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Astros Hot Stove: An Insider’s Look at the Cole Trade

We revisit Jeff Luhnow and the Astros with a true look at what actually happened.

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Pittsburgh Pirates Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Copper conduits gleamed, twisting and winding around each other, flashing in the busy light of blue electricity arcing from the Tesla coils that sat behind soundproof walls of transparent aluminum. The sterilized air hummed with the rumblings of machinery—subdued but ever-present. Giant copper valves with handles like those on submarine bulkhead doors ejected white steam in billowy clouds that wreathed the pipe works. It was like a steampunk’s dreamland.

It was all for show, of course: the coils, the valves, and the steam. The half-inch core fiber optic lines connecting Deep Thunk’s nerve center with the rest of Union Station didn’t need copper piping either. But cable trays and server boxes just didn’t have the grandeur that was due the world’s most powerful electronic brain.

Jeff breathed deeply of the .003 micron-filtered air and felt contentment. In the months since his Astros conquered the sports world and the city was re-named from Houston to Luhnowburg, he had found that the computer core, located five miles beneath the un-lamented remains of Tal’s Hill, was the one location where he could find peace and quiet.

His communicator implant beeped, a pleasant unobtrusive assertion that nonetheless managed to catch his attention.

“HUD,” he sub-vocalized. A muted display of his personal destkop sprung into life, a holograph that only his eyes could see. Flicking his eyes, he opened the incoming message. The “Agent Smith” avatar of his head of security greeted him.

“We have a situation, your Luhnowness.”

Jeff sighed. With glory, unfortunately, came adulation, which could become tiring. “Call me Jeff,” he said. “What is the situ?”

“Yes sir, your Jeffness. We have a media report confirming that your manipulation of the Pirates’ front office has come to an unfavorable conclusion. Morosi, sir.”

Jeff’s eyes narrowed. “Not accurate. But that hits too close to home.”

“Yes, sir. We have a mole.”

“Find him fast. Also, spread word in the usual places that this is an invented rumor by the player’s agents to drive up the cost.”

“Already done sir. The Yankees are outraged and have already pulled out.”

“Excellent,” said Jeff. “I need to get to work immediately to take advantage of this situation.”

“By the way, sir. The mole is awaiting punishment.”

“I am on my way.”

Jeff vocalized the command to minimize his desktop to the periphery of his vision and then walked briskly back along the expanded metal gratings that floored the suspended catwalks among the conduits. As he passed, the glowing lights behind him winked out, conserving energy.

The Wonakavator took him to Minute Maid Park (gotta get that silly name fixed now that we’re champions, he thought), where he seated himself in the Luhnow Box.

“OK, Google,” he said. “Call the Bucs.” Within moments, a pleasantly midwestern-sounding receptionist placed him on hold. As he listened to the Reggae/Japanoise rendition of A Girl from Ipanema, the scene below unfolded.

The mole was shoved onto the field from an outfield door, which was slammed behind him. He stood alone under the cloudless sky, with no spectators in the stands save for Jeff and a few bleacher sweepers.

A beep in his implant told him the spectacle was ready.

“Do it.”

The mid-afternoon stillness was suddenly jarred by the thunderous sounds of moving gears. A giant trap door slid open, moving aside the pitcher’s mound. From inside, the frustrated roar of a great beast sounded.

“Hey, Jeff,” said a voice on the line. “Neal here. Can you believe that Morosi story? What a joke. It didn’t come from us, you can be sure.”

“I hear the Yankees are out,” said Jeff. “That changes the nature of our discussions, I’m sorry to say.” Jeff hated doing this to Neal. Neal was good people, and the Pirates were far more stimulating to engage with than, say, the former front office of the Braves.

“Let’s not rush into anything,” Neal hurriedly replied. “How about we pick up where we left off, and go from there, ok?”

“Fine. You know we have an interest in Gerrit Cole, your ace starting pitcher.”

“Indeed. And we want Forrest Whitley, Kyle Tucker, Francis Martes, and/or Derek Fisher to be Pirates in return.”

“I thought I was clear on Whitley and Tucker. It’s a no-go. Cole is coming off of his two worst years, is only under contract for two more seasons, and Whitley and Tucker have too much potential value for that to make a shred of sense for us.”

Below on the field, a snort of angry smoke came from the abyss below the mound. Tufted ears the size of Cessna wings emerged, black and twisted. They twitched towards the outfield, at a squeak from the mole. The stadium rumbled with the beast’s growl.

Yeah, Jeff wanted to add Cole to the Astros’ rotation. Three bona fide aces would make the 2018 Astros an unstoppable force in the American League West. It wasn’t enough to just win a World Series. The Astros would be...the greatest sports franchise of all time!

But not just in 2018. For forever. For eternity. The 2017-2037 Astros would put its metaphoric boot on the neck of major league baseball and would grind until all other clubs trembled with fear to visit the juice box. Entire university study courses would be dedicated to understanding the Astros’ magnificence. Volumes would be written about how the Roman Empire would still be the dominant force in the world, if they had only followed the Astros’ blueprint.

But first thing’s first. A sustainable pipeline of greatness was key, and the Astros’ dominance in the early Deucey-Deucies (as he called the 2020’s) required cheap young stars like Tucker and Whitley.

What? Oh, Neal had been saying something and seemed to be expecting an answer.

“I’m sorry, my friend,” Jeff answered. “But the Yankees’ plug-pulling puts you in a bad spot. Don’t worry - we have an idea to take care of you, but the deal will be on our terms.”

The giant head popped out of the cavern beneath the park, wreathed in steam. It’s eyes glowed blood red, and concentrated acid dripped from its buck-toothed fangs. It slavered and slobbed as it clawed its way onto the field, grasping at the grass with all four of its arms before its massive back legs shot it twenty feet into the air in a cuddly but evil ball of fur and fury. It landed in the outfield grass with a surprisingly soft thump that belied its thirty ton weight. Its nose quivered in excitement at the scent of warm mole-blood pumping through the veins of its intended victim. There was a scream of terror.

Neal sounded defeated. “What are your terms then?”

“First, you need to know. We here at the Astros, we take care of our own. And there is no possible way that anybody you acquire can put you near the World Series to threaten us during...oh, let’s say the next two seasons, just to be charitable.”

Neal stayed silent.

“Second, because the Astros are...let’s be honest here...ridiculously amazing, I have a lot of good kids who are good enough to play on any club in the league, but are blocked from a meaningful role here in Luhnowburg.”

“Go on.”

“Therefore, I am going to offer you some players that you can use right away. Players who are probably better than almost anybody currently on your 25-man roster, who need a home.”

“I don’t want your strays, Jeff.”

“Luckily for you, that’s not what I have in mind. I ought to fleece you. More ruthless GMs would, you know, considering that we are your best opportunity to improve and both of us know it. But I am in a particularly good mood right now, and also, I like these kids and want to see them succeed. You the National League. Away from us.”

The beast lowered itself to all sixes. Its eyes blazed fire. As it crept towards its prey, the grass under its footprints smoldered. Even its puffy tail reeked with menace.

Jeff continued. “Let me lay it out for you. The Astros acquire Cole, a controlled top of rotation pitcher. And you, my friend, acquire Joe Musgrove, Colin Moran, Michael Feliz, and Jason Martin.”

There was silence on the other end of the line for a few moments. On the field, the tension was drawing out as the mole began to run. The beast continued its slow approach. There was no escape.

Neal spoke. “That’s...a surprisingly generous offer.”

“I know.”

“I mean...Musgrove, Feliz, and Moran will probably be on my opening day 25-man roster.”

“Yes,” said Jeff. “One thing though. Put Musgrove into your rotation or I will feed you to the beast that I keep underneath my ball park. He’s wasted in the bullpen.”

Neal laughed at the absurdity of Jeff’s joke. Jeff wasn’t joking.

“All right, I can do that,” said Neal. “We like him as a starter anyway. And Moran shouldn’t have too much trouble unseating Freese at third. Feliz...we’ll see. Maybe I’ll let him try starting again in Triple A before I decide how best to use him. He’s a pretty good pitcher.”

“Yeah, he is,” said Jeff. “They’re all good. Take care of them. Astros never really leave the family. We just loan them out to the less fortunate.”

Neal laughed again. Again, Jeff wasn’t joking.

After a few requisite pleasantries, Jeff signed off and minimized his desktop from his view again. He sat back into his hover chair with its upholstery of nano-engineered faux baby seal fur. He didn’t particularly enjoy the spectacle on the field, but the beast did need to eat, and this meal would save the Astros approximately three thousand dollars worth of filet mignon that it otherwise would have received.

The mole cowered in the outfield. Hidden microphones fed Jeff with the victim’s panting. Suddenly, the beast leaped forty feet into the air. It crashed to the ground over the mole, putting the man into the shadow of its elephantine bulk.

The mole screamed as the beast picked him up and lifted him into the air. The monstrosity settled back on its hind legs and considered its squirming meal from arms’s length.

The mole writhed, no doubt repentant by now for leaking news of the Astros’ pending deal with the Pirates. The beast was taking his time with this victim.

Finally, the mole gave a loud despairing wail, his mind lost amid the flaming depths of the beast’s eyes.

“WHAT ARE YOU???” the victim screeched.

The beast studied him seriously, then opened its cavernous jaws. And answered.

“I’m Junction Jack. And I am going to eat you.”

Jack ate him.

Disclaimer: to the author’s knowledge, the Astros do not actually harbor a giant mutant rabbit beneath Minute Maid Park, nor do they release it to execute misbehaving employees. To the author’s knowledge, the Astros have never, and will never, actually execute any employees using any method, via Leporidaeicide or otherwise. This was almost certainly entirely a work of fiction, although it does seem the only plausible explanation for how the Astros are so much better than everybody else.