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Does the hacking scandal impact the Cardinals' offseason plans?

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The Cardinals will likely be punished by MLB as a result of the hacking scandal. Should that alter their offseason plans?

Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

In the aftermath of Chris Correa pleading guilty to five counts of unauthorized access of a protected computer there's not much to add to the hacking scandal that hasn't already been said.  You can find an aggregate of VEB's coverage of the scandal here.  The good news is this doesn't seem to be a systematic conspiracy within the Cardinals' organization.  The bad news is, well, everything else.

Bernie Miklasz explained today why he feels the Cardinals are due for harsh punishment from the Commissioner's office and took a stab at what that punishment could be:

I'm not sure how far Manfred will go — or can go — but the likely possibilities include stripping the Cardinals of premium draft picks, reducing the amount of money that the team can spend on signing draft choices, decreasing their budget for international signings. And of course, a seven-figure fine. But with MLB franchises rolling in revenue — with the Cardinals among the most profitable — the financial penalties won't sting. The Cardinals can easily afford to pay an even massive fine and not suffer any real consequences.

From a baseball standpoint, what is near and dear to DeWitt's heart? It's scouting, drafting and player development. He was ahead of the curve in MLB, at least among the owners, in taking his baseball operation in a new direction in the early 2000s, when he did away with the old model to bring in a new model that included a heavy emphasis on using advanced metrics to evaluate talent.

So if Manfred wants to hit DeWitt where it counts, the soft spot is the draft.

One thing I do find curious is whether the likely punishment handed out by MLB will have any bearing on how the Cardinals handle what's left of the offseason.  And has the Cardinals' activity up to this point reflected their anticipation of that punishment?

Tackling the latter part first, we know the Cardinals value their draft picks.  Mike Leake was hardly the free agent splash most fans pined for but he was attractive because he came without a qualifying offer since he was traded midseason.  They also notably went hard after David Price and reportedly flirted with Ben Zobrist, neither of whom would have cost a pick for the same reason as Leake.  So far, the only player the Cardinals have been linked to which would have cost an existing draft pick is Chris Davis and that interest seems to have cooled.

This strategy is certainly by design and not coincidence.  And if Bill DeWitt Jr. and John Mozeliak had an inkling that they were going to lose draft picks because of this hacking mess, it's not implausible to think that they were pre-emptively hoarding picks to lessen the sting.

On the other hand, with the looming threat of lost draft picks and the farm system not nearly as fertile as it once was, combined with the fact that the Cardinals - sorry, hopefully this is the last time I'll say it, have payroll muscle to flex - maybe it's time for the Cardinals to patch up the holes by buying talent.  Bernie is right.  Any fine levied by the league likely won't break the team's back.  For perspective, Jim Bowden opined on ESPN Insider today that the Cardinals should be fined at least $1.7 million - the estimated value of the accessed unauthorized information.  If the fine ends up being in that ballpark I could live with that.  DeWitt could probably live with that, too, and it's his money.

Yoenis Cespedes remains unsigned and he also wouldn't cost the Cardinals a draft pick.  He also hasn't been a model of consistency in terms of production and is closing in on his fifth team in five years.  Still, if his lagging free agency lowers his cost he might be worth a look.  He'd add a potent bat and some stability to an unproven outfield in 2016.

Based on a column by beat reporter Derrick Goold, Craig Edwards noted on Friday that one interesting possibility would be for the Cardinals to sign Justin Upton to a one-year deal and then extend a qualifying offer at the end of the 2016 season.  This would allow Upton to re-enter a potentially less top-heavy free agency pool for outfielders next offseason.  Likewise, the qualifying offer pick attached to Upton could help soften the blow for the Cardinals in 2017 for any lost picks this year.  (Of course, this hinges upon the Cardinals not losing "premium" draft picks past 2016 which is currently an unknown.)

Since the Cardinals extended qualifying offers to John Lackey and Jason Heyward, they are set to receive three draft picks likely within the top 40 in the 2016 draft.  Upton received a qualifying offer from the Padres so if he was signed to a one-year deal it would cost the Cardinals one of those picks.  But does pending punishment make that a moot point?  Would they just be losing a pick the league was going to take away anyway?

I doubt MLB would hand down punishment which would allow the Cardinals to game the system like that.  And that line of thinking doesn't mesh with the Cardinals' draft-conscious offseason up to this point.  Even so, with their standing in the 2016 draft currently unknown, the Cardinals might have to readjust how they planned on building for the immediate future.