First Pitch: What We Learned About Trade Rumors Today

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.

7/21/2013

PIT said the wouldn’t trade Taillion or Polanco. Might consider one of Glasnow, Heredia, or Hanson for Norris.

7/24/2013

PIT asked for second names to go along with Glasnow, Heredia, Hanson for Norris

7/25/2013

[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.

7/28/2013

[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.

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.

Links and Notes

**The Pirates Are Creeping Back into the Playoff Race

**Prospect Watch: Austin Meadows Returns, Control Issues Pop Up For Tyler Glasnow

**Possible July 2nd Targets For Pittsburgh Pirates

**Pirates Offered Luis Heredia and a Comp Pick For Bud Norris

**Top 10 Pitchers: Tyler Glasnow and Nick Kingham Continue to Dominate

**Top 10 Hitters: A First Baseman Starting to Show His Power

**Minor League Schedule: Luis Heredia Takes on Tough Hickory Team Tuesday Night

Tim Williams

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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  • John Lease

    What did we learn? Not much. The Astros asked not only the Pirates, but other teams, for way more than he was worth. Kind of shows that at least Neil doesn’t make trades as bad as the Bay trade anymore. I guess that’s positive. Was still willing to give up a lot though for Bud Norris. That’s not encouraging, either.

    • bucsws2014

      I think Andrew Lambo owes whatever slim hope he has of catching on with the Pirates to Brandon Moss. I’m sure it stings to have been proven right about the player, but wrong about the timeframe. That Moss has succeeded, albeit with the A’s and not Bucs, both vindicates and incriminates Neal concurrently.

    • Dave

      The Bay trade shows that even top prospects can fail.

      • John Lease

        Andy LaRoche was a failed prospect, not a top one. Moss clearly was one, but took some more time to get it going. At least Hansen had a hot wife, but having one season with an ERA under 6 in the majors isn’t top shelf prospect like. I suppose Morris could someday turn into something better than what he’s shown so far, but the Pirates clearly didn’t think so.

    • mysonisnamedafterRoberto

      The Bay trade was bad because the system was bad. Moss got caught up in bad managers and development people. Bay only had one season after that, inflated by the Green Monster in Boston. Moss’ potential is being recognized now with Oakland. Not to say that would have happened in Pittsburgh, but let see a left handed bat at first base. Looking at that anything else out of that trade is a plus. Which basically boils down the compensation pick this past year, which was Trey Supak, I think. The real value of trades is the ability of teams to develop and use as value for major league productivity or future trade value. Which is what they did with Morris, the throw in prospect of the trade. When you look at the trade and the future WAR the Pirates made the right trade. They just didn’t have the support system in place to take advantage of most of that trade.

      • John Lease

        The only way they made the right trade was if you live in a fantasy. And the horrible manager was hired by the GM, not exactly a ringing endorsement either. John Russell was the worst manager probably since the 1950s in Pirates history.

        • szielinski

          Tracy was far worse than Russell.

          • John Lease

            I think we can all agree that they were both bad. At least Jim Tracy cared about the game. Russell never showed any evidence on that, and didn’t understand the infield fly rule.

        • mysonisnamedafterRoberto

          That was the point only if the right system was in place was it the right trade. Oakland had the right people in place to get Moss to his potential. It was the right player to trade at the right time. Bay was on the decline. His performance was not sustainable and that was notable by his 2007 results. The writing was on the wall with him. They had to trade him at that point to get some value out of him. I was actually surprise that got that much for him. Personally I think Moss was the right prospect. Unfortunately the people in the Pirates system weren’t.

          The trade is horrible, but not because of the GMs decision to make the trade. Yes, it happened on his watch so he owns it. But there is so much the falls into the grey when you have turnover in the GM role. Just like Huntington never get credit for any of McCutchen’s success. Even though he blossomed into an all-star under his watch.
          You are right Russell was an absolute horrible hire. This was the same coach two years prior that was waving home every runner from third base for McClendon. He was fired then and way they brought him back, making you wonder how much of that decision to hire him was from Huntington or someone else in the system.

  • emjayinTN

    Any ML team that does not ask for the moon for a top prospect or top pitcher is a team looking for a new President and GM. This management team came in, cleaned house, and then wrote down the plan for the future. They have followed that plan closely, only trading excellent prospects who were not part of the future of the team for players we needed at the time (Byrd, Morneau, Ike Davis). The Pirates now have the best OF in Baseball, one of the best pitching staffs in baseball, and a very strong infield. The team is set for the future based on excellent drafts both amateur and International, strong development, and then continuing to follow the plan.

    Grilli is gone and has been replaced,Wandy is gone, and I fully expect Francisco Liriano to be traded between now and Aug. I really do not have any idea what they will do with Russell Martin, but this team just looks much better with him behind the plate. With the outlook that the SP rotation will get much younger in 2015, I would definitely try to sign him for two more years. Our line of pitchers capable of pitching in the majors has gotten much longer this year with guys like Cumpton, Locke, Worley, and Pimental already pitching in the majors, and Nick Kingham looking better with every outing. The Pirates are in excellent shape right now and can only get better as they mature.

    • EWS34

      I don’t think Martin will sign for 2 years, unless you over pay him. He will look for more than the 3 year 27m contract he signed with the Pirates. My guess is that it will take a minimum of 3 years/36m, and maybe 4 years, at 40m-48m. I think the Pirates will be able to afford the contract. More money coming off the books this year.

    • smurph

      I think you are right EWS. I definitely agree the Pirates should try to get Martin, even if it is for 3 years. Their payroll is still not that high, and with Liriano and Wandy off the books next year, why not go for a key position player.

  • Nuke Laloosh

    Dilson Herrera was the one prospect the Pirates lost in their trades last year that was a bit of a downer. Where would he project to have been rated in the Pirate prospect rankings Tim?

    • mysonisnamedafterRoberto

      You figure 11-20, probably. It may change seeing I think he got promoted to AA about a week ago. If he hits there, that may change some. The top Ten for Pittsburgh have such high ceilings, it would be tough for him to crack that.

      • Lee Young

        I saw one Met list that has him at #5.

        He is a 2nd baseman with limited range and below average power.

        • Mr. Goodkat

          Limited range? He’s not an every day SS, but I never recall his range being an issue at 2B. Definitely not a power hitter, but again — considering the position — the bat certainly plays.
          I wouldn’t be shocked if he’s a top 5 prospect for the Mets moving forward. I think he would have sat in the 12-15 range in our system to start the year, and would probably be top 10 right now if he were posting the same numbers he is in the Mets org this season.
          All that said, I still support the Byrd trade. Last year was a special year, and if they had made the WS, that would have been a small, small price to pay.

  • mysonisnamedafterRoberto

    wait for the rumors to start…..they already have. I think some rumors have some merit behind them. Similar to the tweets and reports around the activity with the Astros last year. What you also see is the scenarios that are good stories. They have probably no merit to any conversations or activities between teams. There are already articles of the possibilities of Burnett coming back to Pittsburgh. That is a perfect example of this.
    -The man that said he would only play in the town he has come to love, even though he was slighted at the end of the year for the younger replacement.
    -The tension built in the off season as no one hear from the player or the team about his intentions.
    -It seemed he is retiring.
    -The player, then, signs across the state.
    -As the year starts he isn’t having the success as he found in the town he came to love.
    -The team he is on isn’t in contention and will probably be sellers at the trade deadline.
    -The team he left is in need of starting pitching.

    Bam!!! Story.

  • freddylang

    Hoes Train…that’s good stuff! You deserve the Pulitzer for that.

  • leadoff

    I dislike trade rumors, I think it puts clubs in bad bargaining positions and if you want your team to do the best they can putting them in bad bargaining positions is a bad thing. I believe it is affecting the Polanco contract negotiations. There is a MLB gag rule with GM’s about discussing possible trades, how do these things happen?

  • wkkortas

    I think what this really tells us about trade negotiations is how much old-school horse trading goes in during the process, even with analytically and statistically oriented guys like Luhnow and NH.

  • indybucfan

    I think Burnett got some sort of no trade protection. I would rather not see him back in pittsburgh for what it’s worth! That ship has sailed.

  • Monsoon Harvard

    I’m hoping the Pirates make use of the entire 30 days of rehab that Francisco Liriano is allowed and let him showcase his stuff. I assume scouts will be in attendance for his rehab starts. Maybe they can move him before they have to activate him so as to not interrupt the flow of the starting rotation.

    Heh heh… ‘Hoes Train’…Now I’ve got The Godfather’s entrance music stuck in my head (Good old days of the WWF).

  • impliedi

    1. “Huntington is just sitting on his hands, not doing anything”

    We all know that real reason, don’t we?? Nutting is too cheap to pay for unlimited minutes, so Neal can only make a few calls during the month of the trading deadline before hitting those unseen overages!

    This whole topic has been interesting reading. We also have to remember, as Tim has pointed out, that these leaks are just one side’s viewpoint on something that has multiple viewpoints. I think it would be quite fascinating to see how all of the other parts move as well (opposing teams, agents, media, etc.) in relation to these types of talks. You have to wonder how many “leaks” are intentional ones from other teams trying to drive up trade returns or drive away other teams during the trading period (just like free agency, where agents are “leaking” interest to drive up prices and other teams are “leaking” interest stories in one player to drive teams away from another.)

    How does a GM keep fact and fiction clear? I wonder if they employ people who’s sole job is to figure out how true or false other teams interest is in players.

    I think too often we like to play armchair GM, without the full understanding of how muddy those waters truly are:
    1. knowing every single player in every single organization and placing a value on them (I know you get reports from your people, but you still have to know your stuff)
    2. separating truth from fiction in media reports and what other GMs are telling you
    3. dealing with media and fans, amid both honest and false reports, and saying all the right things about every player acquisition, departure and draft (wouldn’t it have been easier for NH to say “Yep, Grilli stinks now. It was time to say goodbye and we were shocked anybody would give us anything for him”
    4. large egos in the clubhouse (both players and managers)
    5. fending off agents who’s sole purpose is to separate you from your owner’s money and tell you things like “well, Atlanta’s got a ton of interest in my client, and wants us to accept their offer unless you give us more than ….” (which may or may not be true).

    I applaud these guys.

  • st1300b

    Good article Tim. The one thing however that stands out to me, and this is a peeve, is regardless of ask – why are we looking at average players for upgrades? As you mentioned, those types are available and not worth prospects. If you want to offer Heredia and a comp pick, then add another player of significance (ie Hanson, Sanchez, perhaps a Kingham – leave Glasnow alone) and reach for a Price/Samarja type. Add in a Harold Ramirez or whatever.
    I don’t like the mind of trading potentially good/great for known average. That is a lose/lose IMO.
    The Byrd trade was fine, Herrera (good) for Byrd (short term good). Ok
    The FO must use their resources wisely and offering that kind of payment for Norris is an overpay the club can NOT afford to make.

    • Mr. Goodkat

      Agree whole heartedly. Guys like Norris have value only because they have years of control. These are the type of free agents the Pirates can/should be in on during the offseason to fill out the roster — not while they are still under contract.

      If you have a hole midseason due to poor planning, a lost gamble, or an injury fill it with a cheap(er) rental, and then address the position in the offseason. OR make a blockbuster for a great player with a few years left on his deal.

  • JCora

    Great read Tim. This really gives insight and a different prospective on what occurs or could be occurring at the deadline, and some of the tactics that are used for leaking the info. BTW, the “Hoes Train” comment was brilliant, I was LMAO.

  • Monsoon Harvard

    I read somewhere the other day that the Pirates have scouts watching the Phillies. It got me wondering who they have in mind here. While my heart says Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, & Cliff Lee, my head says some washed up journeyman reliever. I know my heart is never right when it comes to Pirate trades.

    • leowalter

      A washed up 1st baseman, a 35 yr old SS and an injured pitcher ?

      • Monsoon Harvard

        That washed up first baseman has more homers and RBI than anyone on the Pirates.

        • leowalter

          The next breaking ball Howard hits will be his first. If you were talking Utley,Hamels and/or Pap,you would make a lot more sense.

        • McCutchenistheTruth

          And a 94 wRC+ and 0.1 fWAR. Why would we want to trade prospects for a guy making that much that is essentially replacement level?

  • szielinski

    The Pirates need to build their teams mostly through player development. Trades for Price or Smarscrabble are rarely effective in the short run and are mostly destructive in the long run. If the Pirates could resign these rentals… But they can’t.