We’re about to enter trade rumor season, which is always an exciting time if you’re a baseball fan. Each day you get to hear about what players might be available, what teams might be interested in them, and what prospects it might take to land those players. Very few rumors end up in deals. That’s not to say that there are no rumors that end up as deals. For example, last year the Pirates were connected to Marlon Byrd in late July, and traded for him in late August. But a recap of the July 31st rumors shows that there were a ton of rumored talks that went nowhere.
Today we got an inside look at the talks involving the Astros, Pirates, and Bud Norris from last year. The inside look comes in the form of leaked or hacked documents, which have been confirmed to be true, but which the Astros said were partially embellished. The latter part seems like it was probably said to give deniability to any of the teams that were included in the report.
This information gives us a different look at trade rumors. It shows us the truth behind the rumors, and possibly the intentions behind the rumors. I always post a trade rumor disclaimer at the start of each season, giving a reminder of what certain words actually mean. For example, you’ll hear that the Pirates have “shown interest” in a lot of players over the next month. In most cases, that probably constitutes a single call to express interest and see if the player is available.
The “shown interest” topic is a good place to start with the Norris example. There were rumors in mid-June saying the Pirates could pursue Norris, but the first interaction in the Astros database was on June 30th, with the Pirates simply reaching out an expressing interest. Based on how the reports were documented, it doesn’t appear that any names were discussed at this point, and it doesn’t appear that a trade was attempted. This is how most “expressed interest” situations go down. A team calls and either asks if a player is available, or says that they’re interested in said player.
The interest in the player is usually insignificant in the long run (RE: most of these rumors don’t amount to anything), but the significant thing here is that you get a feel for what the team is looking for. The Pirates showed interest in a lot of corner outfielders last year, and ended up trading for one by the end of the trade season. They didn’t trade for guys like Nate Schierholtz or David DeJesus, despite showing interest, but the rumors on those guys showed that they were looking hard for an outfielder.
Next up are the actual offers. Here are the discussions between the Pirates and the Astros, followed by the rumors that we heard.
PIT said the wouldn’t trade Taillion or Polanco. Might consider one of Glasnow, Heredia, or Hanson for Norris.
PIT asked for second names to go along with Glasnow, Heredia, Hanson for Norris
[Pirates GM Neil Hungtinton] said he would not include Polanco in any Norris deal. [Luhnow] asked for Glasnow + Heredia or Glasnow + Kingham and NH said no. NH said he was willing to add to Heredia. NH said he would also consider adding to Heredia with pick 73. JL said that Glasnow had to be the headliner and we were looking for.
[Neil Huntington] offered Heredia + comp pick for Norris. [Luhnow] said no.
There wasn’t much available on Norris and the Pirates prior to July 30th. The only public information was that the Pirates were connected to Norris. Then, on July 30th, this tweet came out.
Sources: Bud Norris very likely to be dealt today, and Pittsburgh could be landing spot. Package built around Tyler Glasnow makes sense.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) July 30, 2013
Looking at the July 25th update, it appears this tweet was in line with the Astros thinking. Glasnow made sense, but only for the Astros. The Pirates had no interest in that deal, and didn’t back off, as seen in the July 28th offer. Also on July 30th, we heard Polanco was off limits in a deal for Norris, which was another discussion on July 25th.
The next day, Passan tweeted that the Pirates had no plans to move Glasnow, which seems like it represented the Pirates’ side of things, based on the above talks. Again, the actual talks were almost a week old.
It’s not unexpected to see that there’s a delay between actual talks and the public reports. Teams probably aren’t rushing from the discussions to leak information to the media that very hour. Even some of the reports on July 31st that made it sound like talks were happening that day were rumors based on information that was a few days old. Of course it’s also possible that the database made available is incomplete, and there were talks that same day.
The thing we can take away from these talks is that they usually represent the agenda from one side. A rumor comes out saying Glasnow makes the most sense, which came five days after the Pirates turned down any talks with Glasnow. The Pirates aren’t going to change their mind because the public now knows that Glasnow has been discussed. But if you look at the timeline, the Astros were still trying to get a big return from the Blue Jays, Giants, and Red Sox for Norris, around the time the Glasnow rumor came out. The Pirates might not change their mind, but if another team thinks they’re competing with a Glasnow offer, then they might do something desperate. That didn’t happen for the Astros, but it’s not a bad approach, and it’s a method I’m sure a lot of teams use.
What Pirates fans learn from these types of rumors is what the asking price would be. At the time, Glasnow for Norris seemed crazy. And based on the demands from the Astros in the leaked talks, the actual demands were even worse.
This does bring to mind two of the biggest pet peeves I’ve got during trade deadline season. They’re both regular comments/reactions that you hear around this time of year.
1. “Huntington is just sitting on his hands, not doing anything”
We didn’t actually hear about anything specifically involving Norris until July 30th. Yet in the week leading up to that, Huntington had four conversations, including an actual offer. A lot goes on behind the scenes that we never hear about, until the Astros put all of their trade discussions on a hard drive that gets hacked. We’d probably hear about a ton of phone calls and offers that were never accepted if everyone else had the same problem as the Astros today.
This goes to the “it takes two to make a deal” phrase. If the Astros would have accepted the Heredia offer, then we would have heard that Bud Norris was a Pittsburgh Pirate on July 28th. Instead, we waited until July 30th for “Huntington to do something”. And the truth is that the serious talks started on the 21st, assuming there were no missing discussions before that.
2. “Why didn’t the Pirates get that deal?”
If you look at the Astros plan for Norris, they were asking for the moon from everyone, before eventually accepting a return that wasn’t very exciting. When you combine a ton of rumors from one team with a not-so-exciting trade return from another team, you’re bound to get fans from the first team wondering why their team didn’t make such a deal.
I don’t know how to compare the Astros return to what the Pirates could have offered. L.J. Hoes wasn’t a top prospect, and didn’t have prospect eligibility. I’d say that he looks like an Alex Presley, but I haven’t really followed his career as closely as I followed Presley. Also, Hoes is younger than Presley, giving him more value. Also, there’s the potential marketing of calling the train in Houston the “Hoes Train” for every time he hits a home run at home. That has to add some trade value.
Josh Hader was ranked the number 14 prospect in Houston’s system this year. The scouting report on him made him sound like Joely Rodriguez. Then the Astros got a competitive balance pick in the Comp A portion of the draft.
The Pirates were offering Heredia and a Comp B pick. I don’t know if Hader + Hoes + an upgrade on the draft pick equals Heredia, so I can’t say whether the Astros were wise to turn it down. But the Astros were asking for Tyler Glasnow and either Nick Kingham or Luis Heredia. There is a huge jump between what they got and the offers made to the Pirates. You could substitute “Pirates” with any other team mentioned.
I don’t know how the Astros eventually decided that they would come down in price for the Orioles and not for another team. And if the Pirates were turned down for Luis Heredia, who was still considered a top prospect, then I doubt they’re going to follow up by offering Joely Rodriguez (a lower ranked prospect) and Alex Presley in his place. That seems like a downgrade over an offer that was rejected.
Neither of these two points are meant to excuse the Pirates for not getting Norris. The Pirates need no excuses for not getting Norris. The fact that they didn’t give up anything of value for a pitcher with a career 4.07 xFIP should be celebrated. By comparison, Edinson Volquez has a career 4.18 xFIP, and a lot of Pirates fans were mad that he got $5 M. Can you imagine $5 M, plus Luis Heredia, plus a comp pick for the same type of pitcher?
Overall this is just an interesting look behind the scenes of a process that gets a ton of attention, without having a lot of clarity and understanding for what really goes on. It’s something to keep in mind this summer when you hear that the Pirates are interested in this player, or made an offer for that player. Trade rumors are fun and entertaining, but the reality is that we know very little that goes on behind the scenes. The stuff we do hear about is usually dated, and most likely is misleading to benefit one of the teams involved.
And now we wait for the Pirates rumors to start for 2014. Otherwise we’re left to assume that Neal Huntington is just sitting in his office, playing OOTP 15 until the moment we see an update on MLBTR.
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