The Orioles acquired Bud Norris from the Houston Astros at very nearly the last minute of the trade deadline last year. We didn't know it at the time, but the pursuit of Norris was a month-long chase involving a number of teams. Monday's leak from the Astros rumor database shows just how many irons were in the fire at the time, and just how different the final trade was from some of the initial discussions.
The story is this: The Astros central database, part of a system they call Ground Control, was accessed and trade rumors from last year's deadline and offseason were placed on a leak website called Anonbin. It has not yet been determined whether this leak was internal, whether it was obtained by some kind of hacking exploit, or simply whether some poor sod had his dog's name as his password and someone accessed the database using that guess.
Whatever it was, the result is that we get to enjoy this rare look into the anatomy of a baseball trade.
The first Orioles-related entry in the leaked data is dated June 26, 2013, when Dan Duquette - referred to simply as "DD" - called Astros GM Jeff Luhnow to express "continued" interest in Norris. When that interest began is not in the leak. This is over a month before the trade was completed. It's no surprise that it took so long, given that Luhnow reportedly first asked for either Bundy or Gaussman (sic). Spelling and grammar mistakes are frequent in the database.
Gausman was a definite no, but according to the leaked information, Duquette said he had to check with his doctors on Bundy. That's probably because Bundy's Tommy John surgery was scheduled to take place on June 27, and presumably after it was completed without Bundy's arm accidentally being amputated, Duquette was no longer willing to entertain trading Bundy. Duquette is indicated as ruling out Bundy as a part of any trade on June 28, 2013.
A counter-offer presented by Duquette at this point was recorded as Mike Wright and Pedro Strop for Norris. Wright was a Double-A player at that time, in the midst of a solid season for the Bowie Baysox. Strop, out of favor and out of options on the Orioles major league club, ended up being sent to the Cubs less than a week later in the Scott Feldman trade.
Over the next month, Luhnow had conversations with five other teams in which he proposed getting a top 100 prospect back in a trade. I guess it doesn't hurt to ask. Those teams who were reported to be at least somewhat interested in Norris to get in these conversations were the Pirates, Red Sox, Giants, Blue Jays, and Tigers. Juggling six teams for a month to pull off one trade sounds awfully complicated.
The idea of trading either Bundy or Gausman for a pitcher like Norris is laughable, and to fans of those other teams, the idea of names like Xander Bogaerts, Kyle Crick, or Aaron Sanchez having been included in a Norris trade probably is too. Little surprise that Luhnow whiffed in aspiring for that tier of prospect.
A month to the day after that conversation about Bundy or Gausman, Duquette shows up in the database again, checking in to see whether there is any interest on the Astros side in having a trade that does not involve Bundy. The Astros said this was "unlikely", but that they'd add to the trade to get Bundy. Nice try, Luhnow. Five days later, up against the deadline, the Bundy-less trade is exactly what happened.
A July 25 conversation with Pittsburgh shows the Astros were interested in acquiring one of the competitive balance draft picks, with the #73 pick in this year's draft coming up in the midst of some unsuccessful haggling. The Astros end rejected a proposed Luis Heredia - the #53 prospect in baseball before last season, according to Baseball Prospectus - plus the #73 pick trade for Norris on July 28.
The rumors stop on July 29. There are no further tidbits about how the trade came down to being finalized. Were Duquette and Luhnow in frequent contact over the last couple of days, or did some scenario play out where Luhnow and Duquette got back in touch an hour before the trade deadline and frantically hashed out a trade, or the other way around? That will have to be left to the imagination.
What's apparent is that there was some point where Luhnow realized he wasn't going to get anywhere with his aiming high. Teams didn't want Norris that much. Some may have moved on, like the Red Sox, who got Jake Peavy as part of a three-team trade where they gave up a young big leaguer but not a monster prospect like they deemed Bogaerts or Jackie Bradley.
Norris was scratched from a scheduled start on July 30, 2013 in anticipation of a possible trade. Was he scratched with an Orioles trade in mind in particular, or were there still several teams in play? We can only imagine that as well.
Given some of the names that Luhnow was asking for, it's a bit of a surprise to see what he actually received in return for Norris. A couple of the names that were linked with other teams were among their second-tier prospects, if not their top tier, and the Orioles didn't even really pony up a prospect at that level either. ESPN's Keith Law assessed the trade as the Astros getting "a 4A position player who can get on base" (L.J. Hoes) and "a lottery ticket lefty with arm strength but a long ways to go" (Josh Hader).
Hoes has a .592 OPS in 32 games for the Astros this year. Hader is not regarded as one of the top 10 Astros prospects, though he's still getting results now that he's moved up to High-A in the Houston system at the age of 20. That's a way down from trying to get one of the top prospects in baseball, as the Astros tried to do throughout the saga.
Of course, the Orioles also offered the #37 overall pick, their pick in the draft's competitive balance Round A. Maybe that's what really pushed them over the top in getting Norris. They were unique among the suitors in being able and willing to offer a pick so high. The Astros used that pick to select University of Virginia outfielder Derek Fisher. Given how the Orioles offseason played out, they wouldn't have selected at #37 anyway; that pick would have been forfeited with the signing of Nelson Cruz if they hadn't already traded it.
There were a lot of possible Norris trades out there. For any given trade, there are probably a lot of possible trades out there. Did desperation on the part of either the Orioles or the Astros lead to an unequal trade, or was it a fair trade? Good process can always have a bad result, so it's hard to say for sure.
If Hader turns into the next Chris Sale, and Fisher is some kind of future Hall of Fame player, it's not going to look like a great deal for the Orioles in hindsight. If the young players flame out and Norris pitches key playoff games for the Orioles, it's not going to look like a great deal for the Astros, either.
Norris wasn't exactly what the Orioles might have hoped in 2013, but through 14 starts in 2014, he's living up to the hope that he'd be able to lock down a starting rotation spot for a couple of years. Norris has so far negated the platoon problem he experienced against lefty batters. If that proves to be a product of design rather than fortune, he should keep up his end of the bargain.
Other teams still experiencing rotation struggles might then wish they'd given up a little bit more to get Norris instead of the Orioles. Wouldn't that be something?
For now, it looks like the Orioles managed to get a useful starting pitcher in Norris while keeping their best pitching prospects. That looks pretty good. The Astros got a late-first round pick and a still-promising lefty, which probably also looks pretty good on their end.