After three disastrous seasons, the Astros are finally showing signs of progress on the field, but there are still problems in Houston. The latest one appears to be unprecedented in the annals of Major League Baseball: The exposure of a team’s internal trade discussions by hackers. Pulled from the Astros’ proprietary Ground Control database — which was discussed in last week's Sports Illustrated cover story — leaked notes on discussions pertaining to the 2013 trade deadline and the offseason have been posted to Anonbin and summarized at Deadspin. The notes purport to detail offers, counteroffers and other discussions between several other teams and general manager Jeff Luhnow and his deputies.
It’s unclear how this could happen, or how much stock to put into the individual trade proposals. Late Monday afternoon, the team released a statement saying that the information was obtained illegally via an outside source, and that at least some of it was fiction:
"Last month, we were made aware that proprietary information held on Astros' servers and in Astros' applications had been illegally obtained. Upon learning of the security breach, we immediately notified MLB security who, in turn, notified the FBI. Since that time, we have been working closely with MLB security and the FBI to the determine the party, or parties, responsible. This information was illegally obtained and published, and we intend to prosecute those involved to the fullest extent.
"It is unfortunate and extremely disappointing that an outside source has illegally obtained confidential information. While it does appear that some of the content released was based on trade conversations, a portion of the material was embellished or completely fabricated."
Even before that statement went out, none of the trade proposals — from the seemingly outlandish to the more plausible — could be considered as damning as the fact that the documents have seen the light of day at all. No matter how bold Houston's experiment may be in its attempt to marry scouting observations with statistical data, the breach of security is a huge black eye for the organization.
That said, the documents are compelling for the window they offer into the process of talking trades. Taken at face value, it's easy to laugh at some of the individual demands, which resemble the kind of pipe dream proposals familiar to just about any fantasy baseball owner. Bud Norris for an Orioles package built around Dylan Bundy or Kevin Gausman, or one with Boston's Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley, Garin Cecchini or Allen Webster? Even if they were actually proposed at some point in the recent past, deals along those lines were never going to happen, though without similar data dumps from some of the other 29 teams, it's difficult to gauge just how far off the reservation such requests were.
Here are a few highlights from the various exchanges:
• The Marlins asked for a package involving George Springer and Carlos Correa in exchange for Giancarlo Stanton
By far the sexiest trade proposal discussed within the leaked documents is one from last November that would have centered around two players with light-tower power, one an established veteran about to get much more expensive, the other who had yet to make his major league debut but who is actually two months older. According to the notes, Luhnow is said to have expressed interest in Stanton, only to be told by Miami GM Dan Jennings that "the only deal he could think of" that would work would involve Springer, who debuted this season and has bashed 15 homers since being called up, and Correa, the overall number one pick of the 2012 draft who tore up the High A California League before suffering a season-ending leg injury. Luhnow countered with a deal centered on pitcher Jared Cosart, who's now amid a solid season at the major league level, and outfielder Delino DeShields Jr., who has since scuffled in his first taste of Double A.
• The Blue Jays considered trading Marcus Stroman in a Norris deal
On July 19, Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos texted Luhnow about Norris, telling him that pitching prospect Aaron Sanchez wasn't an option but that he was "willing to talk about anyone else." The next day, Lunhow expressed an interest in Stroman, then in the midst of a strong showing at Double A, and nine days later, Anthopoulos asked what a package centered on Stroman would look like. Luhnow countered by asking for Stroman and outfielder Anthony Gose, whom Houston had acquired from the Phillies in the Roy Oswalt deal back in 2010 but then flipped to Toronto for Brett Wallace the same day. Norris was eventually traded to Baltimore for L.J. Hoes, Josh Hader and a competitive balance draft pick, a package that looks less impressive than what Houston received, given that Stroman is now in the Jays’ rotation and Hoes has shuttled between Triple A and the majors.
• As of last November, the Dodgers viewed Carl Crawford as the odd man out in their overcrowded outfield
On Nov. 5, Astros assistant GM David Stearns talked with a Dodgers executive who, among other things, was willing to discuss the oft-injured Crawford, who hit .283/.329/.407 in 116 games for Los Angeles in 2013. Unrecorded in the notes is any talk of the considerable amount of money that would have had to change hands for a deal to work, given that Crawford still had four years remaining on a seven-year, $142 million contract he signed with the Red Sox in December 2010. Conceptually, the idea made some sense, in that Crawford is a Houston native who could possibly resuscitate his value in more comfortable surroundings, but no follow-up response was included among the notes.
• The Yankees tried to unload Ichiro Suzuki on the Astros back in March
Between last summer's acquisition of Alfonso Soriano and the signing of free agents Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, the Yankees entered the spring with more outfielders than lineup spots, particularly given manager Joe Girardi's desire to rotate several players through the DH slot to keep his aging veterans fresh. As such, New York assistant GM Billy Eppler reached out to Stearns and told him the Yankees would be willing tonot just trade Suzuki, who did not figure to see much playing time in pinstripes at 40 years old and was coming off a dismal .262/.297/.342 showing in 2013, but also to eat all but $2 million of his $6.5 million salary. Again, no follow-up response was included among the notes.
• Jason Castro was a hot commodity over the winter
Castro, the 10th pick of the 2008 draft, broke out in 2013, earning All-Star honors while hitting .276/.350/.485. Arbitration eligible at the end of the year, the 27-year-old figured to be a player the Astros would field offers for because they have highly-regarded 23-year-old Max Stassi — acquired from Oakland in the Jed Lowrie trade — waiting in the wings. The White Sox and Mariners were both interested, with Chicago GM Rick Hahn asking if either Hector Santiago or the Angels’ Peter Bourjos — both of whom would soon be on the move — interested Houston, and the latter offering Dustin Ackley. Castro is still an Astro; he agreed to a $2.45 million salary in January but has hit just .218/.297/.363 this year.
• The Astros missed the boat on getting anything of value for Lucas Harrell
Harrell was a pleasant surprise for Houston in 2012, when he put up a 3.76 ERA in 193 2/3 innings, but he had already been pulled from Houston's rotation with an ERA above 5.00 by the time Washington GM Mike Rizzo checked in on him last July 26. Luhnow told Rizzo that the Astros still valued Harrell highly and suggested that the team "would still need a headliner like [Lucas] Giolito in return," referring to the 16th overall pick of the 2012 draft. One of the great deadpan notes of the documents is the follow-up sentence: "Rizzo did not respond immediately." But it’s difficult to believe that Luhnow would be so brazen.
In any event, Harrell made just three more starts the rest of the season, finishing with a 5.86 ERA amid soaring walk and home run rates. In November, Luhnow talked to San Francisco and Colorado about Harrell. The GM allegedly told the Giants that he had Harrell -- who was out of minor league options -- penciled in for a rotation spot, and suggested to the Rockies that Harrell could be the centerpiece of a deal for Dexter Fowler. Houston eventually did get Fowler later that offseason, though it took parting with pitcher Jordan Lyles to get the deal done. In February, Luhnow offered Harrell to the Mets in a possible trade for Ike Davis, to no avail. Harrell broke camp in the Astros' rotation but was tagged for a 9.59 ERA in three starts, after which he was designated for assignment, outrighted off the 40-man roster and eventually traded to the Diamondbacks for a player to be named later or cash considerations.