Commentary

Zack Greinke trade move of necessity

Royals needed to deal the former Cy Young, and the Brewers had the proper pieces

Originally Published: December 19, 2010
By Jerry Crasnick | ESPN.com

Kansas City general manager Dayton Moore's return haul for Zack Greinke looks a little meager at first glance, given the expectations that he was seeking a "Mark Teixeira-caliber" trade haul in exchange for his No. 1 starter. That's a reference to Rangers GM Jon Daniels' killer deal that brought Neftali Feliz, Elvis Andrus and three other players to Texas from Atlanta in 2007 in exchange for a certain switch-hitting Scott Boras client.

Kansas City's trade package for Greinke and shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt looks more like Mark Teixeira Lite. Moore got a shortstop (Alcides Escobar) who posted a .288 on base percentage last season, and a center fielder (Lorenzo Cain) with some ability, but no amazing, off-the-charts tool. He landed a young pitcher (Jake Odorizzi) who has lots of promise but spent 2010 in the Class A Midwest League, and another pitcher (former first-round draft pick Jeremy Jeffress) who served two suspensions for marijuana use in the minor leagues.

So the Royals failed to land a "sure thing" star in exchange for Greinke, an athletic, front-of-the-rotation guy with a Cy Young award on his mantel and a great big future ahead of him.

That's the cynical view, if you're a Royals die-hard or a knee-jerk Dayton Moore basher. The reality is, when teams trade an elite starting pitcher with a gun to their head, there's no such thing as a sure thing.

[+] EnlargeGreinke
Adam Jacobs/Icon SMIZack Greinke won the AL Cy Young Award in 2009 by going 16-8 with a league-best 2.16 ERA.

As the offseason dragged on and it became clear the Royals were going to have to move Greinke -- for a variety of reasons -- Moore knew it was going to be next to impossible to get equal value in return. All he had to do was look at the other deals involving big-name starters in recent years:

• In February 2008, Minnesota sent Johan Santana to the New York Mets for Carlos Gomez, Phil Humber, Kevin Mulvey and Deolis Guerra. That package looks good only if Santana's recent shoulder problems obliterate what's left of his career.

• In July 2008, the Cleveland Indians sent CC Sabathia to Milwaukee and got Matt LaPorta, Michael Brantley, Zach Jackson and Rob Bryson in return. LaPorta, who was supposed to be a monster bat, has a .694 OPS in 162 games with Cleveland.

• Between July of 2009 and 2010, Cliff Lee was the centerpiece of three trades that brought a total of 11 prospects to the Indians, Philadelphia Phillies and Seattle Mariners. If anyone out there knows for sure that big things are in store for Justin Smoak, Carlos Carrasco, Jason Knapp, Phillippe Aumont, Josh Lueke or Blake Beavan, feel free to raise your hand.

The best recent haul for an elite starting pitcher was garnered by the Toronto Blue Jays, who sent Roy Halladay to Philadelphia last December in exchange for catcher Travis D'Arnaud, pitcher Kyle Drabek and outfielder Michael Taylor, who turned into outfield prospect Anthony Gose after two subsequent spin-off trades.

For all the hype surrounding Greinke, he's not at the caliber of a Halladay or a Sabathia just yet. He's had one transcendent year, when he went 16-8 with a 2.16 ERA to win the AL Cy Young Award in 2009. This season he went 10-14 with an ERA of 4.17. Greinke's ERA+, which accounts for ballpark factors, was 100 -- or exactly league average.

But the Royals' people, and scouts who follow the team, won't be the least bit surprised if Greinke becomes a perennial All-Star with a move to the National League and a fresh mindset.

"He's one of the best competitors and smartest pitchers out there," an AL scout said recently. "He fields his position, he holds runners and he can handle the bat. People can say what they want, but once the guy is on the mound, he has the ability to tune everything out. He's going to be the same no matter where he pitches."

Although the Yankees had privately expressed concerns about Greinke's ability to handle New York, a Royals official recently told ESPN.com that the focus on Greinke's history of social anxiety disorder was "overblown." Greinke walked away from the game in 2006 but subsequently dealt with his issues through counseling and medication, and there's no real reason to keep rehashing it. At any rate, it won't be a problem in Milwaukee.

Greinke is under contract for two more years at a total of $27 million and slides into the front of a formidable Milwaukee rotation with Yovani Gallardo, Shaun Marcum, Randy Wolf and 12-game winner Chris Narveson. Meanwhile, Moore rid himself of the soap opera that would have resulted from the Greinke speculation dragging on through New Year's Day, then Martin Luther King Day, then Valentine's Day.

It was big news within the industry last week when AOL FanHouse reported that Greinke fired the SFX agency and hooked on with Casey Close, Jeff Berry and CAA, and news outlets were destined to become obsessed with the identity of the 15 teams on Greinke's "no trade" list. In recent weeks, there have been too many reports that Greinke was bored and unhappy and had "checked out mentally" in Kansas City to think that a trade wasn't inevitable.

There was also a major timing issue from Kansas City 's end. The Royals' farm system is loaded. But by the time most of those prospects are ready to contribute at the big league level, Greinke would have been on the cusp of free agency, and probably too expensive for Moore to sign to a long-term deal.

Rather than simply canvas the landscape in search of the best package, Moore focused on teams with up-the-middle position players who were close to major league-ready. The Royals have a budding young first-base star in Eric Hosmer, a talented third-base prospect in Mike Moustakas and lots and lots of highly regarded young pitchers in their system, so Moore was big on catchers, middle infielders and center fielders.

The big surprise, of course, was that Milwaukee had enough talent in its system to make the deal. Sources told ESPN.com last week that the New York Yankees and Texas Rangers didn't match up very well with Kansas City. But Toronto and Washington appeared to be ahead of the Brewers in the pecking order.

Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos, an ardent Greinke suitor, appeared to make an awfully inspired move two weeks ago when he traded Marcum to the Brewers for minor league infielder Brett Lawrie.

The deal looked brilliant on two fronts: (1) By sending Marcum to Milwaukee, Anthopoulos lessened the Brewers' need to rush out and acquire another starter; and (2) by acquiring Lawrie, Milwaukee's top prospect, Anthopoulos took away one of Milwaukee GM Doug Melvin's main trade chips.

Little did we know. Melvin was thinking two steps ahead, and Moore found his match in Milwaukee.

It will take time, of course, to hand out the grades for the two teams. But if Escobar and Cain are even average big league regulars, Moore probably did OK. And if Odorizzi builds on the potential he showed in 2010, when he was Milwaukee 's minor league pitcher of the year, or Jeffress works through his off-field issues and becomes an effective closer for Kansas City, Moore did better than OK.

The only sure losers with this transaction are fans and Internet rumor-mongers who believe that hot stove chatter needs to be a wall-to-wall proposition right up until the start of spring training. Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford are in Boston. Jayson Werth signed a nine-figure deal with Washington. Cliff Lee is a Phillie, and now Zack Greinke has a new home. Other than the Scott Boras Olympics -- an annual New Year's ritual -- we might actually be looking at one boring and uneventful January for baseball.

Jerry Crasnick is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Click here to purchase a copy of his book, "License to Deal," published by Rodale. Crasnick can be reached via e-mail.

Jerry Crasnick | email

ESPN.com MLB Sr. Writer