Reporter who broke Houston Astros sign stealing scandal writes book on incident, what really happened behind the scenes

A new book chronicling the wild ride the organization has been on for the last dozen years is set to come out with new details never before revealed.


Fans watch play during the fifth inning in Game 2 of baseball’s American League Championship Series between the Houston Astros and the New York Yankees, Thursday, Oct. 20, 2022, in Houston.


To embed this piece of audio in your site, please use this code:

<iframe src="" style="height: 115px; width: 100%;"></iframe>

The Houston Astros are at spring training, preparing to defend their World Series title. As they get ready for 2023, they also face new rules, a new General Manager and, for fans, a new book chronicling the wild ride the organization has been on for the last dozen years.

Evan Drellich is the senior writer for The Athletic and a former Astros beat writer with the Houston Chronicle, who along with Ken Rosenthal, broke the Astros sign stealing scandal that occurred back in 2017. His new book covers the scandal and explores the culture behind the scenes of the Astros organization in the years before, and considers how success on the field may have helped mask front office dysfunction and paranoia off of it. The book is called Winning Fixes Everything: How Baseball’s Brightest Minds Created Sports’ Biggest Mess. Drellich spoke to Craig Cohen on Houston Matters on Tuesday.

He goes back to 2011 when Jim Crane bought the Astros.

“It was the first time Jim Crane had owned a baseball team, he had owned a minor league hockey team,” he said. “So it was a new owner had a lot of success in the outside business world … And he wanted to start with something of a blank slate.”

That was also the message he gave General Manager Jeff Luhnow.

“There’s a famous anecdote that’s in the book … early on when he’s hiring Jeff Luhnow, who becomes his general manager and the guy who’s gonna run the day to day of the baseball operation. Luhnow asks him asks Crane, ‘What are my constraints?’ And Crane just pushes a blank piece of paper across the way the message being, ‘It’s your oyster, do it, do it the way it theoretically should be done.’ And so that was the general message or marching order that was given: do this the way you would ideally envision doing a franchise if you were to do it properly.”

Luhnow was not Crane’s first choice, Drellich said. It was Andrew Friedman, who now runs the Los Angeles Dodgers, and is a Houston native. But Luhnow “shares some of the outside business ethos that Crane has.”

“Luhnow had done well in bringing analytics and kind of modernizing the St. Louis Cardinals. He was not the general manager of the team, but he nonetheless had an impact in his time in St. Louis,” Drellich said.

Outwardly it seemed as if the Astros were tanking, losing lots of games to get good draft picks, Cohen pointed out. Drellich agreed, but also called it a “genius bit of marketing.”

“You’re convincing and telling your fans that a terrible product that ownership is decidedly not spending any money on is actually good for them,” he said. “There’s a chapter in the book called ‘An Idiot Strategy’ where I spoke to Bill James, who’s really the the godfather of sabermetrics analytics in the sport. … And in the book, he calls tanking an idiot strategy for the simple reason that no team is going to turn around based on draft picks alone. And what are draft picks, draft picks are young players who are cost controlled, right? They are star players, for whom an owner does not have to spend a lot of money for a number of years. And so there’s this underlying element of tanking, that is really about money and saving ownership money rather than going out and spending on players.”

“And, the Astros had not won a World Series. And I think fans were excited for a method. They wanted something that worked. They hadn’t seen anything work at this point. And so I think the fan base was right for this. But I see other teams do it, and I really think it’s something of a sham. You’re telling fans that they shouldn’t care about their product for years. And I think that’s a wild business strategy.”

Years before the sign-stealing scandal, Astros management had been “doing some things that were ethically hazy at best,” Cohen pointed out.

“The Astros were presenting contract offers to young players and young players when you’re when you’re first in the major leagues or not yet, in the major leagues, you don’t make a lot of money, relative to the big money that flows into baseball,” Drellich said. “So these offers were for, $10 $20 million, certainly real money for real people. But it was they were contract offers that were ultimately lowballs given most of the upside that a lot of these players had. Some a couple of the players should have taken it in hindsight. But agents were annoyed by this, they saw that the Astros, were basically saying, ‘Look, if you take this contract, you’ll be in the big leagues tomorrow, if you’re not already in the big leagues, or you’ll stay in the big leagues. But if you don’t take this contract, if you don’t sell away, you’re upside.’

“The implication was that, well, who knows what’s gonna happen to you, right? And so it puts players in a very difficult position,” Drellich continued. “And, you know, from a value standpoint, for the Astros, it was smart because they could go bust on two, three of these contracts. And as long as a couple of them hit, as long as they got a few of these players to sign them, the chances are they would come out with a net positive and considerably so.”

The breaking news of the sign stealing scandal was one that fans had not wanted reported, Cohen pointed out. So, why dredge it up again? Drellich said he wished the book could have come out sooner.

“It’s not a typical sports book where you can turn it around in one offseason, it’s really sports investigative reporting. And so it took a lot of time and there’s a huge assembly of facts in here. But I think importantly … I knew there was a larger story here, this question of how did we get here? Why are we here? What has happened inside of baseball, and what specifically happened inside of Houston in the last 10 years. And I want it to get to a point where I could present a whole picture… Here are all the threads put together. And I think really importantly, here’s what was actually going on inside the front office. And there’s a lot that people don’t understand about how the Astros were run, the public narrative around the Astros. There’s a large disconnect between what was actually going on and what people understand was going on.”

Today in Houston Newsletter Signup
We're in the process of transitioning services for our Today in Houston newsletter. If you'd like to sign up now, fill out the form below and we will add you as soon as we finish the transition. **Please note** If you are already signed up for the newsletter, you do not need to sign up again. Your subscription will be migrated over.