January 31, 2017

Did the Astros steal first from the Cardinals?

Chris Correa / Houston Chronicle
In light of news that the St. Louis Cardinals have to forfeit two draft choices and $2 million to the Houston Astros, courtesy of Rob Manfred, Commissioner Corleone, dropping the hammer (actual report) on owner Bill DeWitt and GM John Mozeliak for former scouting officer Chris Correa's cybersnooping on the Astros' scouting computers, with the local angle offered up by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, one has to wonder if we're getting the full story. (My blog post about how this may affect the Birds is here.)

Manfred insisted again, with the punishment, that Correa was a rogue operator. He saw El Birdos as "vicariously liable," but nothing more. Of course, his data snoops may have helped draft Marco Gonzales, among others.

The Houston Chronicle has a story on documents from Correa's criminal trial, now unsealed. The feds don't seem to have ever, since the early part of the investigation, have seen anything to convince them that Correa was anything other than a rogue operator, too.

For his part, via ESPN, Correa stands by his claim when caught, and through his trial, that the Astros stole first. He even had his family release a new statement to that effect when Manfred lowered his hammer, which includes a lifetime ban from MLB for Correa.

However, the feds refused to let him look at Astros databases, or to subpoena emails, during the discovery process, making it impossible to present anything beyond his word.

We're now in he said, she said territory. Manfred said Correa "did not provide any cooperation," while Correa said he repeatedly offered to meet with Manfred.

So, was the punishment too light? Critics are already boo-hooing, but I don't think so, and I don't think I'm being too much of a homer. Correa was a rogue operator, and this was the first time something like this happened. And, it's fun to watch Jeff Passan, and even more, Buster Olney (or anybody else at ESPN) fulminate over this. I mean, Manfred took several months on this after the feds lowered the criminal hammer on Correa. The Cards fully cooperated from the start. The idea that this is a Deflategate, that Bill DeWitt is a Robert Kraft, or that the Cardinals are the New England Patriots is crap.

Mark Saxon of ESPN says it's comparing apples to mangoes, this punishment vs. what the commish had for the BoSox in what was an organized club effort, then retracts that with the other hand, but saying this still seemed "far less stringent." Well, yes, and you explained why. Let's add that the Cards cooperated with Manfred from the start, AND that we've not been told publicly how much, or how little, this affected Astros signings. Tim Brown at Yahoo also gets it wrong, in insinuating that surely Correa wasn't all alone for three years. Both you guys are journos; if you've got somebody in either Manfred's office or US AG's office who's got info to leak, move forward. If not, STFU.

On the flip side, Correa named at least one specific date for alleged Astros' hacking:
“The Cardinals were not the organization that benefited from unauthorized access,” Correa wrote in the statement. He then details allegations: “On December 11, 2011, a Houston Astros employee accessed proprietary data on a St. Louis Cardinals server. Later, I would learn — through unlawful methods — that 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 e-mail discussions about these efforts.”
That's "interesting" at the least.

I can flip Brown, Passan and Saxon on their conspiracy heads by saying maybe Manfred is covering something up, that that's part of why the Cards get an allegedly "mild" punishment and part of why the Astros aren't complaining.

More seriously, I think Correa was trying to muddy waters for a plea bargain, but sports commissioners can do all sorts of bigfooting, as Bill Simmons has repeatedly alleged of the NBA's David Stern, including on Michael Jordan and alleged gambling debts.

More snarkily, I think Mo and Bill DeWitt should be punished with a dose of heavy reading and listening to anything Buster Olney writes or broadcasts, like this. Jerry Crasnick, often the only sane baseball voice at Great Red Satan (and where did Jim Caple go to?) gets it much more correct.

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