Start with the obvious: The Cardinals clearly should have been punished for the actions of their former scouting director, Chris Correa, who was sentenced to 46 months in prison for hacking the Astros’ emails and database.
Everyone can agree on that, right? Looking around the room, and ... good. Right.
Major League Baseball had to do something. Even though the actions of a single employee don’t necessarily reflect organizational intent, the Cardinals had secret access to an entire database of a rival’s scouting reports and player evaluations — effectively doubling their resources in a lot of areas. They benefited from illicit information. There should be commensurate sanctions.
The tricky part is defining what “commensurate sanctions” are. Should there be a punishment? Some kind of repayment of stolen wares, but with interest? A deterrent? All of the above? It’s probably all of the above, even though 46 months in prison is a helluva deterrent. The next time a front-office employee is thinking about swiping proprietary information from another club, they’ll remember the incarceration before the draft picks.
Let’s move on to the next part: The Cardinals shouldn’t be completely gutted because their former scouting director did horribly unethical things. They shouldn’t lose players off their major league roster, for instance. They shouldn’t forfeit players from their 2015 draft, who are already embedded with the organization and learning their dark secrets. While it’s tempting to punish the Cardinals harshly because of their inherent Cardinalosity, that’s not how being fair and just works. Unfortunately.
With all that in mind, here’s what MLB is taking from the Cardinals and giving to the Astros as reparations:
- $2 million
- The No. 56 overall pick in the 2017 draft
- The No. 75 overall pick in the 2017 draft
Two draft picks and two million dollars? Seems reasonable on the surface. And, to be clear, the Astros’ general counsel thinks it’s a fair punishment:
There are two things that bug me about the punishment, though, and make me think the Cardinals are getting off a little light.
Problem #1 — The Astros are being punished because the Cardinals signed Dexter Fowler
If MLB’s problem was that a true first-rounder was too harsh of a punishment for this situation, then Rob Manfred’s statement should have reflected that. Instead, the decision read that, “The Cardinals’ two highest available selections in the 2017 First-Year Player Draft ... will be awarded to the Astros.”
That reads like the Cardinals were going to lose their highest available picks, regardless of where their first selections were. If the Cardinals were picking fifth, 50th, or 500th, it wasn’t going to matter. Which means the Astros’ reparations are going to be diluted because the Cardinals signed a premium free agent.
It’s certainly possible that Manfred looked at the Cardinals’ draft board and said, “Okay, when do they pick first? The 56th pick? Yeah, that seems like the appropriate level of punishment.” The actual loss of a first-round pick would have made much more sense, though, both as a deterrent and as a punishment for a scouting director having more resources for the 2015 draft than the other 29 scouting directors.
At the same time, altering the language to make the Cardinals give up their next true first-rounder would affect their future moves, too, making it easier for them to justify future free agents. If they’re going to lose the pick to the Astros, might as well sign that free agent with the qualified offer, right?
The right compensation, then, would have been a second-round pick next year, too. Or maybe third-, fourth-, and fifth-rounders this year to make up for the difference. Something a little more creative. I can’t speak to the exact calculus, but as is, it looks like the Astros were punished because the Cardinals spent a lot of money on Dexter Fowler. That seems off.
Problem #2 — One of the picks the Cardinals are losing is a stupid Competitive Balance Pick
Oh, boy. This trash again.
The Cardinals are losing their free draft pick, which they get every so often because they have troubles competing on their own. At least, that’s the idea. Some beancounter in the league office came up with a formula for Competitive Balance Picks that was centered around market size, and when the machine spit out the Cardinals as potential recipients, he or she didn’t scrap the formula and start over.
- The Cardinals have finished under .500 just once in the last 17 seasons
- They consistently rank in the top 10 of MLB teams in revenue
- The franchise is one of the most highly valued in the sport
This is not a team that needs extra help. This is not a team struggling to overcome their market size. They’ve built a powerhouse Midwest brand, and it’s not as if they should be punished for it, but they shouldn’t get a bonus draft pick because the team’s market is defined strictly in a metropolitan sense instead of their actual reach.
That’s the pick the Cardinals are losing. The silly one they shouldn’t have in the first place.
If the Cardinals didn't sign Fowler or get that stupid competitive balance pick, they would have given up their No. 18 and No. 56 picks and been left with No. 94 next summer. That's a punishment a franchise would feel. As is, they've added a premium free agent and still only gave up Nos. 52 and 75, leaving them at the same No. 94 but with way more to show for it. That’s a punishment with a fair-not-great chance of looking substantial in retrospect, which seems like a worthwhile goal.
Those 56th and 75th picks the Cardinals will lose are right around the part of the draft where everything starts to get unreliable and hyper-fuzzy, even for the best organizations. The chances that the Cardinals will feel this — and that the Astros will benefit — are low. The 56th and 75th picks were always likely to flop, just because that’s what draft history has taught us. Rewarding the Astros with what they were presumed to have lost is the point, after all.
Thus endeth the sad, strange chapter of a sad, strange decision to hack into another team’s database. The crime probably won’t have any copycats soon, and it’s not like MLB slapped the Cardinals on the wrist. The specific draft picks that were transferred to the Astros, though, seemed a bit off. Just a bit off is enough for me to complain, and I invite you to join me.