MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

With ruling in, Cards and Astros can now move on

With ruling in, Cards and Astros can now move on

This was about one rogue employee of the St. Louis Cardinals. If their fans are looking for a silver lining, this is it. That's the most important thing Commissioner Rob Manfred revealed on Monday in closing the Astros-Cardinals hacking case.

Yes, Manfred held the Cardinals accountable for that one employee (scouting director Chris Correa) and punished them thusly:

1. The Cards are to pay the Astros $2 million, the maximum a team can be fined under the "best interests of baseball" clause.

2. Houston will receive St. Louis' top two picks -- 56th and 75th overall -- in the 2017 Draft this June.

2017 Draft order

Some points to make:

First, the $2 million fine is significantly higher than the one levied by the Federal Government in the criminal case against Correa ($279,038.65 in addition to a 46-month prison sentence).

Cardinals disciplined by MLB

Second, the awarding of two Draft picks from one club to another is the most severe penalty of its kind ever imposed on an organization. Manfred saw those picks as the best way to address the competitive harm done to the Astros by the hack.

For the Cardinals, the best part of this whole thing is that the case -- and the speculation about it -- is over. Even as they insisted for months that the hacking of the Astros' database was done by one person, they needed validation and closure.

Mozeliak on breach ruling

All that's left is for time to heal whatever damage was done to their reputation. That will happen, especially given that the franchise has plenty of equity in this area.

The Cards pride themselves on doing things a certain way, both on the field and off. They even have a name for it: The Cardinal Way.

To have an employee caught going through another team's information is humiliating. Did the Cardinals need to steal from another club? That theory surely has caused general manager John Mozeliak a few sleepless nights.

No one in baseball does his job better than Mozeliak, who prides himself on his ethics and his honesty. Probably no one has been more embarrassed by this episode.

Mozeliak on yielding Draft picks

At least now the cloud that hung over the franchise during the investigation has been lifted. Life goes on.

Now, about the Astros. How could they be compensated for the unprecedented exposure they suffered? Beyond that, how did the leaking of their trade discussions with other teams hurt their ability to make deals? Could a punishment ever fit the crime?

Let's be clear. The Astros were hurt in real, substantive ways. Sure, it was embarrassing to have those discussions leaked, but the larger damage was done in terms of their relationships with other clubs.

When teams talk to one another, the understanding is that those discussions are largely confidential. If the leaks made even one GM skittish about dealing with the Astros, there is potential for serious damage.

And that may have been the motive behind the incident. Maybe it wasn't about stealing information as much as it was about embarrassing a former Cardinals employee (Astros GM Jeff Luhnow).

The Astros got what they wanted from this investigation: vindication. Because Luhnow and some of his staff had worked for the Cards, there was a swirl of speculation that the investigation might find he had acted inappropriately in taking proprietary information with him from St. Louis to Houston.

But no such evidence turned up. Luhnow and members of his staff were victims, nothing more.

Manfred may never have a tougher decision than this one, because it pitted one club against another, and few precedents exist for walking this kind of tightrope.

If the punishment of the Cardinals had been too light, it would have sent a message that St. Louis, a "crown jewel" franchise, was above the law.

But if the Cards had been punished so severely that they couldn't compete for a couple of years, an entire sport would pay the price.

Major League Baseball's investigators interviewed dozens of witnesses, examined thousands of documents and did a forensic search of both teams' computer systems, and were convinced that the case began and ended with Correa.

The incident will set a precedent in terms of dealing with cyber crimes, and Manfred made clear that every team understands such acts will not be tolerated. Breaking and entering in the digital age is still breaking and entering, except with the potential to do much more damage.

In releasing statements on the matter, both teams reaffirmed confidence that Manfred's investigation had been thorough and that he had acted appropriately. Spring Training begins for both the Astros and Cardinals in two weeks.

Onward. Thankfully.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. You can follow him on Twitter @richardjustice. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.