Leaked documents shed light on Houston Astros' trade tactics

Jeff Passan
Yahoo Sports
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Baltimore Orioles pitcher Bud Norris delivers against the New York Yankees in the first inning of a baseball game, Saturday, June 21, 2014, in New York. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

Dozens of trade offers from the Houston Astros were leaked to an anonymous sharing website Saturday, providing insight into how the rebuilding team operated near last season’s trade deadline as well as this offseason. Multiple executives whose names were included in the trade talks confirmed the authenticity of the documents to Yahoo Sports.

The two sets of documents, posted to Anonbin and first reported Monday by Deadspin, purportedly come from the team’s Ground Control database, a proprietary system central to the Astros’ baseball-operations department. One centers on proposals for pitcher Bud Norris, whom the Astros eventually traded to the Orioles, and the other on a hodgepodge of potential trades between October 2013 and March 2014.

Most of the notes are two- or three-sentence updates written in shorthand – usually with executives’ names shortened to initials. The two most common are JL and DS – Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow and assistant GM David Stearns – and they go through a dizzying array of talks with 22 teams, including all four of their American League West foes: Los Angeles, Oakland, Seattle and Texas.

The Marlins offered Giancarlo Stanton to the Astros as part of an interesting deal. (Getty Images)
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The Marlins offered Giancarlo Stanton to the Astros as part of an interesting deal. (Getty Images)

The most fascinating discussion came in an entry dated Nov. 15, 2013, in which Luhnow expressed interest in slugger Giancarlo Stanton to Miami GM Dan Jennings, who came back with an offer: Stanton for top prospects Carlos Correa and George Springer. Luhnow declined and pivoted to a deal with pitcher Jarred Cosart and prospect Delino DeShields Jr.

Shooting high, as Jennings did, was a specialty of the Astros in their talks leading up to the July 31, 2013, trade deadline, when they peddled Norris to a number of teams, including Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Toronto, Detroit, Boston and Baltimore. With so many suitors, the Astros held firm on their demands for Norris through the final emails, dated July 29, 2013, asking for multiple top prospects.

Among the named targets: Boston third baseman Xander Bogaerts or center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr., Pittsburgh outfielder Gregory Polanco, Baltimore pitchers Kevin Gausman or Dylan Bundy, Toronto pitching prospect Aaron Sanchez, and San Francisco pitching prospect Kyle Crick and others. Rebuffed, the Astros settled for pitching prospect Josh Hader, who has dominated the High-A California League this season, and outfielder L.J. Hoes.

Other bits and pieces shared by baseball’s Edward Snowden include:

The Yankees in late March offering to eat $4.5 million of outfielder Ichiro Suzuki’s $6.5 million salary.

Talks for catcher Jason Castro, who turned down a contract extension from the team in the offseason and interested the Angels, Mariners, White Sox and Rangers.

The idea of “untouchables” – players who, at least in these discussions, were non-starters. They included Jose Abreu, Chris Sale, Jose Quintana and Avisail Garcia from the White Sox and Brett Lawrie from the Blue Jays.

For all the offers that seem lopsided, perhaps the worst took place July 26, when Luhnow spoke with Nationals GM Mike Rizzo about right-hander Lucas Harrell. Three weeks earlier, the Astros, who would lose 111 games, bumped Harrell from their rotation. One day prior, he allowed three runs in three innings to lift his ERA to 5.17. Luhnow, according to the documents, said “we would still need a headline like Giolito because we still value Harrell highly.”

Giolito is Lucas Giolito, a first-round pick in 2012 whose fastball sits around 100 mph and whose breaking ball may be the best in the minor leagues. His post-draft Tommy John surgery did little to diminish him in scouts’ eyes, though, as with many of the Astros’ proposals, there was no harm in asking. As for Rizzo’s reply ... well, it’s best to let Ground Control’s own words tell that story. “Rizzo did not respond immediately.”

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