After Major League Baseball came down with the penalties for a hacking scandal that lingered like a foul stench over the St. Louis Cardinals for more than two years, the team strategized its public response. About three hours after the ruling landed in reporters’ inboxes, the team assembled the local media for an impromptu news conference at Busch Stadium.
The site of the media briefing was a conference room in the baseball operations department, the very place a conspiracy theorist might presume that former Cardinals employee Chris Correa told his superiors about what he discovered while snooping around the Houston Astros' data.
General manager John Mozeliak sat in front of a bunch of microphones and the gathered media and told them, as he had done previously, that Correa was a “rogue” employee acting for his own benefit without the knowledge of his colleagues. He assured everyone that such corporate misconduct is “contrary to everything the Cardinals organization is about.” He said it was a relief to be done with the whole affair and to be able to turn his attention to his team with spring training just a couple of weeks away.
He didn’t wade too deep into whether he thought the penalties -- the Cardinals’ top two 2017 draft picks and $2 million -- were fair or unfair, harsh or light.
“I certainly think the organization, even though we didn’t do anything wrong, we understand the commissioner had to make a decision,” Mozeliak said. “The ruling obviously affects us as it currently stands and I think this is his message that this can’t happen again. Therefore the penalty had to be stiff.”
Was it really that stiff?
It’s comparing apples to mangoes, but the Cardinals’ penalties appear far less stringent than what Manfred slapped on the Boston Red Sox in July for circumventing international signing rules. He banned Boston from signing international amateur players in this signing period and voided the contracts of five of their minor league players. Granted that was a systemic infraction, not the actions of one employee gone rogue, but Manfred said in his ruling that the Cardinals were “vicariously liable” for Correa’s actions, and he had wide powers to impose discipline.
The fact that Correa’s criminal case took so long to complete helped the Cardinals’ cause. They were able to load up in the 2016 draft. With four picks in the top two rounds, they acquired highly regarded high school shortstop Delvin Perez, who had fallen to them because of a failed PED test, and stocked up on college pitching, no doubt aware they could be limited in the 2017 draft.
By signing free agent Dexter Fowler, the Cardinals forfeited their top pick, No. 19 overall, meaning the Astros receive the Nos. 56 and 75 overall picks in the June draft, hardly crippling losses for the Cardinals or game-changing acquisitions for the Astros. Mozeliak insists that neither last year’s draft nor the Fowler signing were planned out in part due to the expectation of draft-pick forfeitures, but it’s hard to imagine it didn’t at least cross someone’s mind along the way.
The money might sting, particularly when DeWitt is actually writing the check, but -- as context -- the Cardinals will pay Fowler that much within the first month of the upcoming season. Nowadays, $2 million might get you a mediocre left-handed specialist if he’s coming off a down year.
As for whether these penalties will deter teams from hacking into other teams’ computers in the future, Mozeliak had a good reply.
“I think four years in prison is a deterrent,” he said, referencing Correa’s sentence. “Clearly the commissioner’s response to this should be a deterrent as well. The fact there is more than one victim in these given the fact we’re here today, I certainly think it will make people rethink this in the future.”
It’s hard to know how the Astros feel about the ruling since, for now, all we have is their statement saying that they are "pleased to have closure on the issue." As recently as Sunday night, Astros owner Jim Crane -- in an interview with STLSportspage.com -- said he thought the Astros might be able to acquire a player from the Cardinals’ 40-man roster, which would make the second-round picks a bit of a disappointment, presumably.
One thing Mozeliak talked about that probably spoke for everyone involved: It’s good to have it over with and be able to get on to other things. After the two-year wringer both teams have been through over this mess, simply getting resolution had to feel like a win in some regard for everybody.