This really isn’t the way I wanted to start off my 2016 posting, but since it’s the first thing that’s really been worth writing about in the new year, you take what you get.
On Friday, former Cardinal scouting director Chris Correa pleaded guilty to his role in the hacking of the Houston Astros database. The government released their charges and we saw that, yet again, we had to revise our impression of this case.
When the news came out last year, we figured that it was just some low-level employees, with more time than sense, trying to see if Jeff Luhnow’s old passwords still worked on the Houston system and being surprised when they were. Stupid, yes, but less of an issue for the Cardinals as a whole. Some staffers would be fired and the whole thing would be considered more hijinx than criminal.
Then, last summer, Correa was let go because of the scandal. While he wasn’t the scouting director when he was sneaking into Houston’s system, he still was a rising star and someone much higher than what we’d originally thought. Still, it seemed to be a case where he believed Houston had St. Louis’s information, taken when Luhnow left the organization. That doesn’t justify it at all, but the idea that he wasn’t necessarily looking for competitive advantage gave the situation a little different tint. You could at least empathize with Correa, even if you didn’t agree with him.
Now, that’s even harder to do. Even though Luhnow claimed that he knew “password hygiene” and didn’t carry over passwords from St. Louis, he either was wrong on that account or he used the same password conventions, because Correa, according to the government’s investigation, got into the system by that route. (To be fair, it could have also possibly been Sig Mejdal’s password. I’m not sure which of those Correa worked with more closely in St. Louis, thereby more likely knowing their password habits, but Mejdal is a former NASA engineer. I think I’d believe Luhnow was more lax overall.) Correa didn’t just limit his breaking and entering to trying to find Cardinal information, though.
Correa got into the database five times between March 2013 and June 2014. If you are just looking for proprietary info, you’d think once would be enough, or at least the entries wouldn’t be that spread out. Correa also accessed the Astros’ scouting information for the 2013 draft, including once during the draft looking up players that were still available and seeing what Houston’s thoughts and opinions on those players were. He also accessed Houston’s notes on trade discussions at the 2013 trade deadline.
All that is very bad. What is worse is that, when the Astros got wind of unauthorized use and had everyone change their password to the Ground Control system, Correa hacked into Luhnow’s/Mejdal’s email (where they used a similar if not the same password they’d been using for Ground Control) to find the email that gave them their new password, then continued his unauthorized entries. That’s really going above and beyond and makes it much harder to give him the benefit of the doubt.
You wonder if the Cardinals have been hording draft picks and pool money this year because they are afraid of the penalties that Major League Baseball might impose on them for this incident. It wouldn’t be the first time St. Louis has been hit with punishment for something unprecedented. You may remember that the first commissioner, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, freed 70 players from the Cardinal minor league system when they were developing it because he didn’t like them having that much control over players. There was less justification for punishment then than now, so I expect there will be something coming down the pipe. Baseball’s never punished by removing draft picks or the like, but there’s no other real fitting punishment here. Perhaps the fact that it seems limited to just Correa, the Cards did their own investigation, and made sure to fire him without pressure, that they’ll be just fined. (And, as we’ve talked much this offseason, it’s money they have and peace they lack.) There’s no guarantee on that, however. You could easily imagine MLB trying to set an example on this kind of thing.
Correa continues to claim that he found St. Louis information in the Houston database. While that’s not justification and, as we’ve noted, I don’t think that’s all that Correa was doing, even if that was his initial motivation, just because someone is a criminal doesn’t mean they are completely lying about everything. Does Houston have Cardinal stuff or Cardinal-inspired stuff? There’s a significant different. I think it’s pretty accepted that Ground Control was based on RedbirdDog, that Luhnow put together something similar once he went to the Astros, but that’s not exactly copyright infringement. Now, if he took methods and information that he had said he would leave in St. Louis, that’s a different story. I’m not saying this needs to be a full-blown investigation or that Houston actually has this stuff, but I think it should be looked into. Given that Bill DeWitt helped pick this commissioner, at least he should be able to put his case forward to the commissioner if he wants, though I wouldn’t be surprised if DeWitt and John Mozeliak just want the whole thing over and aren’t concerned with if and what Houston might have taken.
I feel like the Cardinals have done what they needed to do in this situation, but they are responsible for what happens with their employees to some degree. Punishment should be mitigated by their actions, but there will likely be punishment coming. It’s not over yet, unfortunately.