Breaking: The FBI is investigating the Cardinals for hacking into the Astros’ computer system

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You’ll recall that last year someone hacked into the Astros’ “Ground Control” database, which is the internal communication and evaluation system. Among the stolen data — which was subsequently posted online — were internal discussions about a possible trade for Giancarlo Stanton last year, the leadup to the Bud Norris trade and discussions between the Astros and Yankees in which the Yankees offered Ichiro Suzuki to Houston for cash. Not the sort of stuff a team wants public.

Now, according to an exclusive report in the New York Times, the FBI has a suspect. The Best Suspect in Baseball:

Investigators have uncovered evidence that Cardinals officials broke into a network of the Houston Astros that housed special databases the team had built, according to law enforcement officials . . . The officials did not say which employees were the focus of the investigation or whether the team’s highest-ranking officials were aware of the hacking or authorized it. The investigation is being led by the F.B.I.’s Houston field office and has progressed to the point that subpoenas have been served on the Cardinals and Major League Baseball for electronic correspondence.

The Times reports that the impetus for this was both (a) concern that former Cards executive Jeff Luhnow took proprietary information with him when he left for Houston to become the Astros’ GM; and (b) lingering resentment over Lunhow’s tenure with the Cardinals, where he was reported to have been a polarizing figure. It was not a sophisticated hack, the Times reports. Rather, Cards employees referred to a master password list Luhnow used when with St. Louis, which used a similar computer system.

Teams scout each other. Teams hire former members of other organizations. Intelligence is probably a pretty underreported part of what goes on inside baseball. But hacking someone else’s computer system is illegal and way, way beyond anything we’ve seen in baseball before. Maybe beyond anything we’ve seen in professional sports. As the Times report says, this is nothing short of corporate espionage for which people may be arrested and prosecuted.

If this was some rogue in the lower level of the analytics department it may be one relatively small thing. If this went higher than that and was something people in Cardinals management knew about, it could be one of the biggest scandals baseball has ever seen.

UPDATE: Major League Baseball has issued a statement:

“Major League Baseball has been aware of and has fully cooperated with the federal investigation into the illegal breach of the Astros’ baseball operations database.  Once the investigative process has been completed by federal law enforcement officials, we will evaluate the next steps and will make decisions promptly.”

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Report: MLB could fine the Angels $2 million for failure to report Tyler Skaggs’ drug use

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T.J. Quinn of ESPN is reporting that Major League Baseball could fine the Los Angeles Angels up to $2 million “if Major League Baseball determines that team employees were told of Tyler Skaggs’ opioid use prior to his July 1 death and didn’t inform the commissioner’s office.”

The fine would be pursuant to the terms of the Joint Drug Agreement which affirmatively requires any team employee who isn’t a player to inform the Commissioner’s Office of “any evidence or reason to believe that a Player … has used, possessed or distributed any substance prohibited” by MLB.

As was reported last weekend, Eric Kay, the Angels Director of Communications, told DEA agents that he and at least one other high-ranking Angels official knew of Skaggs’ opioid use. The Angels have denied any knowledge of Skaggs’ use, and the other then-Angels employee Kay named, current Hall of Fame President Tim Mead deny that he know as well, but Kay’s admission that he knew — he in fact claims he purchased drugs for and did drugs with Skaggs — would, if true, constitute team knowledge. Major League Baseball would, of course, want to make its own determination of whether or not Kay was being truthful when he told DEA agents what his lawyer says he told them.

Which raises the question of why, apart from a strong desire to get in criminal jeopardy for lying to DEA agents, Kay would admit through his lawyer that he lied to DEA agents. Still, the process is the process, so giving MLB a little time here is probably not harming anyone.

As for a $2 million fine? Well, it cuts a number of ways. On the one hand, that’s a lot of money. On the other hand, (a) a man is dead; and (b) $2 million is what the Angels’ DH or center fielder makes in about 11 minutes so how much would such a fine really sting?

On the third hand, my God, what else can be done here? No matter what happened in the case of Skaggs’ death, this is not a situation anyone in either the Commissioner’s Office nor the MLBPA truly contemplated when the JDA was drafted. We live in a world of horrors at times, and by their very nature, horrors involve that which it is not expected and for which there can be no adequate, pre-negotiated remedy. It’s a bad story all around, no matter what happens.

Still, it would be notable for Major League Baseball to fine any team under the “teams must report players they suspect used banned substances” rule. Because, based on what I have heard, knowledge of players who use banned substances — which includes marijuana, cocaine, opioids and other non-PED illegal drugs — and which have not been reported to MLB is both commonplace and considerable.

But that’s a topic for another day. Perhaps tomorrow.