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Carlos Beltrán, the only player named in MLB's investigation of the Astros' sign-stealing scandal, is out as Mets manager, departing less than three months into his tenure and becoming the third manager in four days to lose his job.

Why it matters: Pitchers and catchers begin reporting to spring training in 27 days, and the Astros, Red Sox and Mets don't have managers. What we've witnessed this week is unprecedented — and the fallout has only just begun.Houston Astros fire manager, GM after suspension for sign-stealing

Meanwhile, on Twitter: Speculation surfaced that Astros players José Altuve and Alex Bregman wore devices under their jerseys that buzzed to tell them what pitch was coming, turning an already wild controversy into a full-blown conspiracy theory.

  • Twitter then did what Twitter does best, finding photo and video evidence that could suggest the presence of those buzzers, generating enough noise that MLB felt compelled to respond, saying it "found no evidence" of wearable devices during its investigation.

Between the lines: The buzzer rumors aren't supported by actual evidence, so I don't want to mislead you into thinking they're anything more than internet rumblings.

  • But I do believe it's important to share just how absurd things got online yesterday, because it paints a picture of where baseball currently finds itself.
  • First, it was the balls mysteriously flying farther. Then it was teams using cameras to cheat. Then it was Beltrán — arguably the most revered player of the last decade — being involved in that cheating. And now we're analyzing buzzer technology and Altuve's wardrobe.

Simply put, nobody trusts anything anymore. Fans feel betrayed and players feel cheated. Once spring training begins, the show will go on as it always does, but the stench of this scandal will linger.

  • There will be constant rumors, questions, jokes and internet memes, and fans might boo every single time an Astros player gets a hit on the road.

The big picture: Modern baseball often feels like a "business" where teams are competing to find an edge, rather than a "sport." And when you add this scandal to the mix, it makes you realize how far removed baseball is from its original descriptor: "pastime."

  • "Baseball earned a place in so many hearts on its romance. But it has begun to sound like the insurance and banking industries," writes SI's Tom Verducci.
  • "[P]layers become 'assets' or 'a two-win player.' Relief pitchers are 'fungible.' ... The chance to score a run, win a game or secure a postseason berth are defined as a finite percentage."
  • "We don't want championships that make us do mental gymnastics to decide whether they are inauthentic. We don't want player analysis to be derivative valuation. ... We want a clean game decided by fair competition. Clean it up."

P.S. ... The sign-stealing scandal is serious stuff, but it's important to remember that it's also hilarious. I just feel like that had to be said, as this is ultimately a story about grown men banging on trash cans.

P.P.S. ... In much more positive news, Alyssa Nakken became the first female coach in MLB history yesterday when she was named an assistant under Giants manager Gabe Kapler.

Go deeper: Houston Astros fire manager, GM after suspension for sign-stealing

Go deeper

Updated 3 hours ago - Sports

The potential GOAT of chess faces intriguing challenger

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The World Chess Championship between Norway's Magnus Carlsen and Russia's Ian Nepomniachtchi began on Friday, 1,094 days after Carlsen won his fourth consecutive title.

Why it matters: During the long, COVID-fueled layoff, chess entered a new era, and with the championship finally here, the age-old game is ready for its close-up.

Department of Interior proposes raising cost of drilling on public lands

A horizontal drilling rig and a pump jack sit on federal land in Lea County, New Mexico. Photo: Callaghan O'Hare/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Oil and gas companies should pay more to drill on federal lands and waters, the Department of the Interior argued in a report released Friday, saying that the current rates were "outdated."

Driving the news: The Department of Interior report said that the federal government's oil and gas leasing and permitting program "fails to provide a fair return to taxpayers, even before factoring in the resulting climate-related costs that must be borne by taxpayers."

4 hours ago - Health

U.S. to restrict air travel from 8 countries over new COVID variant concerns

A COVID-19 vaccine is administered. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The U.S. will impose new air travel restrictions in response to the Omicron variant, a new COVID strain first detected in South Africa, President Biden announced Friday.

The big picture: Air travel from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi will be restricted starting on Monday.