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MLB needs to drop the hammer on the Cardinals regardless of front office complicity

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Let the Feds handle the criminals, but MLB must lower the boom on the Cardinals.

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

By now you know that an employee or employees of the St. Louis Cardinals, using old administrative passwords from Jeff Lunhow's days in the Cardinals organization, hacked into the proprietary database of the Houston Astros. While there, they stole data, some of which was posted anonymously on the Internet. Jeff Passan is reporting that there is more data out there that is unaccounted for. Perhaps much more.

Eventually, we will learn more details about who breached the Astros' system and why. The Feds are apparently focusing on a small group of 4-5 employees. We need to let the investigation play out before we form an Old West-y mob and storm the sheriff's office. But once that investigation is complete?

Update, 7/2:

There needs to be a very severe and very public reckoning from Major League Baseball for these individuals and for the Cardinals organization. This reckoning needs to go beyond the, probably severe, legal consequences for whatever dummy thought it would be fun to poke around in the Astros' system, and anyone else that knew about it.

On the one hand, the Cardinals employees at fault almost certainly did not access actionable information. I mean, Houston and St. Louis have not worked on any transactions since August of 2012, and the data breach apparently happened near the end of Spring Training of 2014, during a fallow period for important transactions. And, personally, I find it unlikely that any of the evaluator data on players was added to the Cardinals' database in any kind of organized way.

On the other, far stronger and more menacing hand, Major League Baseball cannot risk allowing corporate espionage and data theft between its member clubs to go unpunished. We have already seen how far teams are willing to go to get even a slight fair competitive advantage on their rivals, luring away the best analytic talent and building robust data systems. Hell, the Rays are even installing an expensive and incredibly intricate motion-capture system to allow them to analyze the in-game kinetics of their pitchers. Approaching this encroachment with anything like a laissez-faire attitude would invite clubs to steal from each other liberally, and to gain an unfair advantage. It would herald the start of a war and result in a drastic escalation as clubs built in more elaborate security. And it would mean the FBI poking around even more in baseball's inner workings, something that the league almost certainly does not want.

What we're talking about is a breach of trust between clubs. This isn't like figuring out another team's signs from your dugout. This is potentially using a telescopic lens to see the catcher's sign, and relaying the information to the hitter. It's potentially cribbing off of someone else's homework or cheating off your neighbor's test on the SATs. It's antithetical to the idea of fair play on which all sports are predicated.

The Cardinals, as an organization, may not have known what its employees were up to in that house in Jupiter. In fact, I bet they didn't. But they are responsible for the actions of those employees, especially when they act within the confines of the game, and need to be made an example of so that no one else even thinks about trying to game the system in this way.

So what does this mean? What would it mean for Major League Baseball to bring down the hammer?

The Commissioner only has the power to levy a $2 million fine against the team and its owner. That's a utility infielder. A drop in the bucket. It's a start, but nowhere near enough to make an impact. Taking away wins or championships is idiotic and childish. We were there. We know what happened. And, frankly, whatever the Cardinals took from the Astros almost certainly didn't help them on the field. Also, you can't punish the players already on the team or in the system who had nothing to do with the breach.

No, you need to hit the Cardinals organization where it hurts. Where they live. You need to take away what matters to them. The Cardinals have always prided themselves on playing "The Right Way" and of building their club through their excellent player development system. Major League Baseball needs to cripple that system. They need to strip the Cardinals of their first and second round draft picks for the next three seasons, of their rights to any compensatory draft picks for free agents who leave, of any competitive balance picks they might earn, and of the ability to sign international free agents for greater than $300,000. The Cardinals need to be allowed to fill their farm system, but not with the kind of elite talent that will make their road ahead easier. The Cardinals' actions could have led to a competitive advantage, and so they should be placed at a competitive deficit relative to the rest of the league. Make them earn their way back.