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Red Sox lose second-round draft pick after MLB investigation finds team employee stole signs

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Key Points
  • The Boston Red Sox lost their second-round pick in the 2020 draft Wednesday after Major League Baseball determined that a team replay official violated league regulations on sign-decoding, according to a statement from Commissioner of Baseball Robert D. Manfred, Jr.
  • The MLB investigation found that video replay system operator J.T. Watkins used live game feeds in the replay room to communicate sign sequences to players on "some occasions" during the 2018 regular season.
Alex Cora of the Boston Red Sox during a MLB baseball game between the Los Angeles Angels and the Boston Red Sox at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on Friday, Aug. 30, 2019 in Anaheim, California.
Keith Birmingham | Pasadena Star-News | Getty Images

The Boston Red Sox on Wednesday lost their second-round pick in the 2020 draft after Major League Baseball determined that a team replay official violated league regulations on sign-decoding, according to a statement from Commissioner Robert Manfred.

The findings follow a similar investigation into the Houston Astros, which ultimately found widespread cheating and resulted in the firing of two top team officials. 

The MLB investigation found that Red Sox video replay system operator J.T. Watkins used live game feeds in the replay room to communicate sign sequences to players on "some occasions" during the 2018 regular season. For this violation of league rules, Watkins was suspended without pay for the 2020 season and 2020 postseason, and prohibited from being a replay room operator for the 2021 season and 2021 postseason.

"We apologize to our fans and Major League Baseball, and accept the Commissioner's ruling," Red Sox CEO Sam Kennedy said in a statement released on Twitter.

Manfred said Watkins successfully decoded signs from live game feeds only a small percentage of the time, but that the Red Sox may still have benefited from his actions. The Red Sox won a franchise record 108 games during the 2018 regular season, and then beat the Dodgers in the World Series. 

No other Red Sox personnel received disciplinary action as a result of the investigation, though a small number of players were involved, according to Manfred. He said team manager Alex Cora, coaching staff, the franchise's front office and most of the players were unaware of what Watkins was doing. 

The investigation arose after the publication of an article published by The Athletic that alleged the Red Sox were engaging in illegal sign-stealing, according to Manfred. Investigators interviewed 65 witnesses, including 34 current and former players, and reviewed tens of thousands of emails, text messages, video clips and photographs, as well as some players' phones. 

This most recent scandal follows the team being busted in 2017 for using an Apple Watch to steal signs from the New York Yankees. The Red Sox had to pay an undisclosed fine.

Cora also faced disciplinary action for his role in the Houston Astros' cheating scheme during the 2017 playoffs and 2018 season, when he was the team's bench coach. He has been suspended through the conclusion of the 2020 postseason. 

The Astros recorded and replayed video of an opposing catcher's hand signals to decode pitches during games, even installing a video monitor close to the dugout to review footage. The team went on to win the 2017 World Series.

Manfred said that in comparison the Astros' cheating methods, Watkins' conduct "was far more limited in scope and impact." 

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Correction: This story has been corrected to reflect that The Athletic first published an article alleging a Red Sox cheating scheme. An earlier version misstated the publication.