One has to believe the St. Louis Cardinals breathed a gargantuan sigh of relief Monday afternoon when Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred made his long-awaited ruling following the hacking conviction of former Scouting Director Chris Correa.
Manfred ordered the Cardinals to pay the Houston Astros $2 million and stripped them of their top two picks in the 2017 amateur draft – Nos. 56 and 75 overall. St. Louis doesn’t possess a first-round pick after signing free-agent center fielder Dexter Fowler.
Correa, who illegally gained access into the Astros’ database, is serving a 46-month federal-prison sentence in Cumberland, Md. The Cardinals determined he acted alone and MLB did, too.
But baseball had to punish the Cardinals, since Correa, now 36, was on their payroll when he made his dreadful career decision to do what he knew was wrong — and illegal.
Correa, on at least 48 occasions, viewed proprietary Astros information on their “Ground Control” system. That included internal reports on potential trades, health status of players, amateur prospects they were interested in drafting and company emails.
But regarding the penalties, it seems they could have been much harsher, even though there was no previous case like this in which a baseball commissioner was forced to rule.
Let’s start with the fine.
To you and I, $2 million is a load of money. For the Cardinals and their empire of greenery, it’s chump change. Consider this: the major-league minimum salary, after the recent Collective Bargaining Agreement, is $535,000. The Cardinals couldn’t even pay four first-year players with $2 million.
The loss of the draft picks could hurt more. On paper, the Cardinals should have received solid players with the 56th and 75th picks.
Yet there are no sure things. The Cardinals have had many draft busts.
Since 1999, among the Cardinals’ first-rounders that didn’t pan out are: Zack Cox, Seth Blair, Chris Lambert, Blake Williams, Shaun Boyd, Justin Pope, James Greene and Chance Caple. There were high hopes for all of them; Lambert, a pitcher with a combined 33 innings for Detroit and Baltimore, is the only one that reached the big leagues.
Given that, what’s to be expected of second-, third- and fourth-round picks? There are a handful of success stories, but finding gems beyond the first round is a crap shoot.
Besides, the draft isn’t the only source of new baseball talent. The Cardinals are competitive in their scouting and signing of players from Latin America (Carlos Martinez) and Asia (Seung Hwan Oh) to free agent deals.
So, what did the Cardinals really pay? And will they suffer at all?
The Cardinals do know one thing, and they’re very happy about it: Correa is gone from their ranks, never to return.
Certainly, the Cardinals were embarrassed by Correa’s behavior. They’re a proud franchise whose foundation of winning was shaken a bit by this “rogue,” the word used Monday by General Manager John Mozeliak to describe Correa.
But more than anything, the Cardinals are just relieved it’s all over. Chairman Bill DeWitt Jr., just two weeks ago, expressed eagerness to learn about the commissioner’s decision.
Now that it’s arrived, the Cardinals can hardly wait to get back to business without the black cloud hovering over them. There’s still plenty of air left in their balloon.