He was a 'scapegoat,' Jeff Luhnow Sues the Astros
In a $22 million complaint, Houston's ex general manager says the club already hires the real culprit behind the team's bribery controversy.
Jeff Luhnow, former Houston Astros CEO, is free to work again in Major League Baseball. His one-year suspension — punishment for the sign-stealing fiasco of the team — expired at the conclusion of the World Series, as did former Astros boss A.J. suspensions. Hinch and ex-bench mentor Alex Cora.
But while Hinch and Cora returned as managers — Hinch for the Detroit Tigers, Cora for the Boston Red Sox — Luhnow remained in exile. Now he's sued the Astros in Harris County (Texas) Federal Court, claiming the $22 million left on his contract after Jim Crane shot him in January. The complaint says Commissioner Rob Manfred's "flawed paper negotiated with Crane" was an invalid reason for his dismissal.
"Luhnow's Astros' firing is an attempt—like the Commissioner before them—to make Luhnow the organization's scapegoat, while players and video room personnel who planned and implemented the schemes go unpunished," the suit stated. "More egregiously, the club hired most of the culprits in the sign-stealing system. Astros provided grounds to fire Luhnow 'for Reason' to save more than $22 million in promised salary.
As of Monday afternoon, the Astros and Major League Baseball had no comment on the case, and Luhnow deferred questions to his counsel, Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan LLC in San Francisco.
"He thinks he is entitled to contract fees, but most specifically, he needs to clear his good name," Potter said. "He had an unimpeachable, impeccable record for decades, and his reputation was highly regarded. What happened to us, wrongly, tarnished his reputation. Rather than anything else, he needs to put the record straight so people can better appreciate what led to stealing the sign.
The Astros recruited Luhnow in December 2011, drawn by his data adherence and ability to test traditional talent-finding approaches as he had done as the St. Louis Cardinals' scouting chief. Then the Astros were the worst team in the majors, and Luhnow kept them there for two more seasons, piling on prospects who would eventually turn the team quickly.
By 2015, they made the postseason and won their first World Series in 2017, outlasting the Los Angeles Dodgers when playing eight of their post-season nine home games. They returned to the 2019 World Series but lost to Washington Nationals, who won all four games in Houston.
Last November — with on-the-record evidence from former Astros reliever Mike Fiers — The Athletic revealed that in 2017, the Astros had stolen signals by reading the catcher's signs off a TV display and banging a trash can to warn next-pitch batters. The operation continued after M.L.B. warned all teams against electronic surveillance.
Manfred gave amnesty to players on the roster at the time in exchange for help with his investigation, and while fining Crane $5 million and docking the Astros four draft picks, he was heavily criticized for not firing the players or stripping Astros of their names.
The case charges that Manfred "let the ringleader stay in return for supplying information that would include Luhnow," and then names Tom Koch-Weser, who is identified as the advance information director of the team, as the mastermind. Manfred skipped over 22,000 Koch-Weser text and chat messages
"Tellingly, none of these communications sent or received by Koch-Weser contained Luhnow or indicated that he had any knowledge of the operation," the suit claims, adding that Koch-Weser "even" don't say Jeff "to his friends, stressing that Luhnow was never conscious or interested in the scheme.
However, Luhnow had knowledge of a method called Codebreaker that used an algorithm to decipher sign sequences which was stated in a 2016 PowerPoint presentation. But the suit said this effort was only made after games were finished, not in real time, and Manfred agreed it was not a breach of rules. As with an August 2017 email the league used to involve Luhnow, the suit said while referring to "black arts," it doesn't mention electronic in-game sign stealing.
The suit alleges that Koch-Weser was the only witness to include Luhnow, and that Koch-Weser "saw repeatedly" his work. The suit said Luhnow gave workers proper warnings about observing the electronic equipment regulations, and it was unfair to expect him to be aware of everyone's actions on his staff.
The Astros signed a $31 million contract extension to Luhnow in May 2018, with performance incentives and a profit stake in Houston Baseball Partners LLC. Multiple teams have vacant leadership vacancies in baseball operations, including the Mets, Los Angeles Angels, Miami Marlins and Philadelphia Phillies, but Luhnow, who is writing a memoir, hasn't emerged publicly as a contender.