The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Jeff Luhnow, fired as GM after sign-stealing scandal, sues Astros for $22 million

Jeff Luhnow is taking his former team to court. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

Jeff Luhnow, who was fired as the Houston Astros’ general manager in January in the wake of the team’s sign-stealing scandal, sued the team for breach of contract, accusing it, as well as owner Jim Crane and MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, of using Luhnow as a scapegoat.

The lawsuit, filed Monday in Harris County District Court in Houston, says “a negotiated resolution” between Crane and Manfred “enabled the team to keep its World Series championship, went to great lengths to publicly exonerate Crane, and scapegoated Luhnow for a sign-stealing scandal that he had no knowledge of and played no part in. The sign-stealing activities were not directed by the Astros’ front office. Rather, they were devised and executed — as noted by the commissioner’s own findings — by baseball operations employees in collaboration with coaches and players.”

Luhnow, who is seeking $22 million in lost salary, claims in the lawsuit that he was unaware a camera was used to steal signs. Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch, who also was fired, were initially suspended after an investigation determined the team used technology to steal signs in the 2017 and 2018 seasons in what had been an open secret for years in baseball. The Astros were fined $5 million and stripped of first- and second-round draft picks in 2020 and 2021.

Alex Cora, the Astros’ bench coach in 2017 and later manager of the Boston Red Sox, was suspended for the 2020 season. He recently was rehired by the Red Sox, and Hinch was hired by the Detroit Tigers. Luhnow, however, remains out of baseball and his lawsuit accuses the Astros of firing him “to save more than $22 million in guaranteed salary.” He and the team had agreed to a contract worth more than $31 million in guaranteed compensation, plus performance bonuses and interest, in May 2018.

Analysis: For the Red Sox, rehiring Alex Cora makes sense. But it doesn’t look good.

In a recent interview, Luhnow maintained he would have stopped the cheating “had I known about it,” admitting “it was bad” and “shouldn’t have happened.” He added that he hopes to work again in baseball.

“Our team broke the rules, and I’m sure there was some advantage gained from breaking the rules,” he told Houston’s KPRC-TV last month. “But, unfortunately, had I known about it, I would have stopped it. Nobody came to me and told me it was going on, and I just didn’t know.”

From the archives: Thomas Boswell says the Astros are just a symptom of baseball’s problem

Manfred’s report stated that Luhnow was suspended because a general manager should have an awareness “of the activities of his staff and players” and said there was evidence indicating “Luhnow had some knowledge” of what was going on. Luhnow told KPRC that he was “shocked” when his name came up in connection with the electronic sign-stealing scandal and said he had told Manfred that he was willing to take a lie-detector test to prove his innocence. The investigation cited Luhnow’s replies to emails as proof that he should have known about the activities of his staff and players, but Luhnow said he replied without reading them in their entirety.

Luhnow’s lawsuit states that Manfred imposed punishment after consulting with Crane. “The commissioner vetted potential penalties with Crane, and the two exchanged a series of proposals,” the lawsuit reads. “Those negotiations proved beneficial to Crane and the Astros.

“The commissioner allowed the Astros to keep their 2017 World Series championship, imposed a $5 million fine (a fraction of the revenue Crane reaped as part of the team’s recent success), and took away four draft picks. He also issued a blanket vindication of Crane, absolving him of any responsibility for failing to supervise his club. Moreover, Crane and the Astros were assured of fielding a contending team in 2020 — the team advanced to the American League Championship Series for the fourth straight year — because the commissioner did not suspend or penalize any of the players who were directly involved in the scandal.”

The lawsuit accuses Tom Koch-Weser, the Astros’ director of advance information, of being the only one of 70 witnesses in MLB’s investigation to have mentioned that Luhnow spoke of electronic sign stealing. Luhnow’s attorneys allege that Manfred’s investigation “could produce only one untrustworthy source — the actual ringleader of the Astros’ sign-stealing schemes who ‘implicated’ Luhnow to save his own job.” MLB and the Astros declined to comment to the Associated Press, and Koch-Weser did not respond to AP emails seeking comment.

“The ‘investigation’ apparently did not review — and the commissioner conveniently neglected to mention in his report, the more than 22,000 contemporaneous text and chat messages sent or received by this individual that undermine his after-the-fact finger-pointing at Luhnow,” the lawsuit states.

Still, Luhnow, in his interview with KPRC, sounded like a man interested in returning to baseball, if he believed the circumstances were right.

“It would depend on the owners,” he said last month. “I was not expecting to be treated the way I was treated at the end by the owners of the Astros. If I trusted the owners and the team had potential, and I wanted to do it again, I know I could.”

More baseball from The Post:

Baseball’s Black managers are celebrating Dave Roberts’s win and calling for change

Steve Cohen officially takes over as Mets owner — and cleans house in front office

Justin Turner, who celebrated World Series win after positive virus test, avoids MLB discipline