Ryan Dunsmore, Managing Editor at The Crawfish Boxes, the SBNation Houston Astros site, proposed a bit of a back and forth between the two of us now that the hacking scandal has more or less reached its conclusion. He asked some questions of me and I of him and the results are below.
CB: What were your initial thoughts when you read about the leaked Astros info well before it was linked to the Cardinals front office?
VEB: It's hard to remember exactly what I thought back that far, but it certainly seemed odd and embarrassing that it came out at all. I think most of it was trade asks that seemed ridiculous, but I think part of the reason it seemed embarrassing is that we don't see all of the trade requests from any teams. It probably doesn't hurt all that much to request the world in a trade, and if you don't have much desire to trade a player, it makes sense to make that clear. We know it doesn't hurt because we saw what Shelby Miller netted the Braves, and to a lesser extent what Adam Eaton netted for the White Sox or even the Chris Sale trade. The Astros were certainly dealing with lesser players, but I'm sure most teams start far apart in trades before meeting in the middle. If not, I'm sure we would see a ton more trades happen.
That happened at a time when the Astros reputation wasn't necessarily great. Did things like this, the mess with Brady Aiken, the inability to get on tv affect your perception of the Astros and your optimism or pessimism on the rebuild?
CB: At the time I remember saying "for the love of..." or something along those lines because it was one thing after another. The Astros kept finding ways to make themselves look like chickens running around with their heads cut off.You hit on the major points of contention but those events came after the business side was gutted and replace with an administration that cut costs at every turn, including letting Jim Deshaies walk. I wasn't in a good place with the Astros after Jim Crane took over and front office leak didn't help things.
I don't think it changed my thought process on the rebuild. I know the pieces Luhnow had to trade were terrible and the farm system when he took over was worse. But once I got over the initial shock, it was interesting to see the Astros inner workings.
So what was going through your head when the report comes out the FBI is investigating the Cardinals for the leak?
VEB: I was truly shocked. Not that something like this could ever happen or that the Cardinals were somehow above the fray or holier than though, but the leaked information was so petty and provided no strategic advantage whatsoever. I was surprised when later on, the investigation came up with a good bit of information that would provide a strategic advantage, but the first part seemed very frivolous. After the rest of the story came out, the reasoning behind it made a little bit more sense, but it certainly seemed less about gaining a competitive advantage vis a vis the Astros and much more on insecurity and a lack of confidence in his own decisions. That Marco Gonzales draft pick came a year and a half after the hacking started, and more than a full year before he would get the promotion to scouting director.
What do you think about the value of the information hacked? There are some who might be wishing their team had gotten hacked so their team could have the extra draft picks and the $2 million. Should the Astros be benefiting and is the benefit they are receiving enough?
CB: From the report on the exact type of information Correa was able to obtain, the value is potentially quite high but ultimately impossible to quantify. If it could be proved that Correa manipulated the Cardinals' draft board to select players that they otherwise would not have selected, and that the Astros definitely would have selected those players, and that those players definitely were better than who the Astros got in reality....well, that can't be proved.
Even if it could be proved that the Cards drafted players that would otherwise have been Astros, the value of that hack couldn't be determined until the end of those players' tenures with the Cardinals. And how do you determine if the player would or would not have continued on with the club in Free Agency?
So the short answer is: "the value is incalculable, but it stands to reason that the Astros did suffer negatively and the Cardinals profited by the information exchange."
I have to dispute that other teams wish that another club wishes they were the Astros. Why would a club want an opponent to have unfettered access to their databases, trade information, medical information, analysis algorithms, and scheduling for company birthday parties? Realistically, no club would ever want that information in another club's hands, no matter HOW they were compensated.
So should the Astros be benefiting? Naw. But DID they benefit from this judgment? I don't think they did. Clearly MLB decided that the Astros were materially disadvantaged, and they ruled that this compensation evens the slate. It's not a "Yay, the Astros get a gift!" it's a reparations thing.
Are the Astros receiving enough to mollify them over their loss? Yes. Were the Cardinals punished enough? That's an entirely different question.
What were your thoughts when you found out it was scouting director Chris Correa? And his later claims that he did because he checking to see if the Astros had stolen anything from St. Louis?
VEB: That was obviously a surprise as well, and it came out almost right after the only draft where he was Scouting Director in 2015. He wasn't Scouting Director while he was hacking, but he was still an influential voice. One of the things that is weird about those who say the Cardinals clearly knew about what Correa was doing was the fact that Correa eventually received a promotion. If the team knew, handing the draft over to Correa would be incredibly irresponsible.
I think it is possible that Correa first checked the database because he believed the Astros had taken things from the Cardinals (whether it was proprietary information that would have been illegal or provided a claim for St. Louis is considerably less certain), but it would seem the very same paranoia or insecurity that would cause someone to use these methods to see if someone had taken proprietary information provided an opportunity too tempting to pass up. His statements to the court would seem to indicate he now realizes how stupid that was.
What do you make of the accusations against the Astros? Should the Commissioner have done more investigation even though the Cardinals didn't file a complaint? Ultimately, do you think the Astros compensation is fair? Should the Cardinals have been punished more, and if so, should the Astros be the beneficiaries of those additional punishments?
CB: I don't dismiss the accusations related to the Astros at all. I think it's tough to draw line between what is proprietary information and what is personal knowledge brought from the personal hired by the Astros. Do I think the Astros brain trust immediacy went to work trying to rebuild what they had with the Cardinals scouting? Yes. Do I think they blatantly took database systems from the Cardinals to start? I don't know. I wouldn't have surprised if Houston had been punished as well, but I don't think it would be close to Correa's actions.
I think the compensation is fair, minus the fact that Cardinals are rewarded for signing Dexter Fowler and the punishment was given after that fact. A first round pick would have been closer to the value of Correa's damage.
When this all came out, I didn't expect the Astros to get anything in return with the punishment. All and all I'm happy.
What did you think of the punishment? And what was your favorite funny or offbeat detail from the story?
VEB: I think the punishment is fair and I've thought all along any punishment should go directly to the Astros as anything additional is just people who resent the Cardinals' success wanting to see them get knocked down a bit. I think the Astros have a bit of a gripe on the Fowler situation, but we also don't know that the Astros wouldn't have just gotten a first rounder instead of the two later picks, which are comparable in value.
For the Cardinals, they probably sign Fowler anyway and whatever their next draft pick was, it was going to get taken away anyway, and then people could complain about that. It's MLB that wants free agent compensation tied to the draft and preventing the Cardinals from signing free agents would make little sense and cause problems from the players' union so there isn't a whole lot that can be done in that regard. The same is true with a first round pick next year. The Cardinals are already prevented from signing any more international players over $300,000 for the next two seasons so not a whole lot more can be done there, either.
Funniest moment is Eckstein being part of the password, and its not really close.