Phillies

MLB Notes: Former Cardinals exec sentenced to prison for hacking Astros

MLB Notes: Former Cardinals exec sentenced to prison for hacking Astros

HOUSTON — A federal judge sentenced the former scouting director of the St. Louis Cardinals to nearly four years in prison Monday for hacking the Houston Astros' player personnel database and email system in an unusual case of high-tech cheating involving two Major League Baseball clubs.

Christopher Correa had pleaded guilty in January 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. He was fired last summer and now faces 46 months behind bars and a court order to pay $279,038 in restitution. He had faced up to five years in prison on each count.

Correa read a letter in court before he was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Lynn Hughes and he said he was "overwhelmed with remorse and regret for my actions."

"I violated my values and it was wrong ... I behaved shamefully," he said. "The whole episode represents the worst thing I've done in my life by far."

Cardinals Chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. had blamed the hack on "roguish behavior" by a handful of individuals. No one else was charged.

MLB could discipline the Cardinals, possibly with a fine or a loss of draft picks, but has said only that it looked forward to getting details on the case from federal authorities.

"Now that the criminal process has been completed, Commissioner (Rob) Manfred has asked the Department of Investigations to conduct a complete investigation of the facts in this matter, including requesting information from the appropriate law enforcement authorities," the league said. "The commissioner hopes that the investigation can be completed promptly to put him in a position to take appropriate action."

The data breach was first reported in June 2014 when Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow told reporters the team had been the victim of hackers who accessed servers and published online months of internal trade talks. Luhnow had previously worked for the Cardinals.

Federal prosecutors say the hacking cost the Astros about $1.7 million, taking into account how Correa used the Astros' data to draft players.

The FBI said Correa was able to gain access using a password similar to that used by a Cardinals employee who "had to turn over his Cardinals-owned laptop to Correa along with the laptop's password" when he was leaving for a job with the Astros in 2011. The employee was not identified, though Luhnow left St. Louis for Houston in December of that year to become general manager.

Prosecutors have said Correa in 2013 improperly downloaded a file of the Astros' scouting list of every eligible player for that year's draft. They say he also improperly viewed notes of trade discussions as well as a page that listed information such as potential bonus details, statistics and notes on recent performances and injuries by team prospects.

The Astros rely heavily on sabermetrics in their evaluation of players and use a database called Ground Control to house proprietary information.

Authorities say that after the Astros took security precautions involving Ground Control following a Houston Chronicle story about the database, Correa was able to still get into it. Authorities say he hacked the email system and was able to view 118 pages of confidential information, including notes of trade discussions, player evaluations and a 2014 team draft board that had not yet been completed.

Luhnow was a key figure in the Cardinals' own database, called Redbird. At least one former Cardinals employee -- Sig Mejdal, a former NASA employee and analytics expert -- had joined Luhnow in Houston.

Luhnow has not commented in detail about the case, though he's denied using any of the Cardinals' intellectual property or information from Redbird to create Houston's database.

The Cardinals are among baseball's most successful franchises on and off the field. Only the New York Yankees have more World Series titles than the 11 won by St. Louis. The Astros and Cardinals were rivals in the National League Central until Houston moved to the American League in 2013.

Minnesota Twins fire general manager Terry Ryan
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Twins fired general manager Terry Ryan on Monday after skidding to the worst record in the American League.

The Twins entered the day 33-58, 21 games out of first place in the AL Central. Only Atlanta had a worse record in the majors.

Firing Ryan also calls into question the future of manager Paul Molitor, who was hired to replace Ron Gardenhire before the 2015 season. Molitor helped the Twins become one of the surprise teams of season last year, having them in the playoff hunt into the final week of the season. But the Twins are on pace for 100 losses this year.

Assistant GM Rob Antony will take over on an interim basis.

Owner and CEO Jim Pohlad made the announcement hours before the Twins opened a series in Detroit. The timing was curious, given the fact that the team had just come out of the All-Star break with the front office intact, and the trade deadline is just two weeks away.

"Terry has been a gifted leader of the baseball department for over 18 seasons," Pohlad said. "It is impossible to overstate his contribution to our game, our team and the Upper Midwest baseball community. The decision to part ways with Terry was difficult, painful and not obvious."

Ryan spent two stints as general manager of the Twins, taking over in September 1994 helping the franchise emerge from a decade worth of futility to become one of the models for small-market success in the early 2000s. He helped build one of baseball's strongest farm systems and made several shrewd trades that turned the Twins into a team that won four AL Central championships in five seasons.

Ryan stepped down after the 2007 season but returned in November 2011 after hand-picked successor Bill Smith could not continue the team's success.

The Twins are in the middle of their fifth losing season in the last six years, and a 2015 season that saw them return to contention in the division proved not to be enough when the team sank to the bottom of the American League this summer.

Ryan handed out big money to pitchers Ervin Santana, Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes in an effort to address the team's biggest weakness in the starting rotation, but all have been disappointments.

The decisions to sign South Korean slugger Byung-Ho Park, hold on to veteran third baseman Trevor Plouffe this offseason and move promising youngster Miguel Sano from third base to right field all proved to be ill-fated. Sano was injured while playing in the outfield and is back at third base, Plouffe is on the disabled list and his trade value has been diminished and Park has been sent to Triple-A to try to ease his transition from Korea to the United States.

Despite the Twins' massive struggles, the midseason firing is a highly uncharacteristic move by the Pohlad family, long known in baseball circles for loyalty and continuity. Jim Pohlad has made no secret of his admiration for Ryan, saying as late as last year that the GM could hold his post for as long as he wanted.

"While disappointed we were unable to bring Minnesota a third world championship, I leave the GM post with immense pride in being part of the Twins organization for the better part of three decades," Ryan said. "I'm grateful for the leadership opportunities provided by the Pohlad family; the collaboration and talents of my colleagues in the front office; the hard work and dedication of our manager, coaches and clubhouse personnel; the commitment and professionalism of our players; the passion and attention to detail of our minor league staff and scouts; and most importantly, the incredible support of our fans. It's been an honor to be part of the Twins organization and I wish everyone nothing but the best going forward."

Antony is in his 29th season in the Twins organization and his ninth as an assistant GM.

Blue Jays give Justin Smoak $8.5M deal for 2017-18
OAKLAND, Calif. -- First baseman Justin Smoak has agreed to an $8.5 million, two-year contract with the Toronto Blue Jays covering 2017-18.

Smoak is making $3.9 million this year and was eligible to become a free after this season. The 29-year-old will earn $4,125,000 annually in 2017 and '18, and Toronto has a $6 million option for 2019 with a $250,000 buyout.

The option price would escalate to $7 million if Smoak has 950 plate appearances in 2017-18 combined, $7.5 million if he has 1,000 and $8 million if he has 1,100.

"We love Toronto, me and my family, and we wanted to stay here as long as we can," Smoak said after the agreement was announced Saturday. "So we just wanted to get something done."

Smoak is in his seventh season in the majors with his third team. He was the 11th overall selection in the first round of the 2008 draft by the Texas Rangers.

He batting .234 with nine home runs and 23 runs batted in this season. In seven major league seasons, he's had a .225 batting average with 101 home runs, 316 RBIs and a .310 on-base percentage.

Smoak, by his own admission, says he hasn't lived up to the expectations of his elite pre-draft status.

"No, not even close," Smoak said Saturday before the game against Oakland. "I know I can be a better player. It's all about staying consistent. That's what you strive for every day and that's the goal to keep working on ... to be a more consistent player."

Smoak, an everyday player with the Seattle Mariners for four seasons, has accepted being a role player with the Blue Jays.

"I know what it takes to play every day for a full season, and I also know what it takes to be a guy off the bench and be ready to help this team out," Smoak said. "I want to play every day, that's always the goal. But if that's not the case, that's not the case.

"Whatever it takes to help this team win ballgames."

 

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Phillies lose prospect in Rule 5 draft, gain money to sign more

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Photo: Clearwater Threshers

Phillies lose prospect in Rule 5 draft, gain money to sign more

ORLANDO — Carlos Tocci has long been an intriguing prospect in the Phillies' system. The club's international scouting staff liked the slender outfielder from Venezuela enough to give him a $759,000 signing bonus as a 16-year-old in the summer of 2011.

The big question with Tocci was whether he'd develop enough offensive pop to go with his outstanding defensive prowess.

Tocci made strides every year in the Phillies system, but not enough, in the minds of team officials, to move past other prospects and win a spot on the 40-man roster. The Phils left him unprotected last winter and managed to slip him through the annual Rule 5 draft, but they weren't so fortunate this year. Tocci was selected by the Chicago White Sox with the fourth pick in Thursday's draft and quickly spun to the Texas Rangers in a trade.

The price to select Tocci was $100,000. He must spend the entire 2018 season in the majors (or on the big-league disabled list) or be offered back to the Phillies for $50,000.

"Obviously, it stinks for us to lose a guy like that, but it's the risk you take when you don't protect someone," Phillies assistant general manager Bryan Minniti said. "I'm happy for him to get the opportunity. Selfishly, we hope to get him back."

Tocci, 22, hit .307 with a .362 on-base percentage and a .398 slugging percentage in 113 games at Double A Reading in 2017. He hit .189 in 17 games at Triple A.

Tocci has athleticism and speed. He is a plus defender. His speed and defensive skill could help him stick in the majors as a pinch-runner and defensive replacement.

The Phillies added a player in the Rule 5 draft, but only briefly. They selected right-handed pitcher Nick Burdi from Minnesota with the third pick and quickly traded him to Pittsburgh for $500,000 in international signing money. The Phils have just over $1 million remaining in their current pool, which expires June 15.

Extra international money is valuable. The Phillies recently added four pitchers — Seranthony Dominguez, Ranger Suarez, Jose Taveras and Franklyn Kilome — to their 40-man roster and all were international signings. The team recently used international pool money to sign catcher Abrahan Gutierrez, one of 13 former Atlanta prospects who had been set free after the Braves violated signing rules. Several of those players are still unsigned and other prospects pop up all the time. Remember, the Phillies' top pitching prospect is a kid named Sixto Sanchez. He caught the eye of Phillies scouts three years ago while throwing batting practice to a catcher that the Phillies were watching (see story).

"Our international department with Sal Agostinelli and those guys, they're weapons for us," Minniti said. "So for us to have the ability to give them more money to spend is a positive. They're seeing workouts every day all over the world. It's good to have the reserves to continue to spend."

The Phillies have two open spots on their 40-man roster. Those will soon be filled by relievers Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter.

The Phillies have apparently decided on a first base coach, which would fill the final opening on manager Gabe Kapler's staff. Sources say the hire will come from outside the organization, but no announcement has been made yet.

Phillies make a pick and a trade in Rule 5 draft

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USA Today Images

Phillies make a pick and a trade in Rule 5 draft

The Phillies were active in Thursday's Rule 5 draft. With the third pick, they selected right-hander Nick Burdi from the Minnesota Twins and spun him to the Pittsburgh Pirates in a trade that netted them $500,000 in international signing bonus money.

That $500,000 goes into the Phillies' current pool and must be spent by June 15. 

The Phillies also lost 22-year-old outfield prospect Carlos Tocci to the Chicago White Sox, who in turn traded him to the Texas Rangers. Tocci must stay in the majors for all of 2018 or be offered back to the Phillies.

More coming ...