Other MLB Teams Stand to Lose More than Cardinals After Hacking Punishment

Sep 30, 2016; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Cardinals General Manager talks with manager Mike Matheny prior to a game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott Kane-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 30, 2016; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Cardinals General Manager talks with manager Mike Matheny prior to a game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott Kane-USA TODAY Sports /

The punishment that the Cardinals received Monday may end up affecting other clubs.

Major League Baseball ruled on Monday afternoon that the St. Louis Cardinals must give two draft picks, the 56th and 75th overall in the 2017 draft, to the Houston Astros while also paying the Astros $2 million in damages. This penalty came down in reaction to the hacking scandal during which ex-Cardinals scouting director Chris Correa was found to have repeatedly hacked into  an Astros scouting database for a period of at least one year.

The penalty likely won’t affect the Cardinals too greatly. While an MLB team being shut out of the first few rounds of the draft is always going to be harmful to a degree, they wouldn’t have had a first-round pick anyway since they surrendered theirs for signing Dexter Fowler (who had been given a qualifying offer by the Chicago Cubs) in December. They had three first-round picks and loaded up on top international prospects last summer, so it’s almost as if they gained enough talent to offset the losses that they’ll experience this summer.

While this type of punishment is rather unprecedented in baseball (and the most severe of its type in MLB history), it’s extremely odd that the Astros are being compensated for Correa’s wrongdoings, rather than the draft picks simply being vacated and the money going to charity. The total value of the proprietary information he accessed was given an estimated value of $1.7 million by the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The Astros were awarded a significantly higher sum than that by Major League Baseball; in addition to the $2 million in cash, the combined value of the 56th and 75th picks last year was estimated to be $1,993,500.

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That penalty might make sense in an industry where there are only two competitors. But in baseball, where there are 28 clubs–including 14 that play the Astros much more frequently than the Cardinals do–does it make sense to reward a club for being hacked, especially when it has the potential to affect the other clubs that the Astros compete against?

First off, we should get one thing out of the way: the Astros were not significantly harmed by Correa’s hacking efforts. This is not a case of Bernie Madoff swindling the Mets out of over $100 million. The Astros are arguably a better organization than the Cardinals right now, and they’re rapidly ascending as the Cardinals struggle to regain superiority in the NL Central. If anything, the knowledge that Correa gained while hacking into the Astros’ database appears to have made the Cardinals worse while the Astros quickly get better.

Under Luhnow’s watch, the Astros have selected 10 players who have gone on to become major-leaguers, including generational superstar Carlos Correa. Prospects drafted or signed under his watch have gone on to be traded for impactful big-leaguers such as Scott Kazmir, Carlos Gomez, Mike Fiers, Brian McCann, Ken Giles, Oliver Perez, and Evan Gattis.

Alex Bregman, the player who the Astros selected first in 2015 (Correa’s only year at the helm of the Cardinals’ scouting department) is already an impactful major-league starter. Correa’s first pick in that draft, outfielder Nick Plummer, has been limited to just 51 games over two pro seasons due to injury and has yet to make it out of short-season ball.

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The Cardinals may have been the more successful major-league franchise while Correa was employed, but while players from the draft classes that he helped out with have begun to reach the majors over the past two seasons, the Astros have experienced roughly as much success as the Cardinals have. Both teams made the playoffs in 2015 but lost in the first round, and both finished over .500 in 2016 but failed to qualify for the postseason.

Both teams have plenty of young talent, and while the Astros were active enough in the offseason to position themselves as AL favorites in the eyes of many heading into 2017, both organizations have about the same number of really highly-regarded prospects. The Cardinals had four prospects ranked on MLB Pipeline’s recent Top 100 rankings (6, 39, 68, and 91), while the Astros had five (20, 35, 54, 83, and 84).

All of this is to say that the Astros organization is doing quite well–a pretty solid turnaround for 206-280 in the three years before Luhnow showed up and an even worse 382-590 between 2009 and the time that most of his prospects started to show up in 2015.

In an AL West where the only other team with a recent track of success is the Texas Rangers, these penalties might actually punish the teams the Astros play against more than they do the Cardinals.

Those extra picks may be just what the Astros need to definitively move ahead of a Seattle Mariners organization that is seemingly nearing the end of its championship window with Nelson Cruz turning 37 this season, Robinson Cano now 34, and Felix Hernandez about to turn 31 with no surefire prospects on the horizon.

Another year of great drafting by the Astros could be the kiss of death for an Angels club that has added a couple solid pieces around Mike Trout this offseason but arguably has the worst farm system in baseball. And until we see the A’s make an effort to compete, it’s foolish to believe that they’ll have any shot in an increasingly tough AL West.

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For as much as the Cardinals will be missing out by being shut out of the first, second, and lottery rounds in this year’s draft, it’s definitely possible that the teams who will be most affected by this ruling are the ones that are forced to play against the five top 100 picks (15, 53, 56, 75, 91) that the Astros will have this June. If those players reach the big leagues as quickly as early Astros picks of recent years such as Bregman, Carlos Correa, Lance McCullers, and A.J. Reed have, it could be real trouble for the rest of the American League.