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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Jake Arrieta delights crowd, breaks bats

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Jake Arrieta delights crowd, breaks bats

CLEARWATER, Fla. – Spectrum Field was sold out, filled with fans clad in green and smeared with sunblock for a game against the Atlanta Braves on a festive St. Paddy’s Day.
But the main event Saturday took place several hundred yards away at the minor-league complex, two hours before the big-league game even began.
Five days after signing a three-year, $75 million contract with the Phillies, Jake Arrieta climbed atop a mound and threw a 31-pitch (two-inning) simulated game. Scott Kingery, Jorge Alfaro, Logan Moore and Andrew Pullin were the hitters. Andrew Knapp was the catcher. Players, coaches, minor-league instructors and manager Gabe Kapler all peeked in. Dozens of fans hugged the chain-link fence to get a look at the newest Phillie. They applauded when Arrieta took the mound and again when he finished.
“It was great,” the 32-year-old pitcher said moments after the workout ended. “There’s a lot of people out here. A lot of people are excited for the Phillies in 2018. We’ve got a lot of good things going on here. A lot of guys are healthy and competing, there’s a lot of youth. It’s a really fun time to be in this organization.”
Arrieta said he felt “really good physically,” not a surprise because he came into camp in terrific shape and had gotten to over 60 pitches in bullpen sessions back home in Austin, Texas. He threw all his pitches, including a couple of knee-buckling curveballs. He broke two of Alfaro’s bats, one with a sinker, one with a cutter.
“My goal was to throw everything in the arsenal for strikes and throw my off-speed pitches in and out of the zone where I could get some chases,” Arrieta said.
Arrieta did allow some contact, mostly ground balls.
Arrieta won the 2015 NL Cy Young Award with the Cubs. He won 22 games and had a 1.77 ERA that season.
A deceptive delivery is one of Arrieta’s strengths. He throws across his body and that crossfire action makes it difficult for a hitter to pick up the ball.
“It’s extremely deceptive,” Kingery said. “Every pitch is extremely deceptive. That’s what hit me. His curveball looks like it’s coming at your head then it drops.”
Arrieta is still hoping to be ready for the first week of the regular season, but the Phillies have not formulated a firm game plan. One thing is certain: They won’t rush him. They want him for the long haul. They could hold him back 10 days or so, allowing him to build more arm strength, and he’d still make 30 starts.
Arrieta expects to throw a bullpen session in the next day or two and try to get up around 60 pitches in his next outing. That could be in a minor-league game or in another simulated game.
“As long as we continue to get my pitch count up, I think I’ll be fine going into the season,” he said.

Alex Cobb? Matt Klentak discusses replacing Jerad Eickhoff

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Alex Cobb? Matt Klentak discusses replacing Jerad Eickhoff

CLEARWATER, Fla. — The Phillies signed free-agent right-hander Jake Arrieta earlier this week.

That's probably going to be the extent of their pitching additions for now.

Jerad Eickhoff is out until at least May with a strained right lat muscle and that creates a sizable hole in the Phillies rotation.

The hole is likely to be filled internally, according to general manager Matt Klentak. The team is not likely to make a run at Alex Cobb, who remains on the free-agent market.

"I doubt it," Klentak said when asked if he would look outside the organization to fill Eickhoff's spot. "I don't think we have to. I think a lot of our guys have shown very well in camp. They have gotten their pitch counts up, they're getting to the point of being fully stretched out.

"More than anything, I think we're going to have some tough decisions on figuring out who is in the rotation, who is in the bullpen, who goes into the Triple-A rotation, who goes into the Double-A rotation. We've got a lot of tough decisions to make on that front, but I don't think we're in a position where we have to go outside. We have a lot of candidates to take the ball at the big league level so we'll be fine."

Aaron Nola will start on opening day. Arrieta will be in the rotation, though he might need an extra week or so to get ready. Vince Velasquez and Nick Pivetta are likely to hold down spots. That leaves Zach Eflin, Ben Lively, Mark Leiter Jr., Jake Thompson, Drew Hutchison and Tom Eshelman in the running for the final spot in the five-man rotation. Eshelman, strike-thrower extraordinaire, was the Phillies' minor-league pitcher of the year last year and projects to be in Philadelphia before long. However, it might not be at the outset of the season because he is not on the 40-man roster. Neither is Hutchison.

The Phillies do not need a fifth starter until April 11 so they could employ some creative roster construction until then. They could go with four starters and an extra reliever or bench man. Or they could bring an extra starter and "piggyback" him with Arrieta, a move that would allow Arrieta to make an abbreviated start during the first week of the season.

"There's a decent chance we open the season with somewhat of a non-traditional 25-man roster, not because we're trying to be cute but because we don't need the fifth starter until the 11th," Klentak said. "We're going to do whatever puts us in the best position to win those first 10 days of the season."

The Phillies made one transaction on Friday. They added utility man Pedro Florimon to the 40-man roster. He had a provision in his minor-league contract that allowed him to become a free agent if he wasn't on the 40-man roster by March 15. Florimon is a candidate for a spot on the Phillies' bench. The move doesn't guarantee that Florimon will win a spot, but it gives the team more time to evaluate him. To make room for Florimon, the Phillies designated infielder Eliezer Alvarez for assignment.

Florimon homered in the Phillies' 6-4 loss to Toronto in Clearwater Friday. Cam Rupp and Cesar Hernandez also homered. Velasquez gave up five hits and a run in 2⅔ innings. He struck out five.

In Lakeland, Pivetta allowed two runs over five innings as the Phils and Tigers played to a 6-6 tie. J.P. Crawford and Ryan Flaherty both homered.