Top 25 Baseball Stories of 2017 — No. 19: The Cardinals are punished for the hacking scandal

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We’re a few short days away from 2018 so it’s a good time to look back at the top 25 baseball stories of 2017. Some of them took place on the field, some of them off the field and some of them were more akin to tabloid drama. No matter where the story broke, however, these were the stories baseball fans were talking about most this past year.

In 2014, someone hacked into the Houston Astros’ “Ground Control” database. That was the club’s internal communication and evaluation system containing virtually all of the teams’ scouting, transaction and analytical intelligence. Among the stolen data — which was subsequently posted online — were internal discussions about trades and signings, the sort of which no team wants public. Due to the illegal acts of the hacker, however, it all came out.

In 2015 it was revealed the hack was perpetrated by St. Louis Cardinals scouting director, Chris Correa. It wasn’t a complex, “Mr. Robot”-style affair. He had simply guessed the password of Astros’ GM Jeff Luhnow, a former Cardinals employee. Correa claimed to have been motivated by fears that Luhnow himself had accessed proprietary Cardinals information and that he was just checking to see if that was the case but, uh, no, breaking into someone’s house to see if they had broken in to yours is not a defense to breaking and entering. Correa was in deep trouble and, in addition to being fired by the Cardinals, wound up with a nearly four-year prison sentence.

In January Major League Baseball finally got around to punishing the Cardinals as an organization for the acts of its employee: they were fined $2 million and were forced to surrender two draft picks to the Astros. Those surrendered were the Cards’ two highest in 2017: a second round pick, which was the 56th overall and a Compensation Round B pick, which was the 75th overall. The Astros selected righty Corbin Martin with the former pick and second baseman J.J. Matijevic with the latter. If either of them turn in to anything, the Astros can thank Correa I suppose. For his part Correa was also placed on the permanently ineligible list, but I’m guessing that (a) he had more pressing matters to worry about from his prison cell; and (b) his future in baseball wasn’t all that bright regardless of the ban.

Many people questioned whether this was sufficient punishment for the Cardinals. It was a fair question.

The money, in the grand scheme of things, was not much for a major league baseball team. That’s less than the Cardinals paid reliever Seung-hwan Oh in 2017. The draft picks were more costly, though not substantially so. As the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter earlier in January, the Cards spent aggressively in the international market in the previous year, inspired in part to compensate for the anticipated loss of draft picks. No one wants to lose picks, but the Cardinals had a year and a half or so to minimize the impact of the punishment.

Others argued that the punishment was too severe due to Commissioner Manfred’s findings that only Correa was responsible for the hack, that it was not directed by anyone higher up the chain than him and that, as a result, the Cards’ liability was only vicarious. That’s a fair counterargument. Absent any credible evidence that Correa was acting in concert with anyone — and he had a lot of incentive at his criminal trial to claim that he was not acting alone yet failed to do so — one struggles to imagine how the Cardinals could’ve prevented all of this.

One of the purposes of discipline is punishment for punishment’s sake, but another important purpose of punishment is deterrence. And, to be sure, Major League Baseball has a strong interest in preventing any other team or team employee from engaging in the sort of espionage Correa did. To that, end, though, it’s fair to say that the long prison sentence given Correa in this incident is a far greater deterrent to such acts being committed in the future than anything MLB could do to the St. Louis Cardinals. As such, in the end, this probably worked out the best way it could’ve.

Now, if you really want to see some hardcore discipline of a major league front office check back later in our countdown and read about how the Atlanta Braves told everyone to hold their beer.