as manager in 2018, when they won the World Series.

In a Nov. 12 report by The Athletic, ex-Astros pitcher Mike Fiers, now with Oakland, went public with allegations that Houston players used a camera to steal signs in 2017. That prompted baseball’s investigation, which found the Astros used the video feed from center field to see and decode the opposing catcher’s signs. Players banged on a trash can to signal batters what kind of pitch was coming, believing it would improve their chances of getting a hit.

Beltrán told the New York Post in a text message he was “not aware of that camera.” He told The Athletic the Astros “took a lot of pride” in studying pitchers via computer before games but insisted “that is the only technology that I use.”

Attempting to steal signs with the naked eye is a legal and time-honored part of baseball – but using technology during games is prohibited.

“(In) the game of baseball, guys for years have given location and if the catchers get lazy and the pitcher doesn’t cover the signs from second base, of course players are going to take advantage,” Beltrán said then. “I don’t call that cheating. I call that using the small details to take advantage. I think baseball is doing a great job adding new technology to make sure the game is even for both teams.”

Manfred said Hinch failed to stop the sign stealing in Houston and Luhnow was responsible for the players’ conduct even though he made the dubious claim he was not aware. Manfred said owner Jim Crane was not informed.

Manfred also said no Astros players will be punished because he decided in September 2017 to hold a team’s manager and GM responsible for sign-stealing infractions, a warning that was conveyed to all major league clubs.

“Virtually all of the Astros’ players had some involvement or knowledge of the scheme, and I am not in a position based on the investigative record to determine with any degree of certainty every player who should be held accountable,” Manfred said.

The report, however, indicated a group that included Beltrán discussed how to improve the sign-stealing system during the 2017 season.

Hinch and Luhnow, before they were fired by Crane, were suspended for the 2020 season without pay. Houston was fined $5 million, the maximum allowed under the Major League Constitution, and the Astros also will forfeit their next two first- and second-round amateur draft picks.

A nine-time All-Star, Beltrán signed a $119 million, seven-year contract with the Mets in January 2005 and helped them win the NL East in 2006. But the switch-hitting outfielder took a called third strike with the bases loaded against Adam Wainwright that ended New York’s 3-1 loss to St. Louis in Game 7 of the 2006 NL Championship Series.

Beltrán played for the Mets from 2005-11 before they traded him to San Francisco. He finished his career with a .279 batting average, 435 home runs, 1,587 RBIs and 312 stolen bases for Kansas City, Houston, the Mets, San Francisco, St. Louis, the Yankees and Texas. He interviewed to become New York Yankees manager after the 2017 season, when Aaron Boone was hired, and spent the 2019 season as an adviser to Yankees general manager Brian Cashman.

Last month, the Mets hired Hensley Meulens as bench coach and Tony DeFrancesco as first base coach to fill out Beltrán’s staff. Meulens, 52, was San Francisco’s hitting coach from 2010-17, then was Bruce Bochy’s bench coach for the past two seasons. DeFrancesco, 56, spent the last two seasons as the Mets’ Triple-A manager and interviewed for the manager opening.

New York went 86-76 last season and missed the playoffs, finishing third in the NL East behind Atlanta and World Series champion Washington.

More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

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