No matter how big the alleged Cardinals-Astros hack was, expect the feds to take it seriously

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In the end, if I were a betting man, I’d bet that one or two low-level Cardinals employees take the fall for whatever results from the FBI investigation into them hacking the Astros. And by “take the fall” I don’t mean that they’re made scapegoats. Given what we know thus far about the FBI investigation, it was not a sophisticated thing and may very well have been considered a lark or an impulsive stunt by someone who simply didn’t like Jeff Luhnow back when he was their boss. The odds of it being an organizational-wide conspiracy seem low.

But to diminish the scope of the alleged hacking of the Astros’ system is not to diminish its seriousness. Not from a legal perspective anyway. Because the infiltration of someone else’s computer system, no matter how easily and primitively it was done, is covered by a particularly pernicious federal law: the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (“CFAA”).

The CFAA is an old law as far as tech laws go. It was developed in 1984, back when Congress was just coming to grips with the fact that computers were the future and that hacking was a potentially serious deal. Of course, as Congress tends to do when it doesn’t fully understand something, it legislated broadly and somewhat sloppily. The CFAA and its many amendments and revisions — some wound up into the Patriot Act — are now vague enough to where it has been used to prosecute people for any computer-related crime. Once it was used in a case where a woman created a fake MySpace page to cyberbully a teenage girl, which resulted in the girl committing suicide. An awful act to be sure, but one which really didn’t fit neatly into the category of Computer Fraud given that no external system was improperly accessed. It’s use in that case showed just how malleable the law is and how eager prosecutors are to use it in a media-heavy case where, well, something must be done.

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More infamously, the CFAA was used to prosecute famous hacker Aaron Swartz. Swartz was arrested and charged under the CFAA for surreptitiously installing a computer in order to download academic journal articles from a company which normally charges for the privilege of using them. While his violation, in essence, was one in which terms of service were not followed, Swartz was charged with 11 violations of the CFAA and faced a $1 million fine, 35 years in prison, asset forfeiture, restitution, and supervised release. Ultimately his charges were in the process of being pleaded down, but Swartz killed himself when negotiations with the feds failed to progress.

The upshot: This may have been an impulsive or spiteful action, as opposed to some orchestrated espionage effort. It may have involved one person rather than five or 10 and may have been as simple as looking up old passwords rather than some sophisticated hackery. But, to the feds, it may be considered something highly felonious and may turn into something huge. Especially given that, unlike some CFAA cases, this one actually allegedly involved the fraudulent accessing of a computer network across state lines.

Perhaps federal investigators and prosecutors will show restraint in this instance. After all, knowing that the Astros may have wanted to trade for Ichiro Suzuki is not a big deal in the grand scheme. But when was the last time federal prosecutors showed restraint? Especially when baseball — which the Feds have always used in order to make an example — is involved.

Finally, recall that the reporter who broke this story is Michael S. Schmidt of the New York Times. He’s a good reporter who broke many stories about federal steroids investigations. And he has spent more time on the national security beat in recent years. His sources tend not to be the sorts who are less-than-eager to go full-bore into federal violations.

Which is to say that someone, perhaps someone with the Cardinals, is in for a world of pain.

Nationals GM Rizzo won’t reveal length of Martinez’s new contract

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WASHINGTON — Dave Martinez spoke Saturday about managing the Washington Nationals for “many, many years” and over the “long term” and “quite some time,” thanks to his contract extension.

Sharing a table to a socially distanced degree with his manager on a video conference call to announce the new deal – each member of the duo sporting a 2019 World Series ring on his right hand – Nationals GM Mike Rizzo referred to the agreement’s “multiyear” nature, but repeatedly refused to reveal anything more specific in response to reporters’ questions.

“We don’t talk about terms as far as years, length and salaries and that type of thing. We’re comfortable with what we have and the consistency that we’re going to have down the road,” said Rizzo, who recently agreed to a three-year extension of his own. “That’s all we want to say about terms, because it’s private information and we don’t want you guys to know about it.”

When Martinez initially was hired by Rizzo in October 2017 – his first managing job at any level – the Nationals’ news release at the time announced that he was given a three-year contract with an option for a fourth year.

That 2021 option had not yet been picked up.

“The partnership that Davey and I have together, our communication styles are very similar. Our aspirations are similar, and kind of our mindset of how to obtain the goals that we want to obtain are similar. I think it’s a good match,” Rizzo said. “We couldn’t have hit on a more positive and enthusiastic leader in the clubhouse. I think you see it shine through even in the most trying times.”

The Nationals entered Saturday – Martinez’s 56th birthday – with a 23-34 record and in last place in the NL East, which Rizzo called “a disappointing season.” The team’s title defense was slowed by injuries and inconsistency during a 60-game season delayed and shortened by the coronavirus pandemic.

World Series MVP Stephen Strasburg threw just five innings because of a nerve issue in his pitching hand and players such as Starlin Castro, Sean Doolittle, Tanner Rainey, Adam Eaton and Carter Kieboom finished the year on the IL.

“This year, for me, we didn’t get it done. We had a lot of bumps in the road this year. But I really, fully believe, we’ve got the core guys here that we need to win another championship,” Martinez said. “I know Mike, myself, we’re going to spend hours and hours and hours trying to fill the void with guys we think can potentially help us in the future. And we’ll be back on the podium. I’m really confident about that.”

Rizzo was asked Saturday why the team announces contract lengths for players, as is common practice around the major leagues, but wouldn’t do so in this instance for Martinez.

“The reason is we don’t want anybody to know. That’s the reason,” Rizzo said, before asking the reporter: “How much do you make? How many years do you have?”

Moments later, as the back-and-forth continued, Rizzo said: “It’s kind of an individual thing with certain people. I don’t want you to know what I make or how many years I have. Davey doesn’t want you to know. And I think that it’s only fair … when people don’t want certain information out there, that we don’t give it.”

There were some calling for Martinez to lose his job last season when Washington got off to a 19-31 start. But Rizzo stood by his manager, and the team eventually turned things around, going 74-38 the rest of the way to reach the playoffs as an NL wild-card team.

The Nationals then beat the Milwaukee Brewers, Los Angeles Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals to reach the World Series, where they beat the Houston Astros in Game 7.

Washington joined the 1914 Boston Braves as the only teams in major league history to win a World Series after being 12 games below .500 during a season.

“Everything from Day 1 to where he’s gotten to now, he’s grown so much. He’s really become one of my favorite managers of all,” three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer said after helping Washington win Saturday’s opener of a doubleheader against the New York Mets. “Davey really understands how to manage a clubhouse, manage a team. We saw it in the postseason. He knows how to push the right buttons when everything is on the line.”