Is the Houston Astros Leak a Trust Issue?
Baseball fans caught a rare glimpse into the behind-the-scenes world of front office trade talks after the Houston Astros leak. The Astros saw months of confidential communications leaked online, including inquiries from this past off-season and the week leading up to the trade deadline last season. Houston acknowledged the incident, though this sort of mess could have easily happened to each and every one of the other MLB teams. While some question who was responsible and how it happened, an equally important question is how it didn’t happen earlier.
Every single MLB organization, including the Astros, uses some form of electronic database applications to keep player reports and other information. Ironically, I highlighted the Astros in my first article for ROTOscouting, noting dedicated baseball operations staff for data storage and analysis. Based on their baseball operations personnel, one can infer “Ground Control”, the Astros’ internal system, was proprietary (which GM Jeff Luhnow previously confirmed). We don’t know the full scope of data held in Ground Control, though the scope is not terribly important. Imagine your dream dashboard for stats, analysis, video, etc. Most systems cover those requests and more.
Proprietary or not, teams approach security two ways. The first is a username and password not unlike any other account-based website on the Internet. The second is creating these applications within an organizational intranet, calling for specific IP addresses to allow access. Those with access include all the people you expect (i.e. GMs, Assistant GMs, various VPs, directors, etc.), professional and amateur scouts, maybe a few owners and team presidents, and, last but not least, interns.
Information is power. Gaining access to the good kind of information, the kind everyone else wants, is rightfully challenging. Growing up in Seattle, I remember watching the early trade deadline edition of Baseball Tonight in July 1997. I cringed my way through the announcement of one of the final trades of the day: the Mariners sent prized prospect Jose Cruz, Jr. to the Blue Jays for Mike Timlin and Paul Spoljaric. I recall thinking about a hypothetical closed door meeting with baseball high-ups discussing the pros and cons of a trade before finally pulling the trigger, and dreamed of being in those conversations. 12 years later, I had my first taste of what those meetings were actually like.
Within my first month in baseball operations, I was entering reports for veteran scouts and collecting data for our analysts. Later on, I compiled files for trade targets used by the GM and his assistants. When my friends inquired what the team was up to, I was tight-lipped. Granted, some of the information was soon available on MLBTradeRumors.com. For an intern though, loose lips is the kiss of death, ensuring your career is over before it started.
It’s difficult to speculate who’s responsible for the Houston Astros leak and, quite frankly, it would be irresponsible of anyone to suggest they know besides the Astros, Major League Baseball, and the FBI. However, as government organizations and Fortune 500 companies are routine targets of crippling cyber attacks, hacking a MLB scouting system and posting trade discussions might seem like small potatoes. But keep in mind five MLB teams are valued over $1 billion dollars. As innocuous as it might seem, nothing is “small potatoes” about this kind of breach. It’s possible the perpetrator is a disenfranchised fan with an axe to grind, breaking into the system to prove a point. More likely, the responsible party is an insider.
Teams put an immense amount of trust in their people, top to bottom. Given the nature of their access, it would not be a stretch to envision any type of employee in a baseball operations department could be responsible for a situation similar to the Houston Astros leak. Think about how many times a new General Manager was hired and cleaned house, potentially firing strong, loyal employees because they were part of the old regime. But not even General Managers are immune.
When Bill Bavasi was hired by the Mariners, he remarked that a General Manager is guaranteed two press conferences: “When you’re hired and when you’re fired.” Though baseball operations employees come to expect turnover, it’s never an easy process. Most accept the realities of the business, but not all take it so kindly. In the case of a data leak, there could be any number of reasons for why, from being disgruntled to being selfish. The real question is why a leak like this took so long to occur.
Fallout from the Houston Astros Leak
It’s more than likely the Astros have connected with other teams to discuss the leak. Perhaps the biggest inconvenience of the leak is Marlins General Manager Dan Jennings receiving calls from 28 other General Managers (excluding the Astros) inquiring if Giancarlo Stanton might actually be available. But is there anything to learn from this situation?
Every team has a scouting application and every team empowers its baseball operations department with the access and tools required to add value. In theory, the Houston Astros aren’t any more or less vulnerable to a cyber attack than any other organization. However, for all intents and purposes, the only thing keeping a leak from happening is trust. I was fortunate to work under directors whom taught and supported me and fostered a positive culture, though not everyone is so lucky. Trust alone is not enough of a deterrent to keep someone from doing serious damage. I’m surprised something along these lines didn’t happen before now.
If an insider was responsible for posting the Astros trade discussions, he or she didn’t fully grasp the consequences of their actions beyond upsetting a (potentially former) employer. Many businesses require confidentiality agreements from employees, if anything to communicate the ramifications for the unlawful release of information. As a result, the Houston Astros leak provides each MLB team an opportunity to revisit security practices and legally defend itself against itself, disgruntled or otherwise, to ensure future potential leaks won’t happen.
3 Jul 2014 / Ben Flajole / 1
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