One chapter closes in of one of the stranger sagas I’ve seen in sports.
The former scouting director of the St. Louis Cardinals pleaded guilty in federal court Friday to hacking into the player database and email system of the Houston Astros in an unusual case of high-tech cheating involving two Major League Baseball clubs.
Chris Correa pleaded guilty to five counts of unauthorized access of a protected computer from 2013 to at least 2014, the same year he was promoted to director of baseball development in St. Louis. Correa, 35, was fired last summer and faces up to five years in prison on each charge when he is sentenced April 11.
“I accept responsibility in this case,” Correa told U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes. “I trespassed repeatedly.”
“So you broke in their house?” Hughes asked Correa, referring to the Astros.
“It was stupid,” replied Correa, who is free on $20,000 bond.
U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson said the hacking cost the Astros about $1.7 million, taking into account how Correa used the Astros’ data to draft players.
“It has to do with the talent that was on the record that they were able to have access to, that they wouldn’t have otherwise had access to,” he told reporters. “They were watching what the Astros were doing.”
MLB could discipline the Cardinals, possibly with a fine or a loss of draft picks, but said only that it looked forward to getting details on the case from federal authorities. The Cardinals, whose chairman, Bill DeWitt Jr., had blamed the incident on “roguish behavior,” declined comment.
See here, here, and here for the background. Given that he pleaded out, I don’t expect Correa to get jail time, though perhaps a suspended sentence might be in the works. He’ll never work in baseball again, that’s for sure.
There’s still a lot more to this, however. As Craig Calcaterra notes, Correa claimed to have found Cards information on the Astros’ system when he was traipsing around in there.
That may not raise to a criminal level — there is no allegation Astros people hacked into the Cardinals’ system — but it could be relevant to Major League Baseball in a larger team-to-team information security matter. All of that depends on what Correa is saying he saw, which we do not know yet.
That aside, the level and the amount of information Correa got from the Astros is extraordinary. The defense some have offered — that he was merely checking to see if the Astros stole something — seems like a tiny part of this compared to what he accessed. And the argument I have heard from some people that, “hey, Correa was just walking in an unlocked door, so it’s not a big deal,” is not really true. He walked in, the Astros locked it, so then he broke into Jeff Luhnow’s office, as it were, and stole the keys so he could walk back in again. That is not just idle perusing. That is a concerted effort to carry out corporate espionage.
All of which is to say that this is far from over, especially from a baseball perspective. Correa performed his duties as Cardinals scouting director for over two years while in possession of extensive amounts of Astros’ confidential information. That benefitted him personally and, by extension, benefitted the Cardinals via the acts he took on their behalf with that information in his head. And that’s the case even if he was the sole person involved. If anyone else accessed Ground Control or was made privy to the information Correa obtained, it makes the Cardinals’ collective informational advantage all the greater.
Major League Baseball needs to find out what, if anything the Astros have of the Cardinals, as Correa claims. They need to learn — as they may still learn given that the investigation and the case is not over — what law enforcement knows about anyone else’s involvement. There is still a long way to go. However, based on what is known at the moment, the data breach here was extensive and extraordinary and the Cardinals will likely be facing some stiff, stiff penalties as a result. Maybe financial penalties. Maybe draft pick penalties. Maybe some combination.
Either way, this case is way bigger than people thought it to be yesterday.