Some around baseball felt the punishment the Houston Astros received for their sign-stealing scandal was not enough, but it may be having an effect on who they can pursue in free agency.
According to MLB Insider Ken Rosenthal, the Astros are unlikely to sign free-agent catcher J.T. Realmuto – an ideal fit for the team – because the draft picks Houston would lose for signing any free agent attached to a qualifying offer are too costly.
The Astros were already stripped of their first- and second-round picks in both 2020 and 2021 for their sign-stealing scandal from the 2017 and ’18 seasons and also penalized for exceeding the luxury tax last season.
While the latter offense should have cost them a fourth- and seventh-round pick, plus $1 million from the international signing bonus pool on 2022, MLB would not allow the sign-stealing penalty to reduce their luxury-tax penalty.
Instead, MLB decided that if the Astros signed a free agent attached to a qualifying offer, like Realmuto, they would lose its third pick in 2021 (a fifth rounder) and its second pick in 2022, plus the $1 million in international bonus pool money for 2022.
The Astros did extend a qualifying offer themselves to George Springer, which means they would be compensated a pick if (when) he signs elsewhere. However, the Astros would then lose that pick – a selection at the end of the fourth round – but keep the fifth rounder.
While the Astros had never signed a free agent attached to a qualifying offer prior to this offseason, the loss of draft picks have all but eliminated the possibility they would consider it this winter.