SAN DIEGO — Before he was asked a question, Houston Astros manager AJ Hinch addressed a throng of gathered media at the baseball winter meetings, saying that he could not comment on matters related to the sign-stealing scandal that has enveloped his team. He admitted that he knew the questions would come anyway. They did.
“Not sure I’ve ever been so popular,” Hinch said, drawing a few laughs before offering his opening remarks. “To address the elephant in the room, I’m happy to see all of you. I know you are here for obvious reasons.
“I’ve got great respect for what you do, and if I was in your shoes, I would be on the other side of this table, and I would want to ask questions and find answers and get some more information about the investigation and all the allegations and things like that. I know you’re probably expecting this, but I can’t comment on it. It’s an ongoing investigation.
“What I can say is I’ve committed my time and energy to cooperate with MLB. I’ve talked to them a couple of times, and we continue to work with them as they navigate the investigation. Now we’re waiting [for an outcome], with everything in their hands. I know there will still be questions. I hope there is a day when I’m [able] to answer more questions. Today is not that day.”
The elephant Hinch referred to was baseball’s ongoing probe into whether the Astros cheated over the past three seasons by electronically stealing signs and, if so, what techniques were in use when the incidents occurred.
Of course, the questions came despite Hinch’s preemptive efforts.
Are your accomplishments tainted?
“I consider that all part of the investigation,” Hinch said. “So I’m not going to comment on it. This is a very complicated and involved process.”
Why can’t you talk about this?
“I’ve been asked to not comment about it until the investigation is complete.”
Do you know when you will find out the results of the investigation?
“No, it’s in their hands.”
Is it weird to not know?
“This is all part of the investigation. If you guys have any Astros questions about the offseason other than the investigation, I’ve got answers.”
The uncomfortable news conference took place at the same table where, minutes earlier, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts held his session with the media. Roberts was Hinch’s opposing manager during the 2017 World Series, reportedly a central part of the investigation.
“Just waiting to see how it all kind of plays out,” Roberts said. “Yeah, I really have no comment. Just let the due process take care of itself, and whatever thing, consequences or whatever that comes down, they’re going to have to deal with it. I really don’t have any thoughts on what happened.”
It turns out, though, that Roberts had a lot of thoughts.
“I think the extent of some of the allegations — because right now I guess they’re allegations — probably surprised [me],” Roberts said.
When asked if he found himself thinking back to the World Series, Roberts coyly said, “possibly.” He insisted that he didn’t feel differently about the outcome, saying, “No because nothing is going to change it.”
Roberts said the Dodgers at the time were wary of whether the Astros were working for an extra edge, saying, “We didn’t know to what extent. But, yeah, we were trying to take some precautions, yes.”
Roberts was also clear that there is a delineation between traditional, on-field sign-stealing and the deployment of technology to aid the effort.
“If, again, they were using [technology], the line was crossed, but on the field, as we all know, that’s a part of the game,” Robert said. “Sign-stealing, reading catchers and tipping — that’s all part of the game. But there is a line.”
When asked if such allegations, if they turn out to be true, threaten the fundamental integrity of the game, Roberts said, “Yes, absolutely.”
Roberts said he has spoken to Hinch during the offseason, though he declined to characterize the nature of the conversation. He said his relationship with Hinch, with whom he worked in the San Diego Padres organization, remains sound.
“I’ve had a conversation with AJ, but I’m not going to go into it. But we have talked,” Roberts said. “He’s still one of my good friends.”
Later, as Hinch repeated the no-comment mantra that he was obligated to stick to, he echoed Robert’s sentiment, saying that his baseball friends are still his baseball friends.
“I’ve got great relationships in baseball,” Hinch said. “I stand behind who I am and the relationships I have with the managers that I’ve spoken to, the players that I’ve spoken to, the GMs and presidents of baseball ops, assistant GMs, farm directors.
“This is a big deal here at the winter meetings, interacting with everybody, and I’ve got great relationships. It’s been good.”