ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) — The final judgment has been rendered and the punishment meted out. MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred concluded a two-year ordeal Monday, announcing punishment for the Cardinals for the hacking scandal perpetrated by their former scouting director Chris Correa.
What, then, are we left with?
Correa was sentenced to spend nearly four years in federal prison. When he returns to civilian life, he will be banned from baseball for the remainder of his days.
The Cardinals will forfeit two draft picks, the slot bonuses attached to them (around $2 million) and an additional $2 million to the Houston Astros, the team victimized by Correa’s illicit keystrokes. They now have seven picks in the top 100 to the Cardinals’ one.
Baseball will move right along.
After Manfred’s announcement, the baseball world split into two camps. One faction felt the Cardinals were let off easy, especially in light of the most recent comparable judgment from the commissioner’s office.
In July, the Boston Red Sox were punished for violating international signing rules and saw five minor league contracts voided in response. They were also banned from participating in this year’s international signing period. Compared to such punishment, the Cardinals seem to have escaped relatively unscathed.
In contrast, many felt Manfred dropped the proverbial hammer on St. Louis, especially given three independent investigations all concluded Correa acted alone. Two early draft picks and millions of dollars (pittance or not) was viewed as a steep penalty for vicarious liability.
Whichever side is right is immaterial. The chapter is closed and the business of baseball will churn on undeterred.
The Cardinals will enter the 2017 draft without their first three picks. A quick glance at the drafts from 2010 onward makes it clear assigning relative value to those forfeited slots (56, and 75) is a pointless exercise.
Here’s a list of Cardinal players taken with their second and third selection in the last six drafts.
2010: Tyrell Jenkins (50, traded) Jordan Swaggerty (75, AA)
2011: Charlie Tilson (79, traded) CJ McElroy (109, AA)
2012: James Ramsey (23, traded) Stephen Piscotty (36, MLB)
2013: Rob Kaminsky (28, traded) Oscar Mercado (57, High A)
2014: Jack Flaherty (34, High A) Ronnie Williams (68, Low A)
2015: Jake Woodford (39, Low A) Bryce Denton (66, Johnson City)
2016: Dylan Carlson (33, GCL Cardinals) Dakota Hudson (34, High A)
That’s not designed to diminish the value of tradeable assets or to suggest every name on the list not yet on a prospect watch is a lost cause. It’s simply to illustrate that early draft slots don’t immediately equate to high-end value. At a quick glance: Tyler Lyons, Seth Maness, Sam Tuivailala, Joe Kelly, Carson Kelly and Tim Cooney were all taken after the first two picks and each has seen a time in the major leagues. Matt Carpenter was famously pick number 399.
So the Cardinals will certainly feel a sting, but losing two picks amounts to little more than an inconvenience given the availability of late-round talent and the ability to sign internationally.
The less quantifiable impact, about which GM John Mozeliak was asked repeatedly Monday, is that of a diminished reputation. If such a thing has a measurable impact on professional sports, we’ve yet to see it. The Cardinals didn’t feel it even during the ongoing investigation and subsequent trial. They were still able to conduct business as usual; still made trades and still signed free agents.
The lasting impact of their punishment was greatest when it existed in the hypothetical, when pundits, columnists and fans were free to speculate on how severe it might be and how ineffaceable a blemish it might leave. The organization was left to imagine such things as well.
Ultimately, debating the relative severity of the penalty and emotional toll of its expectation is meaningless. It happened, and it has passed.
Likewise, answers to the lingering questions of how much the Cardinal front office really knew or how much Correa’s rise within the organization was a product of ill-gotten information will likely forever be speculative. The Justice Department provided their findings, as did the MLB. Correa may pen a tell-all from jail or a new voice may emerge to shed more light on the subject, but absent that, the questions will eventually stop being asked. The machine will provide more interesting topics of discussion.
The Cardinals will not embark on a good will campaign partly because they don’t believe it is warranted but also because they are aware of the truth. In a month, this will be little more than a footnote in franchise history. There are games to play, tickets to sell and ad space to fill. The dogs have barked, and the caravan moves on. Right or wrong.