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As hacking scandal finally ends, Astros satisifed with Cardinals' penalty

Many think the Cardinals got off easy with MLB's punishment for the hacking scandal, but the Astros themselves are satisfied, even if the penalty doesn't truly match the damage done.

On Monday, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred finally levied his penalty on the Cardinals for the hacking campaign perpetrated by their former scouting director, Chris Correa, against the rival Astros. The reaction of the baseball community was swift and all but universal: That’s it?

As punishment for Correa’s extended, 2 1/2-year act of corporate espionage—in which he accessed the Astros’ internal database, Ground Control, nearly 50 times and illegally provided the Cardinals with untold competitive and economic advantages (from which they might continue to benefit for years to come)—St. Louis must send to Houston the sum of $2 million and their first two draft picks this year, Nos. 56 and 75. Correa, now banned from baseball for life, might wish the judge who sentenced him to 46 months in a federal penitentiary had such a light touch.

Still, the group of those who thought that Manfred ought to have been harsher—what is $2 million to a club valued by Forbes at $1.6 billion?—was missing a key member: the Astros themselves.

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“I think the award is a significant award,” said Giles Kibbe, the club’s general counsel, to on Monday afternoon. “I don’t think they got off easy by any stretch.”

The Astros appreciated the difficulty of Manfred’s task, to formulate an appropriate punishment for an entirely new type of infraction. “This is an unprecedented award by Major League Baseball that sends a clear message about the severity of Mr. Correa’s actions,” Kibbe said, nothing that no club had ever been awarded amateur draft picks before, nor so much money in damages.

Kibbe also expressed his franchise’s view that while the league had appropriately concluded that while Correa had acted alone, the Cardinals still bore some responsibility as his employer and a beneficiary of his crimes. “I think the commissioner made clear in his ruling that it was only Correa—and no one else in the Cardinals’ organization—but that the Cardinals were responsible for his actions,” Kibbe said.

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Kibbe said that the Astros had taken it upon themselves to submit to the league office a report as to their evaluation of the damage they had sustained, as well as what they considered to be a proper response by the league, but he declined to reveal how close Manfred’s ultimate penalty came to their assessment. Part of the damage the Astros asserted was reputational, as Correa had in the summer of 2014 leaked to internal trade discussions that he had hacked from the Astros’ database, embarrassing Houston general manager Jeff Luhnow (a former colleague of Correa’s with the Cardinals) and other executives and forcing them to apologize to the players and teams involved. The irony, as Kibbe admitted, is that if not for the leak, Correa’s intrusion might never have been discovered; only after the information had become public were the Astros spurred go back and determine when their database had been illicitly accessed and what information had been viewed.

“When this happened, we had just come off of 107- and 111-loss seasons,” Kibbe said on Monday. “We were taking a lot of hits as to how we were doing things, whether or not we really knew what we were doing. When this information came out, it was very damaging to us. It hurt Jeff and our entire organization. We saw that as extremely damaging and extremely hard to quantify. It’s something we did put forward to the commissioner.

“The award is vindication in some ways,” Kibbe added. “It clearly sets out that the Astros were the victims in this case.”

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Are the Astros truly satisfied with Manfred’s ruling? Though Kibbe did not admit it on Monday, they probably are not, from a purely economic standpoint. Luhnow’s Astros are the most probabilistically rigorous of organizations, and they undoubtedly know that their award likely does not equal full compensation for the value of what Correa took from them—in other words, that the Cardinals will still come out ahead from his (and, by association, their) malfeasance.

But they’ve likely chosen to accept the decision for two reasons. First, as Kibbe suggested, is that it clears the Astros from any wrongdoing themselves. Second, it finally puts an end to a long and sordid affair and will allow the Astros to focus on what was not on their radar when the hacking occurred but very much is now: the pursuit of a World Series. “We’re pleased to have closure on this,” said Kibbe. “We’re happy to be getting past this.”

As for the club’s relationship with St. Louis and its owner, Bill DeWitt, Kibbe said, “We have a great deal of respect for Mr. Dewitt and the Cardinals' organization. We fully expect a good relationship going forward.” Hackgate, in other words, is over—for everyone, that is, except Correa.