Cardinals to Pay $2 Million and Two Draft Picks to Astros After Hacking Scandal

Cardinals to Pay $2 Million and Two Draft Picks to Astros After Hacking Scandal
Monica Fuentes
The cover that led to a hacking. - SPORTS ILLUSTRATED
The cover that led to a hacking.
Sports Illustrated
It took long enough, but Major League Baseball has finally acted. The league came down on the St. Louis Cardinals Monday, ruling that, as a result of former Cardinals employee Chris Correa’s hacking into an Astros database containing proprietary information, the ball club would forfeit to the Astros two draft picks in this summer’s 2017 amateur player draft and have to pay the Houston team $2 million. And Correa, currently serving a 46-month prison term as a result of the hack, has been permanently suspended and may never again work in organized baseball.

“The Houston Astros support MLB’s ruling and award of penalties,” the Astros said in a statement Monday. “This unprecedented award by the Commissioner’s Office sends a clear message of the severity of these actions. Our staff has invested a great deal of time in support of the government, legal and league investigations and are pleased to have closure on this issue.”

The league reviewed all written documentation, interviewed what it claims to have been dozens of witnesses, including employees of both teams, and conducted a forensic analysis of both clubs' IT systems. Correa — who is not related to Astros shortstop Carlos Correa — refused to cooperate. Major League Baseball concluded that Correa was the only employee of the Cardinals to intrude into the Astros database, and that the Astros suffered major competitive harm from the breach.

Documents from the criminal case involving Correa were unsealed by a federal court last week. They showed that Correa was consumed by petty jealously of both the Astros organization and of Sig Mejdal, the Astros director of decision sciences and a former colleague of Correa’s with the Cardinals. The documentation released by the court shows that Mejdal and Correa often had angry conversations while co-workers, and seeing Mejdal become the subject of a Sports Illustrated cover story in 2014 sent Correa over the edge.

Correa not only accessed Mejdal’s emails over a 16-month period, he also hacked into the emails of Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow and research and development analyst Colin Wyers. Correa then used this access to get into the Astros’ proprietary database, known as Ground Control, and he used all of this access to the Astros systems more than 50 times. Correa then leaked this confidential information to the blog Deadspin. It was also determined that Correa gained access to the Ground Control information of three Astros minor league players.

Correa’s defense at the time of his arrest was that he hacked into Ground Control because he believed the Astros had proprietary information of the Cardinals. But the court determined Correa was instead invading the Astros systems at times coinciding with the draft, and that the files he looked at involved information and analysis on various players the Astros were considering picking.

The pre-sentencing report stated unequivocally that the “bottom line is that Correa was not conducting an investigation into the Astros in the middle of the 2013 draft.” And Correa used this information to get a promotion, and though the Cardinals might not have known of his misdeeds, the Cardinals were still able to cheat the Astros because Correa was relying on the analytical judgment of the Astros to aid the Cardinals in drafting and pursuing players.

It’s because the Cardinals were able to benefit from Correa’s ill-gotten gains that the team was punished. There’s debate, of course, as to whether that punishment is enough. The two draft picks surrendered by the Cardinals are not first-round picks. Maybe the loss of a player already in the farm system would have been a good idea, along with making the Cardinals surrender some first-round draft choices when the team next has some first-round choices to surrender.

But now the Astros can move on from the hacking to a more important endeavor. That’s winning the World Series and making the writers at Sports Illustrated look like prophets. And then, for laughs, maybe the Astros can frame a whole bunch of copies of the issue that comes out when they win the Series, and then they can send those copies to Correa and members of the Cardinals front office.

UPDATE, 3:30 p.m.: Correa released the following statement Tuesday, which he said he did try to cooperate with the league's investigation, and alleged that the Astros are guilty of hacking as well:

In 2015, I admitted to unauthorized computer access and volunteered to meet with the commissioner to answer any questions and share my concerns about intellectual property theft. In May, I offered to fly out to New York. In June, I suggested a meeting during his visit to Busch Stadium.

The commissioner was unresponsive.

On December 21, 2011, a Houston Astros employee accessed proprietary data on a St. Louis Cardinals server. Later, I would learn — through unlawful methods — the Cardinals' data were used extensively from 2012 through 2014. Houston Astros employees used the data to replicate and evaluate key algorithms and decision tools related to amateur and professional player evaluation. Many individuals throughout the Houston organization, including the General manager and Assistant General Manager, were included in email discussions about these efforts.

I accept responsibility for my wrongful actions and am paying my debt to society. The Cardinals organization must now pay a heavy price as well. But punishment does not function as a deterrent when sanctions are applied arbitrarily.

I will have no further comment on this matter while I am incarcerated.

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John Royal is a native Houstonian who graduated from the University of Houston and South Texas College of Law. In his day job he is a complex litigation attorney. In his night job he writes about Houston sports for the Houston Press.
Contact: John Royal