Saturday, December 25, 2010

More On The Greinke Trade.

First off, let me clear up a few loose ends from last time.

- When making the point about the Royals’ future defense, I was remiss in not pointing out the most obvious evidence that defense was Mission 2012’s weakness: the Royals recently announced their minor league award winners, and the winner of the Frank White Defensive Player of the Year Award was…Eric Hosmer. A first baseman. A good defensive first baseman, but we’re not talking about Keith Hernandez here. That’s a pretty clear sign that if Escobar and Cain were still minor leaguers, they’d be the two best defensive players in the system (among prospects who actually project to hit).

- I adore this tweet from Baseball America’s Ben Badler: “Looking at our Royals top 30. They have 18 players I'd take over the Brewers No. 1 prospect.” I know, it’s not a fair comparison, the Brewers just decimated their system to win now…but still, that’s just cool. I’m sure my Brewer friends would like to reply with a witty comeback, but unfortunately they’re all busy waiting in line to buy playoff tickets.

- A perhaps under-appreciated aspect to the deal is the fact that Greinke had the Brewers on his no-trade list, and had to be persuaded to waive it. Not only did he do so, he didn’t receive any compensation in return.

If you’re a Brewer fan and don’t love the guy already, you’re nuts. One of the best pitchers in baseball has the right to block a trade to the smallest market in baseball, and gives it up – for nothing in return. A superstar player wants to join your team. The same thing that made Greinke so popular in Kansas City – that he was the rare superstar who was perfectly happy playing in a small market, at least until the losing became unbearable – should make him the same way in Milwaukee.

The flip side to this, though, is that Greinke didn’t receive a contract extension when the trade was made. He can be a free agent in two years, and while the Brewers certainly have a better shot at re-signing him than they did with, say, C.C. Sabathia (or, next winter, Prince Fielder,) it’s not a guarantee.

Now, if the Brewers get off to a great start next season and are fighting for first place in August, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the team announces a contract extension that keeps Greinke in Milwaukee until 2016 or so. But if I’m Greinke’s agent, I’m advising him to take a wait-and-see attitude. Greinke already has enough guaranteed money in his current contract to retire on – he’s famously tight with his money. If winning is his top priority going forward, well, the 2011 Brewers ought to be a good team, but by 2013 Fielder will have gone elsewhere, everyone else will be two years older, and there are few if any reinforcements coming up from the farm.

This may be an interesting story to watch. If Greinke doesn’t sign an extension with the Brewers, he goes into the 2012-13 off-season as perhaps the most coveted free agent of the winter. And while the usual suspects from the Northeast will be in the hunt, we already know that Greinke will give fair consideration to small-market teams in the Midwest. Particularly one that is already in contention, that has a young and talented roster that only figures to get better, and that by virtue of having a young roster has plenty of payroll space to pay Greinke top dollar. Particularly one that’s embraced Greinke once before, and might be ready to do so again.

It’s not a particularly likely scenario. But I’m keeping that jersey hanging in my closet just in case.

- A quick Chiefs’ playoff odds update, as the math gets easier to figure out with just two weeks left on the schedule:

The Jets’ win over the Steelers eliminates any chance that the Chiefs have of qualifying for the playoffs as a wild-card team, so it’s division or bust. In terms of the division, the math is simple.

The good news is that the Chiefs’ Magic Number for winning the division is 2 – any combination of 2 wins by the Chiefs, or 2 losses by the Chargers, and the Chiefs win the AFC West. The Magic Number with regard to the Raiders is 1. (And more good news is that for purposes of the magic number, a tie works in the Chiefs’ favor.)

The bad news is that the Chargers’ Magic Number over the Chiefs is 3.

If the Chiefs win out to finish 11-5, they are guaranteed to be no lower than the #3 seed. They can be the #2 seed and get a first-round bye only if the Steelers and Ravens lose their last two games.

So getting back to the point of this article…I ended my last article with a suggestion that the Greinke trade may have actually brought the Royals more talent that the Rangers got for Mark Teixeira. I’ll get back to that in a bit. But first, I want to explore in more detail whether the Royals really got a fair deal for Greinke or not.

It can’t be stressed enough that when determining the fair value of Greinke in a trade, you can’t simply look at his performance and say “he’s worth X amount of wins”, and if the Royals don’t get that in a trade they got screwed. If not trading Greinke was a viable option, then that would be the case. But it wasn’t. Greinke wanted out, and if the Royals had kept him, pretty much everyone thinks he would have been disappointing yet again – and even if he wasn’t, the Royals were so unlikely to win in 2011 that it wouldn’t have mattered anyway.

So if we accept that the Royals had to trade Greinke, the only way to determine his value is to know what the market was willing to offer for him. If I put my house on the market and ask for $500,000, because I paid $500,000 for it last month, and it’s appraised at $500,000, and the best offer I get is $400,000, guess what? The value of my house is $400,000, and holding my breath until I pass out is not going to change that fact.

It is of course difficult to know what the market was willing to offer for Greinke, because we only know what one team – the Brewers – was truly willing to offer. And even if no other team was willing to make a better offer now, we don’t know whether some team might have changed their position between now and spring training.

But we do know what other teams were able to receive for their ace pitchers on the trade market, and we can use that information to develop a rough estimate of Greinke’s value. So let’s take a look at all the trades in recent memory in which a team traded a top-tier starter near the end of his contract for prospects.

Here’s a list of the nine recent trades that I found where a team traded a clear #1 starter who was coming to the end of his contract for prospects. (There are only six different pitchers involved, as Cliff Lee was traded three times, and Danny Haren twice.)

Date: 7/25/10
Pitcher: Danny Haren
Contract Status: $8.25M for 2010, $12.75M for 2011 & 2012.  $15.5M/$3.5M club option for 2013.
Trade: Haren from Arizona to Los Angeles Angels for Joe Saunders, Tyler Skaggs, Patrick Corbin, and Rafael Rodriguez

You want to know what a bad trade looks like? That’s what a bad trade looks like. Actually, that’s what an awful trade looks like. The Diamondbacks, who had traded six different players to acquire Haren less than three years earlier, traded him to L’Anaheim for an innings-eating veteran in Saunders, and three prospects, none of whom are as highly rated as any of the four guys the Royals got for Greinke.

Haren isn’t the pitcher that Greinke is, but he’s a damn good pitcher. At the time of the trade he had a 4.60 ERA, but that was a fluke – he had struck out 141 batters in 141 innings, against just 25 unintentional walks. In 2009, he had led the NL in WHIP. And while the Brewers are getting Greinke for two years, the Angels got 2.5 years of Haren, for roughly the same salary that Greinke is getting – plus they have a very reasonable option to keep him for a third full season.

Given their contract status, Haren and Greinke should have very similar trade values on the market. But whereas Greinke netted the Royals four young players who all project to be at least average major leaguers, the Diamondbacks got an established veteran pitcher who’s already into his arbitration years, and three second-tier pitching prospects. The Diamondbacks were savaged for the trade – and rightfully so. But in all honesty, some of the criticisms I’ve heard about the Royals approach the criticisms of the Haren trade. Which is ridiculous; the Royals got real talent, while the Diamondbacks got a flaming bag of dog poop on their front door.

Date: 7/9/10
Pitcher: Cliff Lee
Contract Status: $9M for 2010.
Trade: Lee and Mark Lowe from Seattle to Texas for Justin Smoak, Blake Beavan, Josh Lueke, and Matthew Lawson

The Mariners got a decent haul of talent for Lee, given that there were only three months’ left on his contract. Smoak is a potential All-Star at first base, and is probably better than any of the four guys the Royals got. (Although it’s very debatable – you could argue that you’d rather have Escobar right now than Smoak. Both were disappointing as rookies, and while scouts are still optimistic Smoak will hit, his value is almost entirely in his bat, while Escobar’s value is primarily in his glove.)

The other three guys are just filler. Beavan has outstanding command of very pedestrian stuff; he could be a #4 starter in a Nick Blackburn/Kevin Slowey kind of way. Lueke is a criminal – not a Jeremy Jeffress kind of criminal, a real criminal – and the fact that the Mariners were unaware of his history got the scouting director fired. (I refuse to believe they were unaware of his history. I knew about his history, and that was simply from reading Baseball America.) Lawson is a utility guy in the making.

For three months of Lee, it’s a good deal, although I still have no idea why the Mariners preferred Smoak to Jesus Montero.

Date: 12/16/09
Pitcher: Cliff Lee
Contract Status: $9M for 2010.
Trade: Lee from Philadelphia to Seattle for Phillippe Aumont, J.C. Ramirez, and Tyson Gillies

The Mariners got considerably more for a half-season of Lee than they gave up to get a full year of Lee in the first place. The Phillies panicked, trading Lee the same day they acquired Roy Halladay to save money, and accepting a pathetic return on a #1 starter. Aumont is a future reliever at best; Ramirez is a #4 starter if he’s lucky; Gillies is a Jarrod Dyson/Joey Gathright type, who hit .341 in 2009 because he was playing in the pinball machine that is High Desert. Every player the Royals received for Greinke is worth more than these three players combined.

Date: 12/16/09
Pitcher: Roy Halladay
Contract Status: $15.75M for 2010. As part of trade agreed to 3-year, $60M extension with vesting option of $20M for 2014.
Trade: Halladay from Toronto to Philadelphia for Kyle Drabek, Michael Taylor, and Travis D’Arnaud

This is the trade that the Greinke deal gets compared to a lot, because Halladay had a full season-and-a-half left on his deal, and because the Blue Jays got three very good prospects, including a potential stud starter in Drabek.

The prospect hauls that both teams got are comparable. Drabek is better than anyone the Royals got, and it’s telling that the Blue Jays were unwilling to give up Drabek in a potential Grienke deal. Taylor was putting up outstanding numbers (.333/.408/.569) in Double-A at the time of the trade; the Jays immediately traded him to Oakland for Brett Wallace, which on the one hand was smart because Taylor has struggled since the trade, but on the other hand wasn’t smart because Wallace isn’t all that good. The Jays traded Wallace to Houston for Anthony Gose, a very athletic 19-year-old outfielder who’s still learning how to hit.  D’Arnaud was a 20-year-old catcher who projected to be an average-plus everyday catcher in the majors. He was hurt for much of 2010 but is still thought of highly.

The Jays got two five-star prospects and a three-star prospect for Halladay; the Royals got two four-star prospects (Jeffress and Odorizzi), and two guys who would probably be four-star prospects if they were still rookie-eligible (Cain and Escobar) for Greinke. You can certainly argue that the Jays got more for Halladay than the Royals got for Greinke. But remember: as part of the trade, Halladay agreed to a three-year extension at below-market value, making him a vastly more valuable commodity to the Phillies than Greinke was to the Brewers (or anyone else). That the Royals got roughly as much for two years of Greinke as the Blue Jays got for 4.5 years of Halladay is a reason to praise the Royals, not criticize them.

Date: 7/31/09
Pitcher: Jake Peavy
Contract Status: $11M for 2009, 3-year, $48M contract for 2010-2012, $22M/$4M option for 2013.
Trade: Peavy from San Diego to Chicago White Sox for Clayton Richard, Aaron Poreda, Adam Russell, and Dexter Carter

This was a weird deal; the White Sox had almost traded this exact package to the Padres for Peavy before the season, and even though Peavy was on the DL at the time, they made the same trade at the trading deadline. No one ever accused Kenny Williams of being timid.

While Peavy was under contract for 3.5 seasons, his contract also called for a significantly higher salary than Greinke’s or Lee’s – and the injury concerns were very real, to the point where some argued that the Padres were fortunate just to be rid of his contract. In that light, it’s not a surprise that they didn’t get much for him on a pure talent basis. Richard was a #3/#4 starter who, like a lot of pitchers, has taken advantage of Petco Park to reach his full potential. Poreda is a lefty with a massive fastball and massive control issues. Russell and Carter are middle relievers at best.

Date: 7/29/09
Pitcher: Cliff Lee
Contract Status: $5.75M for 2009, $9M option for 2010.
Trade: Lee and Ben Francisco from Cleveland to Philadelphia for Carlos Carrasco, Jason Donald, Lou Marson, and Jason Knapp

The first Lee trade came at a comparable point in his contract to Greinke – Lee had 1.5 years remaining on his deal, and at an insanely low price tag. Keep in mind that the Indians threw in Ben Francisco, an excellent fourth outfielder type who has hit .272/.323/.471 in 301 plate appearances since the trade. (He might be better than any outfielder currently on the Royals.)

In exchange the Indians got Carlos Carrasco, a potential #2/#3 starter in the majors who pitched well in a late audition this year after a terrible debut in 2009. Donald, who’s most famous for being the player that Jim Joyce called safe to ruin Armando Galarraga’s perfect game, will probably have a long career as a utility man but doesn’t quite hit enough to be a starting middle infielder. Marson is a catcher with no power but excellent on-base skills in the minors – Baseball America ranked him the #66 prospect before the 2009 season – but has been terrible since the trade; he hit .195/.274/.286 as a rooke this year. Knapp was just 18 at the time of the trade, a kid down in the South Atlantic League with a terrific arm but some serious injury issues. A lot of people expect him to be a reliever in the end, although a potential impact one.

It’s close, but I’d rather have the Greinke package. Odorizzi and Carrasco are comparable, though Carrasco is a safer bet; Jeffress and Knapp are comparable, though Jeffress is a safer bet. But Escobar/Cain is a much better package than Donald/Marson. And the Indians threw in a valuable extra player; the Royals threw in Yuniesky Betancourt. Win.

Date: 7/7/08
Pitcher: C.C. Sabathia
Contract Status: $9M for 2008 (reached $11M with bonuses)
Trade: Sabathia from Cleveland to Milwaukee for Matt LaPorta, Zach Jackson, Michael Brantley, and Rob Bryson

The last time the Brewers traded for an ace, they gave up four players for just three months’ worth of Sabathia. LaPorta was the big prize, a former #7 overall pick who has a career .296/.390/.563 line in the minors. He was already 23 and still in Double-A at the time of the trade, though, and he has to mash to have value, as he has next to no defensive value. He hasn’t mashed yet; in 162 games in the majors he’s hit .232/.307/.388. There’s still time.

Jackson was a finesse lefty, a former supplemental first-round pick who hadn’t panned out in the pros, and had a 7.85 ERA in Triple-A at the time of the trade; he hasn’t pitched much better since. Michael Brantley was a prototypical leadoff type who hit .319/.395/.398 in Double-A before the trade, at the age of 21. Even then there were concerns that his lack of power would expose him at higher levels, and in 100 games in the majors, he’s hit .264/.313/.333. Bryson was just a live arm pitching down in the South Atlantic League at the time of the trade; he pitched his way to Double-A this season, and might top out as a set-up man if all goes well.

The Indians didn’t get nearly the same amount of talent for Sabathia as the Royals did for Greinke; while LaPorta compares favorably with any of the four guys the Royals got, the other three guys were mostly filler. Still, given that Sabathia only had a half-season left under contract, the Indians did as well as could be expected.

Date: 2/2/08
Pitcher: Johan Santana
Contract Status: $13.25M for 2008 – agreed to replace contract with 6-year, $137.5M contract as part of trade.
Trade: Santana from Minnesota to New York Mets for Carlos Gomez, Philip Humber, Kevin Mulver, and Deolis Guerra.

Bill Smith was hired as the Twins’ new GM in September of 2007, and the Santana trade was his first major move since taking office. I can say that, as a Royals fan, I was absolutely delighted when I heard about the trade. I was stunned that the Twins would accept such a ridiculously pedestrian package for Santana, who was probably even more highly-regarded at the time than Greinke is today. (Santana had just led the AL in WHIP four years in a row, finishing 1st, 3rd, 1st, and 5th in Cy Young balloting from 2004-07.)

Santana had only one more season on his contract, but agreed to a six-year deal with the Mets as part of the deal. While he was getting paid market-value, the opportunity to lock in arguably the best pitcher in baseball to a long-term deal was worth a tremendous amount to the Mets.

And what did they give up for him? Carlos Gomez, the big name in the deal, had made his debut with the Mets in 2007 as a 21-year-old. On the other hand, Gomez hadn’t really hit all that well in the high minors – the Mets are notorious for rushing their players to the majors at an early age. Baseball America ranked him the #52 prospect in baseball at the time of the trade; he was a good prospect, but not a great one. Since the trade he’s been a glorified defensive replacement; he’s a Gold Glove-caliber centerfielder, but his career line is .246/.293/.349.

Philip Humber was the #3 overall pick in the 2004 draft, but like a lot of Rice pitchers he never showed the same stuff in the pros that he had in college. By the time of the trade he was 25 years old and projected as a #5 starter at best. He’s spent the last three years mostly toiling in Triple-A; you might have seen him in the Royals bullpen this summer. Mulvey was Humber’s doppleganger, another college pitcher who was long on polish but short on stuff. Over the last three years, Mulvey has made 78 starts in Triple-A (Humber has 75), but has thrown just 27 innings in the majors (Humber has 51).

Guerra was the potential prize of the trade; he was ranked the #35 prospect in baseball by Baseball America. He had pitched well in the Florida State League in 2007, at the age of just 18, and was thought to have some ace potential. He’s been an unmitigated disaster since the trade, though; he had a 6.36 ERA last season between Double-A and Triple-A. I think he was overrated at the time, on account of his age – again, the Mets are very aggressive about promoting their Latin American prospects up the chain, which can make them look better than they are. (Last year, for instance, the Mets brought 20-year-old Ruben Tejada to the majors, even though Tejada was hitting just .280/.329/.344 in Triple-A.)

I thought it was a bad trade at the time, and it looks much worse today, owing to the fact that Guerra fell apart. Really, the only value the Twins got for Santana was J.J. Hardy’s 2010 season, after they traded Gomez to the Brewers straight up for him.

The trade looks even worse when you consider that, unlike the Royals, the Twins were actually a competitive team at the time. They had just gone 79-83 in 2007, but that was their first losing season since 2000 – they had won 96 games and the division in 2006.

In 2008, the Twins finished 88-74, tied for the AL Central crown with the White Sox, and lost a one-game playoff. Meanwhile, Santana led the NL in ERA. The decision to trade Santana cost the Twins a playoff spot, and the players they got in return weren’t even worth the draft picks they would have gotten once Santana left as a free agent.

Date: 12/14/07
Pitcher: Danny Haren
Contract Status: $4M for 2008, $5.5 for 2009, $6.75M/$250K option for 2010.
Trade: Haren and Connor Robertson from Oakland to Arizona for Brett Anderson, Chris Carter, Aaron Cunningham, Dana Eveland, Carlos Gonzalez, and Greg Smith.

Now this is how you net prospects for Danny Haren. The A’s, who just three years earlier had acquired Haren and Daric Barton and Kiko Calero from the Cardinals for Mark Mulder (who had one good season before his career was destroyed by injuries), flipped Haren for six players. This sequence of events – flipping one pitcher at the precipice for three prospects, one of whom is an immediate improvement on the pitcher traded away, and who three years later is traded for six more prospects – might be the signature move of Billy Beane’s career.

In exchange for Haren, the A’s got Brett Anderson, who had a 2.80 ERA this season, as a 22-year-old southpaw. He’s on the short list for the best young pitchers in the game. They got Carlos Gonzalez, who led the NL in batting average and was an MVP candidate this season. They got Chris Carter (who the Diamondbacks had just traded Carlos Quentin for straight up), who was a Top-50 prospect last year, and despite a bit of an off-season is still a Top-100 prospect this winter. They got Greg Smith, who as a rookie in 2008 gave the A’s 32 starts with a league-average ERA. They got Aaron Cunningham, a tweener outfielder who helped them acquire starting third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff from the Padres last winter. And they got Dana Eveland, who like Smith was a league-average starter for them in 2008 before tailing off.

Now that’s a f**king-A trade.

For the A’s, the impact of the deal is muted by the fact that Gonzalez (and Smith and Huston Street) were traded to Colorado the following winter for Matt Holliday. While the A’s sold high on Smith, who immediately got hurt, they sold very low on Gonzalez, who is now one of the most valuable commodities in baseball. Holliday didn’t work out in Oakland, and was sold off the next summer to St. Louis for Brett Wallace, who turned into Michael Taylor, who was a big disappointment in Triple-A this year. But the trade itself might go down as one of the greatest stars-for-prospects trades of all time. If this is the standard by which you want to compare the Greinke trade, then the Greinke trade was a failure. It shouldn’t be.

(The other side of this trade is a cautionary tale for the Royals. By some measurements, the Royals’ farm system today is matched by only a few farm systems in the past decade – one of them, notably, being the 2006 Diamondbacks. Arizona lost 86 games in 2006, but won the NL West title in 2007. But after trading so much talent to Oakland for Haren that winter, the organization has gone backwards three straight seasons, finishing 82-80, 70-92, and 65-97. The moral is clear: having an abundance of talent does not give you license to throw players around like twenties at a strip club.)

Alright, take a look at those nine trades. The A’s got more for Danny Haren than the Royals got for Greinke, but aside from the fact that Haren still had three years left on his contract – that was a ridiculous trade. The Blue Jays’ haul for Roy Halladay was comparable to what the Royals got for Greinke – but the Phillies were trading for four years of Halladay, with an option for a fifth.

But in the other seven trades above, the team netting the prospects got less talent – in most cases, considerably less talent – than the Royals got for Greinke. Two of those trades (the last Lee trade and the Sabathia deal) involved a pitcher who was just months away from free agency, so those two deals are not directly comparable (and both teams did well, getting at least one Top-50 prospect in each trade.) But the other five deals all involved an ace starter with at least one season left on his contract. None of those deals come close to what the Royals got for Greinke. In particular, the Lee trade to Seattle brought back no impact players, the Santana deal was an enormous missed opportunity for the Twins, and the Haren deal this summer looks like a catastrophic waste of a #1 starter.

I have no way of knowing whether Dayton Moore could have gotten more for Zack Greinke than he did. But I can say with complete confidence that, based on the established market for #1 starters set over the past four years, Moore got market value for Greinke, and then some. If you want to argue that the Greinke trade was bad for Kansas City, go right ahead. Just be prepared to acknowledge the notion that virtually every team that has traded an ace starter in the last four years made an even worse deal.

And this leads me to the claim I made at the end of my last column, that the Royals very well might have done better than the Rangers did in their fabled Mark Teixeira trade.

A key point to my claim is this: the Teixeira trade wasn’t nearly as good as everyone thinks.

I don’t know what it is about Texas that makes people ignore the facts in favor of a neat storyline. Everyone talks about how the Rangers turned their pitching staff around because Nolan Ryan told the organization to stop babying their starters and make them throw 250 pitches every time out, just like he did. Never mind that the Rangers averaged just 98 pitches per start (sixth in the AL), and averaged just 5.87 innings per start (11th in the AL). Nolan Ryan made some strong statements about how men are men and pitchers should complete what they start, so the Rangers must be doing something differently, even if all the data tells us they’re not.

And everyone talks about how the trade of Mark Teixeira catapulted the Rangers onto an upward trajectory that led them to the World Series this year. Well, let’s look at that trade:

Date: 7/31/07
Pitcher: Mark Teixeira
Contract Status: $9M for 2007, arb-eligible for 2008 (signed 1-year, $12.5M deal).
Trade: Teixeira and Ron Mahay from Texas to Atlanta for Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Matt Harrison, and Beau Jones.

It’s a good trade. The Rangers got Elvis Andrus, then an 18-year-old who was struggling to hit in the Carolina League, but with undeniable tools. The next year Andrus took a step forward, hitting .295 and stealing 54 bases in Double-A. He started last season as the Rangers’ everyday shortstop, and finished second in Rookie of the Year voting. He’s a Gold Glove-caliber shortstop who gets on base, and he just turned 22.

He also slugged .301 this season.

I’m not dissing Andrus; I think he’s one of the better shortstops in the league, and I think he’s young enough to develop into a star. But first he has to show some ability to drive the ball. It’s possible he could be the new Ozzie Smith, who became an on-base machine in his early 30s despite never hitting for power. But I’d like to see him slug better than .301 before I consider him a star.

The Rangers also got Neftali Feliz, who at the time of the trade was a 19-year-old still toiling in rookie ball, although the scouting buzz on him was just taking off. In 2008 he tore through the system, reaching Double-A while striking out 153 batters in just 127 innings. In 2009 he pitched well in Triple-A, then was moved to the bullpen in preparation for his major league debut, which was electrifying – he allowed just 13 hits in 31 innings, which was the lowest hits per 9 innings ratio in major league history for someone with 30+ innings. (Or it would have been, had Mike Adams not allowed just 14 hits in 37 innings the same year.) In 2010, he took over as the Rangers’ closer, saved 40 games, and won the Rookie of the Year.

He’s also a reliever.

I’m not dissing on Feliz; he’s an outstanding pitcher with some of the best stuff in the game. And if the Rangers elected to move him back into the rotation, he certainly has a chance to become a #1 starting pitcher. But as long as he’s used as a closer – and there’s no indication they’re going to move him out of that role , there’s a limit to how valuable he can be no matter how effective he is.

The Rangers did a tremendous job of scouting both Andrus and Feliz, because neither player projected to be this good at the time of the trade. But it’s worth mentioning that, according to Baseball Reference, Andrus was worth 1.0 Wins Above Replacement this season. Felix was worth 2.4 WAR. The Rangers won the division by nine games. I know this is heresy to say, but I think they would have won the AL West even if they had never traded Teixeira.

The other thing to keep in mind is that, while the Rangers hit big on Andrus and Feliz, they whiffed even bigger on Saltalamacchia. Saltalamacchia was supposed to be the key to the trade – a 22-year-old rookie switch-hitting catcher who was already hitting .284/.333/.411 in Atlanta. Instead of turning into an All-Star catcher, though, Saltalamacchia stopped hitting, he developed a mental block about throwing the ball back to the pitcher, and he’s now in Boston, having checked into the Red Sox Convalescent Home For Washed-Up Phenoms. (I believe they gave him Jeremy Hermida’s old room.)

Harrison was a potential #4/#5 left-handed starter who has yet to reach even that modest ceiling, and Jones was a pure throw-in who might wind up a LOOGY when all is said and done. Which means the Rangers turned Teixeira into an excellent defensive shortstop who can get on base, and an elite closer. It was a great trade for them, to be sure. But it was hardly a franchise changer. The Teixeira trade doesn’t compare with the Bartolo Colon trade, for instance, or even the A’s trade of Danny Haren.

And I think there’s a chance that the Royals’ haul for Greinke can match, if not exceed, what the Rangers got for Teixeira. A year ago, Alcides Escobar and Elvis Andrus were considered the two best young shortstops in baseball, and it wasn’t entirely clear who you’d rather have going forward. Both are considered elite defensive shortstops – Andrus maybe a little better, but it’s close.  Both run very well. Andrus walks a lot more, but Escobar should hit for a higher average, and has a little more juice in his bat. (Even with his wreck of a rookie season, Escobar’s career slugging average of .335 is higher than Andrus’ .333.)

I don’t think Escobar is as good as Andrus. But if bounces back, he won’t be far behind.

Jeffress is unlikely to be as good as Feliz is, but they have a similar skill set – an electric fastball and an outstanding breaking ball, the slider for Feliz, the curveball for Jeffress. Feliz is special because his fastball has so much late movement, while Jeffress’ fastball is pretty straight. But while Jeffress is unlikely to be the pitcher that Feliz is, if Jeffress reaches his potential, again, he won’t be far behind.

And that leaves Cain and Odorizzi. If Cain becomes an average-plus everyday centerfielder, or if Odorizzi becomes a #3 starter in the majors, that’s considerably more value than the Rangers got from the other three guys in their trade. Really, if either Escobar or Cain becomes a quality everyday player, and either Jeffress becomes an elite reliever or Odorizzi becomes an above-average starting pitcher, then the Greinke trade will have yielded as much talent as the Teixeira trade. And if the Royals hit on three out of four, I’d argue that they did better than the Rangers.

It will be years before we know how this plays out. But the mere fact that I can argue with a straight face that the Royals may have received more for Greinke than the Rangers did for Teixeira should make it clear that the Royals didn’t get taken. I liked the trade when it was announced last weekend, and I like it even more today. Considering the price that other teams sold their ace starters for, Dayton Moore did as well as we could have expected. He might have done even better.

Happy Holidays, everyone. See you back here next year.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Greinke. Gone.

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 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 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.)