There’s been a lot of action surrounding the guilty plea entered today by former Cardinals scouting director Chris Correa, in which he admitted to certain charges brought against him for an improper accessing of the Astros’ “Ground Control” database. The complaint against Correa revealed several important alleged details, as did his statements today in open court.
In particular, Correa suggested — when asked by the judge — that he had found proprietary Cardinals’ information in the Astros’ systems. (David Barron of the Houston Chronicle was on hand, and his Twitter timeline is chock full of information on the proceedings.) Of course, former Cardinals executive Jeff Luhnow moved from St. Louis to become the Astros’ general manager, which Correa says was the cause for his look into the competitor’s databases.
The Astros have issued a statement in response. Per Houston general counsel Giles Kibbe, the club is withholding comment on “the details” at present. But he did make clear that Houston “refute[s] Mr. Correa’s statement that our database contained any information that was proprietary to the St. Louis Cardinals.”
In theory, then, there are still at least two open matters for the league to consider: first, any punishment and/or compensation relating to the breach by a (now-former) Cardinals employee. And second, the question whether the St. Louis organization actually was harmed as well.
The league has made clear that it is not prepared to act on either or both subjects at present. Per a league statement:
“Major League Baseball appreciates the efforts of federal law enforcement authorities in investigating the illegal breach of the Astros’ baseball operations database, and identifying the perpetrator of this crime. We anticipate that the authorities will share with us the results of their investigation at the appropriate time, and we will determine what further actions to take after receiving all the relevant information.”
While it remains to be seen how things will proceed, preliminary indications are that a quiet resolution is more likely than a public battle between the organizations. Kibbe’s statement on behalf of the ’Stros also hinted as much. “We have a great amount of respect for Bill DeWitt and the Cardinals organization,” he said. “And, we are confident that Commissioner Manfred will guide MLB through this process in the best way possible.”
MLB’s constitution specifically provides that teams may not file suit against one another, but must instead take any disputes to the commissioner as an arbitrator. (H/t to Nathaniel Grow of Fangraphs.) While a lawsuit could still theoretically be pursued, if Houston were to identify some loophole that it might argue for as an exemption from the arbitration requirement, that seems as unlikely to succeed as it is to be attempted.
Per the proceedings and the complaint (via Wendy Thurm, on Twitter), the government alleged as a result of its investigation that Correa had done quite a bit of significant snooping. According to the government, he accessed the system at least during the time frame of March of 2013 through June of 2014, and also made his way into the e-mail accounts of two unnamed (but easily assumed) “victims” — executives who had moved from the Cardinals to the Astros.
Among other things, Correa is alleged in May of 2013 to have peaked at the Astros’ ranking of 2013 draft-eligible players; large swaths of other draft-related scouting and assessment data; scouting information relating to the Cardinals’ system; and logs of Houston’s trade talks. He is said to have accessed the system again during the draft. And he allegedly went back to check the trade notes on the morning of the 2013 trade deadline.
While the Astros made significant changes to their database security after the Ground Control system was publicized early in 2014, Correa was allegedly able to find the new password information because of the aforementioned email access. He is charged with again checking in on the team’s trade logs, draft information, international evaluations, and other information in March of 2014.
Ultimately, of course, whether or not Correa was able to find the Cardinals’ information on the Astros’ system, that was never going to be much of a legal defense, as prosecutor Kenneth Magidson explained to Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. As reported earlier today, Correa pleaded guilty to five (out of twelve total) counts of unauthorized access to computer information, which come with a maximum of up to a five-year prison sentence, plus fines and restitution. While sentencing will not take place until April 11th, Goold explains that Correa will likely receive three or four years of jail time. That’s due to the terms of the plea deal, under which Correa acknowledged that the value of the information taken was around $1.7MM and that he had attempted to conceal his identity in accessing the system.