Astros Fallout: Fantasy Baseball Players Sue Major League Baseball; Are Actual Players Next?

Photo Source: AP Photo / David Zalubowski

The ramifications of the Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal have transcended beyond the on-field product, as daily fantasy players have filed a lawsuit against Major League Baseball, the Astros, and the Boston Red Sox for their roles in the operation coined Codebreaker.

The complaint, Olson v. Major League Baseball, claims that because of the Astros’ and Red Sox’s intentional and calculated cheating efforts, coupled with MLB’s knowledge, the parties failed to adhere to consumer protection statutes designed to protect the integrity of the consumer market.

Daily fantasy players on DraftKings claim that, due to its status as the “Official Daily Fantasy Game” of MLB, they believed that the website was a reliable place to wager on the performance of players. The official status allowed for DraftKings to utilize data and information that other daily fantasy sites did not have. MLB also had skin in the game, as they began investing in the company in 2013.

However, the complaint alleges that because MLB knew about the scandal (a Wall Street Journal article alleges that other teams knew about the Astros’ cheating methods in 2017), they had a duty to disclose that teams were breaking the rules. The plaintiffs assert that baseball effectively advertised and encouraged people to wager on a product that it knew was fraudulent. If the fantasy players knew about what was going on inside the Astros’ and Red Sox’ clubhouses, they would not have wagered money on the performance of players.

While many have been asking if daily fantasy players or bettors could recover, no one has asked if the players who competed against the Astros and Red Sox could recover for loss of earning potential.

A disproportional amount of praise is given to how a player performs in the post-season. It is why Reggie Jackson is nicknamed Mr. October – and Derek Jeter, Mr. November. But, it can inversely impact athletes if they do not play well.

In response to the Astros’ alleged cheating, Los Angeles Dodgers’ manager Dave Roberts said: “Really for me, it goes out to some of the unfair criticism that guys like Clayton [Kershaw] took… Yu [Darvish], and Kenley [Jansen]… I guess ‘frustrating’ is probably the floor of my emotions, but that’s where I’m at.” Roberts’s Dodgers lost in the World Series to the Houston Astros in 2017, and the Boston Red Sox in 2018.

Players are criticized for their post-season play. The lack of positive performance, which is often criticized by media and fans, impacts the salary that a player will receive in his next contract. Four-time all-star Yu Darvish went 0-2 with a 21.06 ERA in the World Series after having an ERA of 3.86 in the regular season. Kenley Jansen had an ERA of 0.00 in the 2017 Postseason before the World Series – where his World Series ERA was 3.12. Clayton Kershaw, whose post-season performance has been criticized, had a World Series ERA of 4.02, almost double his regular-season ERA of 2.31.

Each MLB contact has a loyalty clause that reads:

The Player agrees to perform his services hereunder diligently and faithfully, to keep himself in first-class physical condition and to obey the Club’s training rules, and pledges himself to the American public and to the Club to conform to high standards of personal conduct, fair play and good sportsmanship. 

Uniform Player’s Contract, page 343, CBA (2017).

Would a violation of this clause, through a deliberate and calculated method of cheating, be enough for a player to win a breach of contract lawsuit and recover damages for lost earning capacity? Can the player whose performance fell because of the deliberate and calculated cheating methods name the cheating players individually in a suit, potentially ultimately recovering damages?

Baseball is a game of individual matchups. Everything comes down to pitcher, batter, and the 60 feet, six inches that separate them. Frankly, a lawsuit would not be much different, with the judge and jury separating the pitcher and the batter. While the on-the-field results favored the batter, the in-the-court results just may favor the pitcher.

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