Almost exactly one year ago today, news broke that the Astros internal database (Ground Control) full of trade talks, player evaluations, and proprietary information was hacked. Houston was obviously shocked and committed to finding out who was responsible.
"Last month, we were made aware that proprietary information held on the Astros' servers and in Astros' applications had been illegally obtained. Upon learning of the security breach, we immediately notified MLB security who, in turn, notified the FBI. Since that time, we have been working closely with MLB security and the FBI to determine the party, or parties, responsible. This information was illegally obtained and published, and we intend to prosecute those involved to the fullest extent."
Since this statement was released, there were a few jokes, but the baseball world largely forgot about all of this, and ultimately didn't think that it would have any long-standing implications.
Had no idea Edward Snowden was this interested in baseball.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) June 30, 2014
Looks like Astros were victims here of a hack, which could have happened to any team. Long-term very few effects from this.— JJ Cooper (@jjcoop36) June 30, 2014
That all changed this morning however, as it was revealed that the F.B.I has made significant strides in their investigation, which subsequently sent shockwaves throughout baseball.
What we know
The New York Times has reported that not only has the F.B.I. made significant progress in their investigation, but also, that they have the St. Louis Cardinals as the prime suspect of this attack.
"Investigators have uncovered evidence that Cardinals officials broke into a network of the Houston Astros that housed special databases the team had built, according to law enforcement officials. Internal discussions about trades, proprietary statistics and scouting reports were compromised, the officials said. The officials did not say which employees were the focus of the investigation or whether the team's highest ranking officials were aware of the hacking or authorized it. The investigation is being led by the F.B.I.'s Houston field office and has progressed to the point that subpoenas have been served on the Cardinals and Major League Baseball for electronic correspondence."
If the Cardinals are found to be guilty, it would represent the first known "case of corporate espionage in which a professional sports team has hacked the network of another team".
Why the Cardinals would benefit
In the current baseball environment, front offices are scrambling to find the next best way to evaluate players, and gain any advantage over the other 29 teams. The Cardinals now appear to have gone one step too far in their quest to stay ahead, and outright stolen information from a rival team; and and one that has made incredibly vast strides in turning a franchise around.
Lunhow clearly knows what he's doing, and despite having one of the most successful franchises since the turn of the century, the Cardinals (apparently) wanted to know more, and were allegedly willing to do unethical things to accomplish that goal.
By gaining access to Houston Ground Control, St. Louis was able to glean priceless information on the Astros, and teams they'd negotiated with. The Cardinals front office now knew what certain players were worth in trade talks, and what other teams were thinking in the lead up to the trade deadlines.
Will it hurt the Astros?
This will in no way hurt Houston, as the major damage was already done, but it could wreak havoc on the Cardinals franchise. While we've seen teams have to complete compensation deals in situations like what transpired with Theo Epstein and the Cubs, there's no easy fix for what St. Louis has allegedly done. MLB could take away draft picks, pool money for future drafts as well as international signings, or something else entirely; but the repercussions must be severe. Once MLB figures out how to punish St. Louis, they have to figure out a way to repair the damage that was done to Houston.
In the immediate aftermath of the hack, the Astros reputation was severely devastated.
Exactly what I'm hearing RT @DCameronFG That said, lots of people in baseball already annoyed with Astros before this. This won’t help that.— Kiley McDaniel (@kileymcd) June 30, 2014
They were viewed as a joke, and it seemed that the franchise had taken multiple steps back in a span of weeks. However as David Cameron points out, that's all been forgotten.
A year ago, Astros were terrible team, botched draft, didn’t protect their servers. Now? Good team, right about Aiken, robbery victims.— David Cameron (@DCameronFG) June 16, 2015
While they're much better positioned than they were just a year ago, the Astros deserve some type of compensation. Whether it's a direct result of what the Cardinals ultimately lose, or a prospect package of some type, they need to be made as close to whole as they were before the leak. Sensitive information was stolen, and that needs to be the underlying fact that is considered.
The Jeff Luhnow connection
The fact that the Cardinals hacked the Astros makes this even more fascinating. It was already an incredible news story, and perhaps the biggest scandal in the sport's history outside of steroids and the Black Sox cheating scandal, but because of these two teams in particular, there's even more here that meets the eye.
Before becoming the GM of the Astros, Luhnow was in charge of many aspects of the Cardinals scouting department from 2003 to 2011, and is widely credited with helping build what is now one of the most consistently strong farm systems in baseball. Under his watch, the Cardinals won five minor league championships across all levels, expanded their reach in Venezuela, and established an academy in the Dominican Republic. Luhnow was an integral part in their drafting process, and was key to the Cardinals' overall dominance.
Apparently St. Louis wasn't ready to lose his contributions, however, and found other ways to know what Luhnow and his group were thinking. This represents the first major scandal that new commissioner Rob Manfred has to deal with, and he must take a definitive and unwavering approach once the facts are known.
There's no precedent for something like this, and it will be imperative for Manfred and MLB to make teams understand that there is no room for this type of action. Manfred might look at how Adam Silver handled Donald Sterling and the Clippers early in his tenure as commissioner, as he was almost universally praised for how he resolved everything. He was swift, and steadfast in administering his punishment, and left no room for any doubt as to how he would act in the future.
Manfred needs to render his own unyielding judgment once the time is appropriate, and until he does, there will be a black cloud hanging over the Cardinals.