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MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Breached info provides insight into trade talks

Astros' information system hacked, revealing discussions with other clubs

Breached info provides insight into trade talks play video for Breached info provides insight into trade talks

The Mariners wanted catcher Jason Castro from the Astros. So did the White Sox, Blue Jays and Rangers. No deal got done.

These are among the dozens of tidbits of information becoming public today after the Astros' internal messaging system was hacked and 10 months of trade discussions leaked.

The Astros have confirmed their system -- they call it "Ground Control" -- was hacked and that some of the information is factual. However, they said some was embellished or made up.

Whatever. In the end, the information, true or not, isn't exactly earthshaking. The Pirates would ask about right-hander Bud Norris. The Astros would ask for outfielder Gregory Polanco.

End of discussions.

The Tigers would ask about Norris. The Astros would mention third baseman Nick Castellanos.

No deal.

Still, it's an inside look at the granular nature of trade discussions. While it's embarrassing for the Astros, the insight is interesting.

For instance, the Rockies began dropping center fielder Dexter Fowler's name into conversations. In fact, Colorado practically announced that it was willing to deal him.

Today, Fowler plays for the Astros.

Outfielder Dustin Ackley doesn't. The Mariners dangled him for Castro, then offered to throw another player in the deal to make it happen.

The Giants weren't interested in dealing first baseman Brandon Belt. The Yankees were so interested in trading outfielder Ichiro Suzuki they were willing to pay a chunk of his salary. When the Astros inquired about outfielder Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins general manager Dan Jennings said that wouldn't be happening.

However, Jennings threw out the possibility of shortstop Carlos Correa and outfielder George Springer -- arguably two of the top 10 young players in baseball -- being worth discussing.

Jennings said Monday he was never going to trade Stanton, and he has a reputation as one of the industry's straight shooters. If he did mention Correa and Springer, it probably was his way of ending the conversation, knowing those were the two most untouchable Astros.

Norris? An assortment of teams were interested. The Orioles got it done. Some of the discussions were silly. Would the O's part with prized right-hander Dylan Bundy to get Bud Norris?

Uh, no.

How about Kevin Gausman, another Orioles top prospect?

Nope.

The Astros ended up doing the deal for Josh Hader and L.J. Hoes, which is a far cry from Gausman or Bundy.

When the Nationals asked about right-hander Lucas Harrell, the Astros said Lucas Giolito, a top prospect, sounded about right.

The Nats didn't need a millisecond to turn that one down.

Say this for Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow. The man thinks big.

Even when Luhnow didn't have elite talent to deal, he tried to acquire elite talent: Stanton, Polanco, Castellanos, Giolito, Marcus Stroman, Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr.

OK, let's put on our grownup pants here. This is a very uncomfortable day to be a member of the Astros' front office in the wake of the hack and fabrications.

These are the men and women who fancy themselves among the smartest people in the room. They're undertaking a grand experiment in building a baseball team with math models, algorithms and reams of data.

Most teams use advanced analytics to assist their decision-making. The Astros are all in, using not just advanced analytics, but advanced analytics that they apparently believe is better than anyone else's.

The Astros are a hot-button topic in baseball. Fans of analytics love them and believe they're on the way to reinventing the national pastime.

Meanwhile, some traditional media types and scouts who still believe a set of eyeballs and five decades of experience is better than any database ever constructed are not such big fans.

Baseball has been in the midst of a cultural war -- man vs. machine -- since the publication of "Moneyball" in 2003 revealed how A's general manager Billy Beane was doing more with less than almost anyone.

The Astros have taken the A's model and attempted to advance it. Stay tuned to find out if they're successful.

One part of Luhnow's model is the "Google rule." That is, employees are given a set amount of time for creative thinking.

And about a month ago -- and you knew this was coming -- someone hacked into the system and obtained internal conversations in which trades were discussed.

This is not good for the Astros. General managers speak frankly to one another because they believe their conversations are private. They throw names around. They think in concepts.

To have those conversations revealed might have general managers rethinking the things they say to the Astros.

Players will not like having their names discussed in such bottom-line terms. On the other hand, that's life.

Sometimes, GMs throw a player's name around because they're interested in making a trade. Sometimes, they do it to gauge a player's value. Around 99.99 percent of these conversations lead nowhere.

Players almost never find out about these discussions, and that's a good thing. General managers freak out when players think their name is coming up in trade discussions.

One prominent GM is so fanatical about secrecy that he has trouble dealing with general managers he thinks gossip to reporters. That's also why agents are kept out of the loop most of the time.

So the Astros have some explaining to do. Luhnow has some apologies to issue. As for all those players, they'll read through the communication and gain a better understanding of how teams operate.

They surely know that teams assign values to every player, both their own and those around the game. These breached communications simply put it in stark terms. On the other hand, if I'm Jason Castro, I'm feeling awfully good about things. He clearly has been in demand.

As for Ground Control, well, even the smartest guys in the room sometimes need an eraser. How about springing for some No. 2 pencils and a paper shredder?

As for the Astros, something good could come out of it for them as well. Maybe they'll realize they don't have it all figured out yet.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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