Our Long Cardinal National Nightmare Is Over

As you all know by now, yesterday Major League Baseball finally issued their punishment for what has been termed, probably incorrectly, as the “hacking scandal”.  (It’s not like Chris Correa was some sort of computer genius generating phishing emails or fighting firewalls, he just figured out some passwords.)  Commissioner Rob Manfred not only took away two picks and fined the Cardinals a record $2 million for the incidents, but awarded those picks and that money to the aggrieved party, the Houston Astros.  It’s an unprecedented move for an unprecedented case.  (Also, you can now put Correa and Pete Rose in the same sentence but not in a good way–Correa was banned from baseball, though that was merely a formality.  If anyone hired him after a four-year prison stint over this, it’d have been a huge upset.)

Of course, it’s probably not surprising that folks all across the board, from Houston to Sports Illustrated to ESPN to Hardball Talk feel like the Cardinals got off fairly lightly in this situation.  (Perhaps just as unsurprisingly, the Post-Dispatch story uses “hammer”.  It’s all about where you come from.)  I think there’s a strong argument to be made that the Cardinals could have felt the brunt of things much more deeply.  As many have noted, the Cards were very aggressive in the 2016 draft, getting Delvin Perez and others, plus went way over their international signing limits, with the idea that they were going to have to load the cupboard up to deal with the winter ahead.

Basically missing out on anything of superb quality in the 2017 draft–St. Louis won’t pick until the 94th round and have basically no signing pool money to work with–is tough.  We’ve seen how gaps in the draft from miserable drafting years can hurt a club, sometimes creating a “donut hole” or wave break in the coming talent.  That’s what 2017 is going to be for this system.  Beyond drafting a Matt Carpenter in the 13th round or something of that nature, it seems unlikely that anyone selected in ’17 will make much of an impact in the organization, at least not for some time to come.

The money is nothing, of course, not even a material line on the financial statements that will soon include a huge new TV contract.  It doesn’t pay for a middle reliever.  Seventeen Cardinals will make more than $2 million in the coming season, with Kevin Siegrist not too far away from that figure.  The Cardinals have 30 days to pay the fine–if they have money in the right places, they could probably earn $2 million in interest and dividends in that month.  The Cardinals could have been hit with a fine 10 times that before it started to really be noticeable, but league rules didn’t allow that.

So yeah, I can see how people would think it’s a fairly light sentence.  That doesn’t mean it’s not a fair one.  People are pointing out that if they had been punished before the Dexter Fowler signing, they would have had to give Houston their first round pick (#19) and their next pick (#56).  True, though I do wonder how that would have affected Fowler’s signing.  Would they then have to have given up their third pick for him instead?  Wouldn’t that make the price of Fowler cheaper?  The club wouldn’t be punished any more–they would still lose three picks and the money that went with it–though Houston would have, of course, come out a little better in the deal.

It also should be noted that no one, not MLB’s investigators, not the club’s investigators, not the Justice Department found any indication that anyone besides Correa was involved, which has to factor into the punishment.  I don’t know how things played out and I’m not saying that Correa was the only one that knew what was going on, but I can make a case that he was.

For instance, we know that Correa was jealous of what the press and such were saying about Houston and their process, even though they hadn’t won anything yet.  (Jealousy is a powerful motivator–allegedly Barry Bonds started using steroids because he saw the adulation Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were getting instead of him, even though he was doing it “the right way” at the time.)  What if Correa wasn’t quite as smart as he thought he was?  What if he’d been relying more on the folks around him and, when they left for Houston, he felt not only betrayed but exposed?  What if he wanted to look smart to the powers that be, so he kept where he got that information from quiet and passed it off as his own conclusions, his own analysis, his own work product?

Heck, apparently he was even jealous and petty enough to actively leak some of the Astros information to Deadspin, which is truly ironic given the nature of Deadspin’s usual tenor toward the Cardinals.  That’s bordering on the bizarre, actually.  What purpose does that serve but to perhaps embarrass his former colleagues?  Was he perhaps crushed that they didn’t take him with them to Houston?  If he had a fragile ego, which all of this really seems to indicate, that might have pushed him over the edge as well.

After writing the above, it does appear that Correa states others knew what he was doing, but he wouldn’t give the names up to investigators.  I’d think, given the public way those like John Mozeliak and Bill DeWitt have disavowed him that he would have no reason to protect them.  It’s possible, I guess, but I don’t know why he would do it.  Now, if he had people working under him that knew, that maybe followed some orders from him, I could see him trying to be honorable and not ruin their lives in baseball, especially when he was the overarching culprit.  That fits in more with silence from the convicted than him trying to protect Mo, I think.

Correa’s excuse of looking for proprietary Cardinal information might have been true in his initial foray, but it obviously wasn’t what he limited himself to while he was digging around in Ground Control.  Correa got into Houston’s draft info, even during the draft, and used it to influence what the Cardinals were doing.  There was some thought that Marco Gonzales might go to Houston, given that his information was accessed in the 2013 draft and could have been the reason why the Cards took him and that he was not around for Houston’s second pick.  Thankfully, that didn’t happen, though you wonder if Houston might have pushed for that a little more if Gonzales wasn’t coming off Tommy John surgery.

As Bob Nightengale says, this is a stain on a proud organization.  We may have had a little fun with it when the news originally came out, given we didn’t think it was as serious as it turned out to be, but it really was no laughing matter to an organization that prides itself on integrity and doing things on the up-and-up.  This is much worse than giving a steroid user a second chance.  This is deliberately attacking the new fabric of the game, that of proprietary information.  How teams value players is a huge deal in this day and age and getting illicit insights to others and their processes ruins a lot of trust.

For their part, Houston has handled this whole situation remarkably well.  There have been no public pushes for sentencing, no discussion about the harshness that needs to come.  While Houston owner Jim Crane may have said he thought a player off the 40-man roster might be a possible punishment, the statements today from their organization accepted the commissioner’s judgement and expressed a willingness to move on to other topics.  The relationship between the two organizations does not seem to be as strained as you might expect in this situation, in part because of DeWitt and Mozeliak’s public (and most likely private) apologies and expressions of disappointment.  If Houston thought there was a chance that upper management was involved in this, I don’t think they’d be as forgiving.

For a year and a half, this cloud has been hanging over the heads of the entire organization.  While the penalties aren’t as severe as they could be, they’ll still sting. (I gotta wonder if John Nagel and others will do much pre-draft preparation this year.)  What the Cardinals do get out of this is closure.  They can start putting this behind them, no longer wondering when the shoe will drop.  They’ll take their punishment and move on. (It also may make them more open to getting into the insane free agent markets of the next couple of years, something Allen Medlock and I talked about close to the end of Meet Me at Musial last night.)

It’s nothing you want your favorite team to go through.  Thankfully, it now seems to be over.

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