Boston Red Sox

Alex Cora (Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images)

By Matt McCarthy,

Major League Baseball now plans to interview Red Sox staffers, including manager Alex Cora, as part of their widening investigation into electronic sign-stealing in baseball.

The inquiry stems from this week’s report in The Athletic, which detailed the Astros alleged efforts in 2017 to intercept signs with an illegal camera in centerfield and then relay them to hitters. According to ESPN’s Jeff Passan, MLB plans to expand their probe beyond the 2017 Astros and will now look at the 2019 Astros and other teams.

“The initial stages of the investigation already have begun, sources said, with league personnel contacting people from both the Astros and Boston Red Sox organizations on Wednesday,” Passan wrote. “The league is attempting to cull tangible evidence from the widespread paranoia of front offices and teams around the game about others cheating and has indicated it will consider levying long suspensions against interviewees who are found to have lied, according to sources.”

The Red Sox now find themselves as part of the investigation due to the number of former Astros employees they have on staff. The most notable, of course, is Cora, who served as Houston’s bench coach in 2017.

The Athletic reported Wednesday night that Cora and new Mets manager Carlos Beltran, who played on the 2017 Astros, are now considered key figures in the investigation.

“Cora and Beltran played a key role in devising the sign-stealing system the Astros used [in 2017],” Athletic reporters Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich wrote.

Red Sox bullpen coach Craig Bjornson, who was with the Astros in the same capacity in 2017, spoke with MLB on Wednesday, Passan reported.

The scope of the investigation could expand beyond the Astros and the Red Sox and has quickly become the talk of the young MLB offseason.

“MLB’s Department of Investigations has begun gathering a wide-ranging list of potential interviewees and is expected to talk with players as well as managers, coaches and other team personnel,” Passan wrote.

Any player interviews would need to be approved by the MLB Players Association. When MLB investigated the Red Sox for using Apple Watches to steal signs in 2017, the year before Cora took over as manager in Boston, the MLBPA allowed players to be interviewed but the union participated in those discussions, according to ESPN.

According to Passan, Major League Baseball is threatening to come down hard those who violated the rules.

“If the league can prove wrongdoing, the severity could be unlike anything seen in the sport’s recent history, sources said.”

Commissioner Rob Manfred has handed out a number of notable penalties during his tenure, including banning the Red Sox from signing international players for a year in 2016 after the team violated signing bonus rules. The league suspended former Atlanta Braves GM John Coppolella 10 months for breaking international signing rules in 2017 and also banned former Cardinals staffer Chris Correa for life after he pleaded guilty to hacking the Astros computer database. Correa was sentenced to time in federal prison and the Cardinals were fined and lost draft picks over the incident.

You can hear Matt McCarthy on 98.5 The Sports Hub’s own Hardcore Baseball podcast and on various 98.5 The Sports Hub programs. Follow him on Twitter @MattMcCarthy985.