I’ve got to hand it to Dayton Moore – I didn’t think he could do it. I didn’t think he could find anyone to take Yuniesky Betancourt off his hands, and I didn’t think he had it in him to admit he made a mistake in acquiring Yuni in the first place. And he did. Not only did Moore find a taker for Betancourt, he got four genuine prospects in return, and all he had to do was pick up the buyout on Betancourt’s 2012 contract, and throw in…oh.
A Zack Greinke trade was inconceivable in January and unthinkable in July, and became indigestible in August after Greinke first spoke out publicly about his lack of faith in The Process. As recently as a month ago, a trade was improbable, at least during this off-season, at least unless the Royals were utterly overwhelmed.
But by last Friday, it had become inevitable. In retrospect, I suspect that it was inevitable from the moment the curtain dropped on the Royals season. And I suspect that the front office knew it was an inevitability.
The fact is that Zack Greinke wanted out of Kansas City. He didn’t want out because he wanted more money or more fame or more culture. He wanted out because he wanted more wins. After seven years with the Royals, seven seasons in which the Royals never won more than 75 games and only once won even 70 games, who can blame him?
That doesn’t mean we don’t have a right to be upset about this trade, because we do. Regardless of what the Royals got in the deal, the fact that this deal had to be made at all is an Epic Fail on the part of Dayton Moore and the front office. After nearly five seasons in charge of the Royals, Moore has not succeeding in advancing the franchise even one step forward at the major-league level. In 2007, Moore’s first full season with the Royals, the team lost 93 games. This season, they lost 95 games. There are no excuses for that – not even having the best farm system in the game. The Royals had a once-in-a-decade, if not once-in-a-generation opportunity: they had a superstar player who was not seduced by the bright lights of the big cities, a player who would have been willing to wear a Royals uniform for his entire career if they would just stop sucking, and they blew it.
I love Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer, but do you think they’re going to be buried in Royal Blue? Their agent is Scott Boras – do I need to say more?
So yeah, we have the right to be upset. I’m upset. I’ve got a Greinke jersey in my closet that I have no idea what to do with now. (What’s the statute of limitations on wearing that, by the way? I figure I have at least a season before I have to turn it in.) There’s no way to evaluate this trade as anything but a disaster, simply because it was made in the first place.
But, as always, the past is prologue. If we can get past our anger in the moment, and dispassionately evaluate this trade in terms of whether it serves the Royals’ best interests going forward, I can only come to one conclusion:
I think the Royals did well. Maybe even very well.
The first rumors about this trade broke late Saturday evening, with this original report from Jim Breen, a blogger (take that, mainstream media!) at the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. The original trade rumor had Greinke and Betancourt headed to the land of bratwurst and beer for Alcides Escobar, Lorenzo Cain, and Jeremy Jeffress. My immediate reaction, based purely on what I knew about these players – I was at a wedding – was one of disappointment. My impression was that while Moore got the shortstop and centerfielder he was looking for, the overall sum of talent was just not enough.
And then Andrew Wagner at OnMilwaukee.com reported that Jake Odorizzi was included in the deal, and that got my ears perked up. But while Twitter was erupting, the mainstream media was conspicuously silent on the trade. By the time I got home, did some more research, and went to bed around 2 AM, I found myself hoping that the trade was for real. I didn’t sleep well, and I woke up with a start at 7, by which time the Buster Olneys of the world were reporting it as fact. (This is me making an excuse for why I was zombie-tired yesterday and couldn’t write this up until today: I was so buzzed about the trade that I couldn’t sleep. Which is why I’m chiming in after everyone in the civilized world has already issued their opinions.)
Those opinions run all over the map. I have colleagues who love this trade for the Royals (Kevin Goldstein). I have colleagues who think the Royals did poorly (Keith Law and Joe Posnanski). I have colleagues who think the Royals could have done better (Christina Kahrl). I have colleagues who think the Royals did alright, considering (Joe Sheehan and Rob Neyer).
The Royals have made deals in the past that attracted such a varied response. But the reaction to the Greinke deal seems particularly schizophrenic, in that you wouldn’t pick certain people to have the responses they had. Put it this way: Rob Neyer seems to have a more positive view of the trade than Joe Posnanski. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that before.
Let’s go to the tape:
Alcides Escobar, nine months ago, was the best shortstop prospect in baseball. Escobar emerged as an elite prospect in 2008, when he hit .328 in Double-A, stole 34 bases, and showed off occasionally spectacular defense, at the age of 21. In 2009, he spent the year in Triple-A and hit .298, stole 42 bases, and was, in Kevin Goldstein’s words in Baseball Prospectus 2010, “the best defensive shortstop in the minors”. He also hit .304 in a late-season audition with the Brewers.
He doesn’t hit for much power, and he doesn’t walk a lot, so he has to hit for average to be valuable. As a rookie this season, he didn’t. He hit .235, with a .288 OBP and a .326 slugging average. He didn’t even steal many bases – just 10 in 14 attempts. He was an offensive nightmare.
But he still could pick it in the field. His defensive metrics showed him to be only average – some slightly above, some slightly below – but there’s a growing sense among even professional analysts that our defensive metrics are not nearly as accurate as we’d like them to be. In particular, there’s a sense that you need multiple seasons of data to get a real feel for a player’s defense. We have more than enough data to say that Betancourt is an awful shortstop, for instance, or that Derek Jeter is terribly overrated. We don’t have enough data to say one way or the other on Escobar. Let’s just say that he’s an above-average shortstop, with the tools to be a well-above-average, borderline Gold Glove candidate in the field.
He has some off-the-field issues, whispers of family troubles and things like that, and frankly I don’t know enough about them to feel like I can speak about them with any authority. So I won’t. Particularly with Hispanic players, the language and cultural differences make it difficult for someone like me to fully appreciate what the issues are, let alone to know whether it will impact his development on the field.
There’s definite risk with Escobar. He’s a free-swinging singles hitter, and we’ve seen a lot of players who fit that description in Kansas City – and they usually don’t turn out well. But with his speed and defense, if he hits .300, he’s one of the best shortstops in the league. If he hits .235, like he did last year, then he simply replaces Betancourt as our favorite punching bag on the team (well, after Francoeur leaves).
I think he’ll hit around .270 or so. If he hits .270/.320/.360, with good speed and above-average defense, he has a chance to be the best shortstop the Royals have had in a generation. That’s not damning with faint praise – that’s damning with no praise, given what a scar that position has been for pretty much the history of the franchise. But I think he can be the starting shortstop for a playoff-caliber team.
Lorenzo Cain has a similar skill set to Escobar: he is very fast, he plays above-average defense in center field, and he’s a line-drive hitter without a lot of power. Unlike Escobar, Cain has shown a propensity for drawing walks, most notably last year, when in 84 games between Double-A and Triple-A, he walked 45 times; along with a .317 average, he managed to squeeze his OBP over .400. But after getting called up to the majors, he walked just nine times in 43 games.
Cain is different to Escobar in other ways, though. Whereas Escobar was one of the best prospects in baseball at 21, Cain is a late bloomer, largely because he didn’t start playing baseball until late in his high school career. His lack of experience caused him to fall until the 17th round of the draft, and while he hit right away, he has worked his way up the minors very slowly. He also has had some injury concerns, most notably missing much of the 2009 season (and not hitting when he did play) with a knee injury.
But he has plenty of tools, and some scouts think he can develop power – he did hit 11 homers in 2008. And also unlike Escobar, Cain is considered to have very strong makeup, is a leader in the clubhouse, and has worked very hard to develop his innate tools into the skills necessary to be a major league centerfielder.
He turns 25 in April, and that would limit his upside – he just doesn’t have the time to get much better, although his lack of experience would suggest that he’s still not a finished product. I tweeted this yesterday, but he reminds me an awful lot of a right-handed Denard Span. Span was a first-round pick, but like Cain he was a very toolsy outfielder who had a promising but inconsistent hitting record in the minors, mixing good years with bad ones, and didn’t reach the majors until everything seemed to click at the age of 24. Like Cain, Span showed hints of plate discipline in the minors, and he’s been a much more patient hitter in the majors.
Span isn’t a star, but he’s a very valuable part of the Twins’ lineup. If Cain can stay healthy, I think he can be the same thing for the Royals. He’s probably the best leadoff candidate on the team right now, although if everything goes right with Mission 2012, he’s probably a #6 or #7 hitter in the future.
Also, Lorenzo Cain is an awesome name – to this dermatologist’s ears, it sounds like a breakthrough anesthetic. “For Maximum-Strength Pain Relief: Try New Lorenzocaine!” I think I’m going to call him the Painkiller from now on.
I’ll move on to the two pitchers in a second, but I want to take a break here to address one of the main criticisms of the trade: that Dayton Moore insisted on getting a shortstop and a centerfielder in the deal. Much like Allard Baird insisted on getting a third baseman and a catcher for Carlos Beltran, and wound up with Mark Teahen and John Buck instead of actual star talent, the notion is that Moore just got the best package he could get at these two specific positions, and in so doing locked himself out of a better deal.
There’s some validity to the comparison, but only some. For one thing, the idea that the Royals only needed a third baseman and a catcher in 2004 is (and was) laughable. That was Zack Greinke’s rookie season; the other four guys who made more than 12 starts for the Royals were Jimmy Gobble (5.35 ERA), Brian Anderson (5.64), and Darrell May (5.61). The Royals got Mike Wood as the third man in the trade, and he chipped in with a 5.94 ERA. When you lose 104 games, you need help everywhere, and unlike now, the farm system was barren. The following spring Baseball America ranked the farm system as the 28th in baseball (i.e. third-worst). After Billy Butler, the #2 prospect was Denny Bautista.
The 2011 Royals may well lose 104 games, but the organization has impact prospects at quite possibly every position on the diamond – except, possibly, shortstop and catcher.
I wrote about this recently, but there comes a point where a team has to stop the process of simply collecting talent, and start shaping that talent into a workable roster. I think the Royals have reached that point. It doesn’t mean they should accept less talent in a trade just to fill those positions – but it does mean that all things equal, or roughly equal, getting a player at a position of need is better than acquiring yet another 1B/DH type who can mash.
The second point I want to make is this: by acquiring Escobar and Cain, the Royals didn’t simply fill two positions of need. They addressed the single most glaring weakness in the organization, and the potential Achilles’ heel of Mission 2012: defense.
Even before this trade was made, you could conjure up a 25-man roster for 2012 or 2013 that ought to be competitive even if the Royals don’t add a single player to the organization between now and then. (Kevin Goldstein did exactly that right here.) The roster has great hitters up and down the lineup (Hosmer, Moustakas, Myers, Butler). It has a great rotation (Montgomery, Lamb, Dwyer, and you can swap in Duffy for Greinke). It has a great bullpen (Soria, Collins, Crow, Coleman, even Hochevar).
But the one thing it doesn’t have is defense. The Royals didn’t have a elite defensive player anywhere on the field, and the up-the-middle defensive alignment was particularly weak. In fact, Goldstein left the shortstop position vacant entirely, moving Christian Colon over to second base instead. You could put Colon at shortstop, and slot Mike Aviles or Johnny Giavotella or someone else at second base.
But here’s the problem with that. Even his biggest supporters think Colon is stretched to play shortstop. He might be an average defender, maybe a touch below-average, and that’s if everything breaks right. Now, you can win with a below-average defensive shortstop, as the New York Yankees have proven. But it helps if you have a premium defender next to him to compensate. Instead, the Royals would have Moustakas at third base, who has a cannon arm but also has substandard range; and Aviles or Giavotella at second base, both of whom are bat-first players.
That’s a team where three-quarters of the infield is made up of below-average defenders. I’m not saying that a team can’t win like that. But it bears mentioning that the two Extreme Team Makeovers of the past quarter-century – the 1990-91 Braves and 2007-08 Rays – both owed their turnaround to an utterly dramatic defensive improvement. The Braves went out and signed an entirely new infield – Sid Bream, Terry Pendleton, and Rafael Belliard were all free agents signed that winter. The Rays moved B.J. Upton from second base (where he was terrible) to center field (where he was stellar), signed Akinori Iwamura to play second, traded Delmon Young for Jason Bartlett to replace Brendan Harris at shortstop, and promoted Evan Longoria to third base. The 2008 Rays actually scored eight fewer runs than the 2007 team, but they allowed a mind-boggling 273 fewer runs to score.
I have no doubt that Moore knows this – and I have no doubt that he’s aware that defense was the one missing ingredient to The Process. I’m sure it concerned him, and it should have – it has concerned me for a long time.
Not that it’s reason alone to trade your best player, but given that Greinke was being traded anyway, Moore did well to use this crisis as an opportunity to fix this problem. And in one stroke, he did. Not only is Escobar a plus defender, but this allows the Royals to move Colon from shortstop (where, despite being fundamentally strong, he simply doesn’t have enough speed) to second base (where, in the words one of one evaluator, “he could be exceptional.”) The double-play combination of Colon/Giavotella, which was weak on both sides of the bag, is now Escobar/Colon, which could be one of the best in baseball in a few years.
On top of that, the Royals got Cain, who gives them a plus defender in center field as well. Before the trade, the long-term solution in center field was Derrick Robinson, who might pan out, but might not either: he’s far from a sure thing. If he didn’t pan out, the Royals were looking at making a choice between someone who can hit but isn’t a legitimate centerfielder (David Lough, or maybe Brett Eibner long-term), and someone who can field but can’t hit (Jarrod Dyson).
Before this trade, the Royals lacked for only two things: an above-average defensive shortstop who could hit enough to play everyday, and an above-average defensive centerfielder who could do the same. They filled both those needs exactly, and now, the 2012-2013 Royals – at least on paper – don’t have an obvious weakness.
If all the Royals got were Escobar and Cain, that would be one thing, and the Teahen/Buck comparisons would ring more true. But those two represent just half of the haul the Royals got for Greinke – and while they’re the two players who figure to contribute most quickly, it’s quite possible that the other two will have a bigger long-term impact.
If you’re looking for a single reason to be interested in Jeremy Jeffress, here it is: the moment he takes the mound at Kauffman Stadium, he might well be the hardest thrower in the history of the franchise. He legitimately throws in the upper 90s, and has been clocked as high as 102. I think Mike MacDougal hit 100 on the gun a couple of times; I’m not sure anyone else in a Royals’ uniform has.
Jeffress compares favorable to MacDougal; both are fastball-curveball pitchers who are wild as sin, and who terrify hitters as much for their lack of command as their velocity. But Jeffress, I think, has slightly more electric stuff, although his curveball may not yet be as good as MacDougal’s was in his prime. He’s also considerably younger than MacDougal was at a comparable point in his development. Jeffress just turned 23; MacDougal wasn’t drafted until he was 22, and was still in the Carolina League at 23. (He didn’t convert to being a full-time reliever until he was anointed the Royals’ Opening Day closer in 2003, when he was 26.)
Jeffress is certainly the highest-risk player in the trade, because he’s a threat to lose the strike zone with every pitch. In his minor-league career, he’s walked 188 batters in 307 innings, or 5.5 per nine innings. You can’t do that in the majors and be successful unless your name is Carlos Marmol. But last year was Jeffress’ first year in relief, and his control was much better – he walked 12 batters in 32 innings in the minors, and six batters in 10 innings in his major league debut.
The risk that everyone talks about with Jeffress isn’t his control, though. It’s that he’s a pothead, or at least he was a pothead. He’s been suspended twice for having marijuana in his system, the first time for 50 games, the second time for 100 games. Rather than risk a third suspension – which would have been a “lifetime” one – the Brewers added him to the 40-man roster last season, and presto! No more suspension problem. Players on the 40-man roster can not be suspended for marijuana usage. I’m not saying that Jeffress is still lighting up; I am saying that if he wants to, he can do so without fear of repercussion.
I’m not exactly thrilled that Jeffress smokes weed, but I’m not all that worried about it either. I find it hard to get worked up over marijuana use, and this is coming from someone whose personal beliefs about intoxicants would fit better in another era – specifically, 1920-1933. I don’t want to turn this blog into a podium for NORML or anything, but I have yet to see the medical evidence that marijuana is more dangerous than alcohol, and I’m increasingly baffled that one product is a beloved part of our national culture, while the other is illegal.
More to the point, Tim Lincecum was arrested for marijuana possession a year ago – just after he had won his second consecutive Cy Young Award. Jeffress is hardly alone. I don’t think marijuana use among major leaguers is rampant, but it’s certainly prevalent. There’s a veteran major leaguer, a guy who’s been in the majors for over a decade, about whom the joke around baseball goes that he always packs two bags for road trips – one for his stuff, and the other for his stash. The only difference with Jeffress is that he couldn’t wait until he hit a 40-man roster to light up.
The concern I’d have about his marijuana use is whether it points to other issues, like maturity and work ethic. I’ve asked around about that, and from what I gather he’s a likeable kid, and he’s applied himself more diligently to the game over the past year. He’s not another Danny Gutierrez, who the Royals wiped their hands clean of a year ago.
Jeffress is still a massive risk, because that’s the nature of being a firethrowing reliever – they have trouble throwing strikes, and they throw so hard that they have trouble staying healthy. I’ve seen Jeffress compared to Joel Zumaya, and that says it all – good and bad. He’s certainly not a guy I’d want as the centerpiece of the deal. But as the fourth guy in the deal (and that’s how I see him) he’s a hell of a nice complementary piece.
Finally, there’s Jake Odorizzi, who is the one guy in the deal who hasn’t reached the majors yet, and therefore is the one guy in the deal that you can really dream on. Like Jeffress, Odorizzi was a high school pitcher drafted in the first round (Odorizzi in 2008, Jeffress in 2006), but whereas Jeffress relied on pure gas from the moment he was picked, Odorizzi has a more traditional starter’s repertoire: a fastball in the low 90s, a very good curveball, and a developing changeup. The Brewers brought him along slowly, not advancing him to a full-season league until this season. He was excellent in the Midwest League all season, ranking as the #8 prospect in the circuit by Baseball America after the season. He struck out 135 batters in 121 innings, allowing on 40 walks and 99 hits.
Odorizzi is from Illinois, and a lot of Illinois pitchers wind up developing better than expected owing to the fact that they don’t get a lot of reps in high school given the winter climate here (and possibly because the lack of reps keeps their arms fresh). He’s also very athletic, having played a credible shortstop in high school as well. I’ve even seen a few reports that have compared him to, well, Greinke. That’s obviously ridiculous on the surface – Odorizzi is already 20, and Greinke was in the majors at 20 – but I think that, if everything goes right, he could be a sort of Zack Greinke Lite. He doesn’t project as an ace, but he has the stuff to be a good #3 starter, maybe a #2 in a perfect world. In other words, he could be a pitcher who gives you 200 innings with an ERA somewhere in the 3.5-3.7 range.
In other words, if everything breaks right, he could be the best player in the deal. Of course, he could also miss the majors entirely, whereas the other three guys have already reached the majors. But Odorizzi is a big-time prospect; he’s not another Mike Wood or Brad Rigby, just some throw-in pitching prospect who’s included to make the deal look better. Before the trade, Baseball America ranked him as the #1 prospect in the Brewers system; Kevin Goldstein ranked him #2, behind Jeffress.
In the Royals’ system, Odorizzi is no better than the 5th-best pitcher in the system, behind the Fab Four lefties. Goldstein has indicated that Jeffress and Odorizzi would rank 8th and 9th in the Royals’ system, behind the Fab Four and the Big Three hitters (Moustakas, Hosmer, and Myers). He’s also indicated that both Jeffress and Odorizzi are Top 100 Prospects overall – meaning that the Royals now have nine of the 100 best prospects in baseball, maybe 10 if Goldstein is feeling particularly generous to Christian Colon.
The prospects are nice, but of course the point of having prospects is not to have them now – it’s to convert them into wins later. Escobar and Cain aren’t technically “prospects”, but this trade wouldn’t look any better if Cain had been called up a week later and kept his rookie eligibility.
Still, looking over the Royals’ prospect list is a nice reminder that, as painful as it is to lose Greinke, this trades sets up the organization to win as soon as 2012, and to be a potentially dominant team in the AL Central from 2013 to 2017.
The other main criticism I’ve heard about the deal, most eloquently expressed by Posnanski here, is that the Royals traded Greinke without getting a single potential star player in the deal. It is true that none of the four players they acquired have star potential. It is also true that none of the four players are throw-ins. The Royals got four players who all have a high probability of being 2-3 win players – an average everyday player, an average starting pitcher, or an above-average reliever. The Royals have Escobar under contract for five more years, Cain for six, and Jeffress (assuming he starts the season in the minors) and Odorizzi for six-plus. That’s 23 seasons of club control, for four average-plus players. Is that worth more than six seasons of a superstar? No, but unless the Angels were offering Mike Trout – they weren’t – I don’t think any of those were available.
Put it this way: if given the choice of getting one 4-win player or a pair of 2-win players for Greinke, you’d take the 4-win player, because all things equal you’d rather have value tied up in fewer players – it’s always easier to find a complementary player than a star. But would you rather have a 4-win player or three 2-win players? That’s a trickier decision to make.
The Royals didn’t get any 4-5 win players in this deal, unless Escobar can consistently hit .300, or Cain starts hitting for power, or Odorizzi’s stuff ticks up a little, or Jeffress goes back to being a starter and thrives. But they got four 2-3 win players – four guys who can be valuable members of a championship team. As Joe Sheehan wrote in his email newsletter (which you should really subscribe to, by the way), “It's easy to see all four of these guys as contributors to the 2016 World Champions; it's just hard to see any of them as MVPs or Cy Young Award winners. Then again, that's the job of Eric Hosmer and Montgomery.”
Sure, I’d rather have a package of two or three higher-end prospects. But you know what? The Royals asked for Travis Snider and Kyle Drabek, and the Blue Jays weren’t willing to budge. And it turns out Greinke didn’t want to go to Toronto in the first place.
The more details that leak out about the Greinke negotiations, the more I appreciate what Moore was able to get. Remember how Greinke fired his agents just two days before the deal was made? At the time it seemed like he made the switch because his new agent (Casey Close) had negotiated the Roy Halladay trade-and-extension with the Phillies. But Jeff Passan reported on Twitter that “Interesting Greinke note: He fired longtime agent SFX after Winter Meetings because he felt they were responsible for his not being traded.” He fired his agents because he was still a Royal – in December! Does that sound like a guy who the Royals could have gone into spring training with? Read Billy Butler’s interview with MLB.com after the trade – as Matthew Leach tweeted, “Safe to say he’s not exactly heartbroken.”
Ken Rosenthal reported that the Royals were willing to trade Greinke to the Yankees for a true potential star – Jesus Montero – along with Eduardo Nunez (the poor man’s Alcides Escobar) and another player. The Yankees declined. It’s been widely reported that the Royals were ready to trade Greinke to the Nationals, for a package of Jordan Zimmermann, Danny Espinosa, and Drew Storen (a package which I found terrifyingly light, although I strongly suspect that Derek Norris was part of the deal as well). Greinke, who had the Nationals on his no-trade list, refused to go.
The Rangers have long been rumored to be a likely landing place for Greinke, and had the prospects to make a deal. But there’s no evidence that they were willing to give up Derek Holland and/or Martin Perez – most of the rumored offerings included some version of Tanner Scheppers, Engel Beltre, and Jurickson Profar. Scheppers is very similar to Jeffress; Beltre and Profar are the centerfielder and shortstop that Moore wanted, with higher upside than Cain and Escobar – and both are still years from the majors. The Brewers offered Odorizzi; I’m not convinced that the Rangers offered a comparable fourth player.
So while it’s possible that the Royals could have done better, I don’t think it’s particularly likely. Maybe Moore could have been better served by waiting, but I don’t blame him for moving quickly – not when the situation with Greinke was quickly becoming toxic, and not when potential trade partners were being blocked by either their own reluctance to bet the farm on Greinke, or by Greinke himself.
Oh, and did I mention he got the Brewers to take Betancourt in the trade? According to Baseball Reference, Greinke was worth 24 runs above a replacement-level pitcher last season. According to Baseball Info Solutions’ +/- system, the defensive difference between Betancourt and Escobar defensively last season was…20 runs. Think about that for a moment.
While there’s tremendous difference of opinion regarding whether this trade was good for the Royals, there’s almost no argument that the trade was terrific for the Brewers. And it was. Two weeks ago the Brewers had a very talented offense, but were watching the clock tick on Prince Fielder’s impending free agency, and had two proven starting pitchers on their roster. They appeared doomed to another season of .500 baseball, with too much talent to rebuild and not enough to contend.
Doug Melvin, their GM, decided to go for it, and he deserves a ton of credit for that. He traded their best prospect, Brett Lawrie, for two seasons of Shaun Marcum. That trade was widely considered to take the Brewers out of the Greinke market, and in fact many people credited Alex Anthopoulos, the Blue Jays’ GM, with outfoxing Melvin by getting a player (Lawrie) that the Royals supposedly were interested in, making it easier for Toronto to get Greinke. Instead, Melvin found a way to get Greinke too – he simply had to part with his next two top prospects in Jeffress and Odorizzi, and two young up-the-middle players.
Now, the Brewers have the worst farm system in baseball – but they have a rotation that goes Greinke-Gallardo-Marcum-Wolf, they have a lineup that still includes Fielder and Ryan Braun and Rickie Weeks and Corey Hart and Casey McGehee, and they play in the NL Central. They’re going for it, and it’s good for baseball that they do. The Brewers have won one playoff game in the last 25 years; the only teams in baseball with fewer are the Expos-cum-Nationals and, of course, the Royals.
If we had to trade Greinke, I couldn’t ask for a better scenario than this one – Greinke being traded to the one baseball market with a smaller population than Kansas City. But for that very reason – that this trade makes the Brewers instant contenders – I strongly believe that no other team was likely to exceed this deal. I say that because no other team was as motivated to trade for Greinke as the Brewers were.
Take the Yankees and Rangers, for instance. Both teams expect to win in 2011, and wanted Greinke for that reason – but both teams also expect to win in 2013, and 2015, and 2017. Any trade they made to increase their odds of winning in 2011 has to be balanced with how that trade would affect their chances of winning down the road. Neither team has a huge incentive to mortgage their future for the present.
The Brewers, on the other hand, have a window. They have talent, but not enough talent to win. They don’t have a terrific farm system. And they have a modest payroll. If I’m Doug Melvin two weeks ago, I realize that I can either try to win now, or I can try to win in 3 or 4 years (if I’m not fired by then). But I can’t expect to do both.
Given that realization, if I’m Doug Melvin, I don’t care how much I hurt my team in 2013 or 2014 if it means I can win in 2011 and 2012. The Rangers or Yankees might be reluctant to throw someone like Odorizzi in the deal, someone who might be part of their playoff rotation in a few years. But for the Brewers, if they’ve got a chance to win now, who cares if they have to throw in Odorizzi to seal the deal? If they go for it now, they’re not going to win in 2014 anyway. If they trade Odorizzi, maybe they only win 65 games instead of 70 in 2014 – so if saying yes to Odorizzi gets Dayton Moore to say yes to Greinke, well then, damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!
Call me crazy. But when it comes to the biggest transaction of Moore’s career, I think he did a pretty good job. Maybe 2011 is going to suck, or at least the first half of the season will suck. But over the next 24 months, we’re likely to see an absolutely historic transformation of this roster. And I think this trade, this awful, painful trade, has added the finishing touches to that transformation. As a Royals fan, as always, I’m hoping for the best and expecting the worst. As a baseball fan, I’m going to be fascinated either way.
The ink has dried, the scrolls have been rolled up. The Royals already had the best farm system in baseball, and now they have the best farm system in memory. Now it’s time to simply wind up the batteries and see what happens. If Moore is right, we’re in for a hell of a ride. If he’s wrong, this will be an prospect development failure of epic proportions. Either way, it’s going to be spectacular.
Let’s light this candle. I’ve waited 25 years to experience a pennant race. I can wait one more. This trade might delay the payoff a little bit. But I think it will make the payoff just a little bit sweeter as well.
(I’ll stop here, but I still have more to say, so check back here in a day or two for some more thoughts. I’ll tease you with this: you know how everyone talks about the need for the Royals to make a “Teixeira Trade”, to get the kind of prospect haul the Rangers got for Mark Teixeira? Well, I agree with the consensus that this wasn’t a Teixeira Trade. The difference is that I think it’s entirely possible that this was even better.)