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Zack Greinke to Milwaukee: the Royals Could Have Done Better

December 20, 2010 BY ALEX EISENBERG 7 Comments

Wow, that was quick. Just a couple days after requesting a trade, Zack Greinke gets his wish. The Royals are sending Greinke to the Milwaukee Brewers for four players: outfielder Lorenzo Cain, shortstop Alcides Escobar, right handed pitcherJeremy Jeffress, and another right handed pitcher in Jake Odorizzi, who is the key piece in this deal for the Royals. Also included in the deal is Royals shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt, who will be a temporary replacement for Escobar until the Brewers can find a better replacement, which shouldn’t be too hard to do.

I have several questions for Royals management. Why not let this play out for another month, and let teams bid against each other a bit? I have to think they could have gotten a better package from Texas, which is why I’ll be very interested in seeing what other proposals were on the table at the time Greinke was traded.

Let’s do a quick rundown of the players headed to Kansas City:

Lorenzo Cain | OF – He’ll be 25 at the start of the 2011 season, so he’s just about entering his prime. He’s a very good athlete who can play any outfield position. He’s a plus defender in the corners of the outfield, but is merely good in center. Historically, he’s struggled to make consistent contact. And while he coupled those low contact rates with solid walk percentages, he did not hit for power. Despite his already being in the Majors, his long term outlook is still shaky. I’m seeing a best case scenario for Cain as an average everyday center fielder with a more like scenario of him being a fourth outfielder.

Alcides Escobar | SS – He was regarded by many to be the team’s top prospect the last couple of years. Personally, I’ve never been too high on him because of his lack of offensive versatility. He’s a one-trick pony with the bat. If he doesn’t hit for batting average, he’s an anchor for the rest of your line-up. He doesn’t hit for power and he doesn’t walk much. Even his walk total from 2010 is inflated because he had the luxury of batting in front of the pitcher. He walked almost twice as much in the 8th hole as he did from anywhere else in the line-up.

He does make contact at a good rate and the number of line drives he hit last year should have netted him a higher BABIP, but that was offset by his lack of good contact, specifically the soft grounders and infield pop-ups that plauged him throughout the season.

Escobar does have speed, but he can’t use it unless he gets on base. His specialty is actually with the glove and last year he showed himself to be more of an above average defender rather than the plus one fans expected. His UZR/150 (not the be-all/end-all, but still a good baseline) was 4.7 (among the 21 qualifiers, Escobar placed 8th). Like Cain, Escobar is no guarantee for long-term success. His glove will give him a better chance at succeed, but I’m skeptical. I suspect Escobar is going to be a player that is good enough to hold down shortstop until a better replacement comes along. I don’t see him as a critical piece to a playoff-caliber club.

Jeremy Jeffress | RHP – Let’s put his drug issues and prior suspensions to the side for a moment. From a talent standpoint, Jeffress possesses some of baseball’s best arm strength and speed, which allows him to generate velocity as high as 101 mph. Prior to 2010, Jeffress was used primarily as a starter and he struggled with his control and command. After returning from his most recent suspension, the Brewers put Jeffress in the bullpen and he flourished. While I think he can make for an excellent reliever, the fact of the matter is that relievers — no matter how good they are — are limited, individually, in the amount of value they bring to a team.

Jake Odorizzi | RHP – No complaint here…I love Odorizzi and he’s a legit headline piece to this deal for the Royals.

  • Click here for a pitch-by-pitch breakdown of Odorizzi from his time in Helena…
  • I guess what bothers me most with this trade is that the Royals are taking on a tremendous amount of risk without the upside. Cain and Escobar are not potential stars. They are potentially solid complimentary players on a good team at best. Jeffress is a reliever — perhaps a very good one — but relievers can only have so much value. Odorizzi is the one player with true front line upside, and he’s still a guy who hasn’t pitched above Low-A ball yet. And the fact the Royals made this deal so soon after Greinke requested a trade suggests they could have gotten something better if they held out for just a little longer and had teams bid against each other. Believe me, this deal would have been on the table a month from now. Even if this carried on until Spring Training, this deal would likely still be on the table. There is nobody in this deal who the Brewers would have second thoughts about sending away for Greinke.

    From Milwaukee’s and Greinke’s perspective, this is a fantastic deal. Greinke moves into an environment where there won’t be a tremendous amount of pressure on him to succeed. He moves to a League where outs are easier to come by and rather than face a DH every time through the order, now he’ll face the opposing team’s pitcher.

  • Click here for a breakdown of Greinke’s evolution into becoming an Ace-level pitcher…
  • All of a sudden now, Milwaukee has an extremely formidable and deep starting rotation. In adding Greinke, the club now essentially has three front of the rotation starters (returnee Yovani Gallardo and new acquisition Shaun Marcumare the others) , all of whom should post sub-4 ERAs next year. Randy Wolf becomes the team’s No. 4 starter, which is a spot where he should outperform his competiton around the league. However, he has some red flags entering 2011, primarily regarding his significantly declining K-rate. Since 2007, Wolf’s K-rate has gone from the eights to the sevens to the sixes and most recently to the fives. That is a clear trend of decline.

    The Brewers have a few options for the No. 5 spot in the rotation: Dave Bush, Manny Parra, and Chris Capuano. If that trio (and others) can collectively match the 4.54 ERA Bush posted last year, that would be better than most other teams.

    The big question here is if Milwaukee has done enough to compete with Cincinnati and St. Louis for the NL Central crown. A quick glance at each team’s current roster suggests they have. Milwaukee may have decimated their farm system, but at least in return they are giving their fans a team with a very real shot of contention.


    • Terry Metzger said:

      And Milwaukee traded -$2,000,000 for Betancourt, which seems like a steal for KC.

    • timber said:

      You say the Royals could have done better with the Rangers, but both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus named this as the equivalent Rangers package:

      Elvis Andrus
      Engel Beltre
      Tanner Scheppers
      Martin Perez or Robbie Erlin

      And the Rangers sure weren’t going to do that.

      Additionally, the Royals really were looking for major league ready players, something the Rangers don’t have to offer. They would have had to part with true major leaguers instead. If the Royals had taken guys who are projected to come up at the same time as their tope prospects, such as the Rangers projected package, they would have wound up with a vey large group of players slated to hit arbitation and free agent eligibility at the same time – not a very good idea.

      I guess they could have waited around to see if the Jays were going to change their minds about Drabek and Snider – and to see if Greinke would waive his no-trade to Toronto.

      The Nationals rumored package of Zimmermann, Espinosa, and Storen doesn’t look bad – but Greinke wouldn’t go to Washington.

      Everybody assumes that trading somebody like Greinke should be easy, and that they should get a superstar-in-waiting in return. The fact is, it’s NOT easy, and teams just don’t give up superstars-in-waiting any more.

    • timber said:

      It has also come out today that Greinke did change agents specifically because he felt that SFX had not done enough to facilitate a trade – he was getting impatient and felt it should have happened already. Now, the Royals absolutely did not have to comply with his request – not now not a year from now, not a month from now, or ever, for that matter – and I don’t know what he would have done in that case, but he was getting loud about it. I think that tends to drive a player’s price down, not up. He put the organization over a barrel, and he knew it. And don’t think his former Royals teammates don’t know it too, and they aren’t very happy with him – I’ve heard some very pointed comments today.

    • Evan said:

      Alex, I’m thinking Narveson has as good a shot as anyone to win the fifth starter spot. I’m liking him and Capuano, though that would spell two lefties at the end of the rotation.

    • Alex Eisenberg (author) said:

      Timber, I agree the package as you name it. But there were a lot of opportunities to mix-and-match different players.

      If I were Kansas City, I would have focused on Jurickson Profar like a laser. You want at least one positional guy at the higher levels included in the deal and Beltre is the only that makes sense, so they would have to include him. I agree Perez is a guy the Rangers would be very hesitant to give up, but you can swap in some other names as the final two or three players in that deal…if the Royals are dead set on a power arm out of the bullpen, depending on who the rangers valued more, you could swap in Ogando for Scheppers…but I’d let the Rangers keep their relievers and see if I could pluck a couple of potential starters. Also, when you have teams that are stockpiled in prospects, I tend to think they are more willing to throw an extra sweetener in the deal to get it done simply because they have the depth to do so. Terry, or other Ranger fans. Put your biases aside for a second…

      Would a deal like this fly with you:

      Robbie Ross
      Neil Ramirez/Matt Thompson/Joe Wieland/Wilmer Font/Somebody similar

      In return you guys get Greinke and the Royals also throw in a solid mid-level guy as well and keep Betancourt.

      Or what about this:




      Maybe these proposals don’t seem all that different from the Milwaukee deal, but I guess my take is slanted because I view Cain and Escobar more like stop-gap measures rather than long term options for the club. Profar and Beltre obviously create more risk, but the upside is so much greater.

      Now, it does seem like the Royals were looking for Major League players (though I’m not sure why…they should stick to accumulating talent to develop together over the next 2 – 4 years). In that sense, the Rangers are a more difficult team to match up with. And that would explain why they would ask for Ryan Zimmerman. But I don’t buy the arbitration argument. That is something you deal with down the road. If a player is so good that you need to pay them a lot of money in arbitration, that is a good problem to have. If you can’t afford all of them, you can always trade a couple and restock the system.

      You make a good point about the no-trade list, a point I ignored in the article. And I agree when you get down to looking at each team that could trade for him, there are not as many options as it seems. But again I think it comes down to, how do you see the individual parts of the deal? I love Odorizzi, and Jeffress could be very good in the bullpen, but I don’t see Escobar and Cain as long term options on the next competitive Royal team though I can see them as guys who come along for the ride as the team’s talent structure begins to change for the better at the Major League level and who eventually get placed by better players if the Royals have them in their system.

      But I agree with the general points you make…and clearly Dayton Moore (who has done a terrific job of accumulating minor league talent through the draft) had a different philosophy than I had about the kind of prospects you have to target in a trade for Greinke. And I’m sure he disagrees with my assessments about Cain and Escobar.

    • Alex Eisenberg (author) said:

      Timber, there are examples that go either way I think. For example, the Twins didn’t get much for Santana considering Santana’s talent and track record and probably waited too long to deal him. On the other side of the coin, you have the Orioles with Erik Bedard. McPhail didn’t wait till Spring Training, but he did wait till almost mid-February to finish the deal. At the time, it seemed like the Mariners were the only ones in the running and McPhail managed to squeeze every last drop out of them that he could.

    • Alex Eisenberg (author) said:

      Evan, good catch on Narveson…when I originally looked at 5th starter candidates I associated Narveson with some pretty poor numbers and a lack of strikeouts, but I’m guessing I mixed up his stat line with somebody else because he actually misses bats at a pretty good rate. So yeah, include him in that group. I also wouldn’t concern myself with have two lefties pitching back-to-back…just put the best pitchers you have out there.