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The Cardinals’ punishment didn’t need to send a message

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No, teams aren’t going to start hacking other teams because of the Cardinals’ perceived light punishment.

St Louis Cardinals v Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

I don’t blame anyone who thinks the Cardinals’ punishment for the hacking scandal was too light, nor do I blame anyone who found it excessive. To reiterate, for former Scouting Director Chris Correa’s repeated hacks into the Houston Astros’ database, the Cardinals were fined $2 million; they had to send their top two picks (numbers 56 and 75) in the 2017 amateur draft to the Astros, which brought forth a whole dizzying set of issues since the Cardinals had to forfeit their 1st Round pick after signing Dexter Fowler; and Correa is banished for life from baseball, something he’s probably not too worried about while working off a 46-month sentence in federal prison. For more details on the punishment, Craig Edwards covered it yesterday.

Finding the right punishment wasn’t easy. With zero precedent to use as a guide and a violation that would have seemed almost incomprehensible say fifteen years ago, Commissioner Manfred wasn’t in the easiest spot and should be allotted a little room for margin of error whichever way you see fit.

What is crystal clear is that a Cardinals employee – and not just any employee, but a very high-level employee – illegally accessed the Houston Astros’ Ground Control database numerous times, and the organization was subsequently punished to their detriment. Fine and fair enough.

However, the one recurring argument that I find absurd is the point of view that the punishment was too light, which, again, is a reasonable position to have, but coupled with the idea that it also didn’t send a proper deterrent to the rest of baseball is where this argument starts to get silly.

This argument, I guess, goes like this: After seeing the unquantifiable advantage the Cardinals gained measured against their quantifiable punishment, teams will be willing to risk the $2 million fine and the loss of a few draft picks if it means access to other teams’ proprietary data. This has been advanced mostly on Twitter but Jeff Sullivan noted yesterday that the collective response to the punishment indicates that it wasn’t a “strong-enough deterrent.”

First, let’s be clear about what the Cardinals were punished for. The Cardinals were punished because one of their employees, for which they are most certainly accountable, hacked into another team’s database. They were not punished for an organizational-wide conspiracy to hack into another team’s database because there’s no evidence that’s what happened. If a few months from now word leaked that another team sized up the Cardinals’ punishment and the top brass decided it was worthwhile to create a secret department whose sole purpose was to breach another team’s intellectual property, my guess is the punishment would (and should) be far more severe when uncovered.

Does anyone truly think another team is looking at this situation with an inkling that there’s something positive to gain here? Or that there’s a single employee out there in Major League Baseball looking at Correa’s example as one to follow? I can’t imagine.

But let’s move on to the idea that someone in the organization beyond Correa was complicit or at least knew about the hack into Ground Control. Jose de Jesus Ortiz of the Post-Dispatch has been beating this drum for some time, and Will Leitch more or less said the same on this morning’s episode of Effectively Wild. That’s certainly a reasonable thing to believe. But it’s also reasonable, even more so, in my opinion, to believe that Correa acted alone, and since there was little to no evidence to the contrary, that’s the evidence the Commissioner’s office had to go on when doling out the punishment.

My assumption that Correa acted alone is based on the fact that we learned last week that the hack was based on a personal vendetta with Sig Mejdal; that Correa was likely the one who leaked the contents of Ground Control to Deadspin; that Correa alone was swiftly fired when administratively proper to do so; and that Correa didn’t specifically implicate anyone else in the organization even though it probably would have been in his best interest. Again, I know as much as the next guy, and I very well could be wrong, but as it stands there’s nothing beyond speculation that this was an organizational conspiracy.

So yes, the Cardinals deserved to be punished. This was their employee. Their punishment may have been light or excessive, but not a single team is looking at this situation and thinking that a similar act would be a good idea. Sending a message wasn’t necessary.