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|Is that a smile forming, Zack? (photo originally found here)|
There is an obvious duality to this whole situation: Having Zack makes the Royals better, and trading Zack could make the Royals better.
Now one of those statements is incontrovertible. Zack Greinke is a season removed from being the closest thing to Pedro Martinez in his prime since Pedro was in his prime. He didn't just win a Cy Young. A season like his 2009 comes around once, maybe twice a decade, and he did it in a Royals uniform. With Greinke, though, it wasn't just 2009. Since rejoining the rotation on August 24th of 2007, Greinke has been pretty damn good, maintaining a 3.18 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 8.36 K/9, 2.26 BB/9, and 3.70 K/BB. This is clearly the stat line of a front-of-the-rotation starter, and his value is very real.
Moreover, he puts butts in the seats every fifth day. In 2009, every Greinke start was an event, and you could tell this was the case by looking at the stands. He appeals to a dwindling fan base because, quite frankly, he is the only superstar the Royals have had since they traded away Carlos Beltran, and even Beltran wasn't as universally appreciated as Zack Greinke has been since his otherworldly campaign two years ago.
Unfortunately, Zack Greinke plays for an incredibly shitty team. The Royals had the worst record in baseball in the Aughts, despite the fact that they actually had a winning record in one of those seasons, unlike the Pittsburgh Pirates, who haven't seen a record above .500 since 1992. In his past 105 starts, the Royals have held a 50 - 55 record, and Zack has a 41 - 34 record to show for his efforts. The false hope that had grown within him when he signed his contract extension coming out of the 2008 season came crashing down during the 2009 season, and his frustration surfaced very publicly when he began to vent about how he didn't want to wait around to experience his third rebuilding phase in Kansas City. If we Royals fans are frustrated with the state of affairs at One Kauffman Way, imagine how it must feel to be dragged down by a dismal team around us.
Now here's where it gets tricky. Even with Zack Greinke's past mental obstacles, we have a pretty good idea as to what his value is in the present and going forward. At worst, he is a 5.0 WAR starting pitcher with no injury history who turned 27 in October. According to FanGraphs' valuation system, his performances over the past three seasons have been worth $22.3 in 2008, $42.5 in 2009, and $21.0 million in 2010. That 2009 season had him more valuable than everyone else in baseball. Everyone. You have to go back to Randy Johnson in 2001 to find any player whose season was worth more than Zack Greinke's 2009 would have been on the free agent market.
What the Royals are faced with now is a player who has publicly voiced his discouragement at the state of the Royals Major League roster. A player whose contract is up after the 2012 season when 2013 is realistically the first year that a good chunk of what is now nearly universally thought of to be the best minor league system in all of baseball should be contributing at the Major League level. Two seasons is a long time to be on a team day in and day out waiting for a sunnier day.
The only issue with that last sentence is that it may not actually be that long. In 2011, the Royals will finally start to see their farm system graduate some of its multitudinous talent to the Majors. Dayton Moore will wait just long enough to delay Mike Moustakas's arbitration clock a year. Tim Collins may break camp on the Opening Day roster. At least one of the Royals young lefties should find themselves getting the call as the season progresses. Hell, if things broke right for the Royals, they may find themselves with Danny Duffy, Chris Dwyer, and Mike Montgomery toeing the rubber at the K. And if there was one key bat in the minors who could conceivably make the jump to the Majors come August, it would probably be that of Eric Hosmer.
|Moose respects his wood (originally here)|
No, the Royals will not be competing in 2011, but 2012, while not likely, is still a possibility. As Ken Rosenthal has posited, maybe Zack will be singing a different tune come spring training when he actually gets to take a look at what the Royals have waiting in the wings. After all, how many of us at this time last year thought that the minor league system would be looking like it does now? So, yes, 2011 is already lost. 2012 might not be.
Obviously, the timing of the expiration of Zack Greinke's current contract is not likely to be concurrent with when we all hope the Royals to be contending. Barring a major miracle, Zack Greinke will be a free agent the offseason before the Royals could conceivably contending for the AL Central Divisional Title. If there were a single player who would be likely to re-sign with the Royals, it would be Zack Greinke, though, even taking his comments in August into account. After all, his no-trade clause only serves to solidify the notion that he would not want to bolt for the bright lights of New York or Boston. He simply wants to play for a winner. While the Royals are not there yet, they are not far off.
Unfortunately, to re-sign him if he were still with the team would likely cost upwards of $20 million a season, which is more than likely quite a bit more money than a team like the Royals should be committing to a single player. The fan in me really doesn't want to see him go. The pragmatist in me sees that he could yield quite the return on the trade market, and that return is likely to be at its peak value the instant Cliff Lee signs his name to a dotted line.
|The Devil Incarnate|
[I]f it's me, I don't trade Zack Greinke unless I can get two Zack Greinke's in return.Having to stomach another ultimately disastrous trade, would be more than most of us could take. Yes, it is a different regime, but I think most of us are still leery of Dayton Moore's eye for Major League talent. He is the man responsible for trading two prospects for Yuniesky Betancourt mere weeks before he was likely to be designated for assignment. He did hand out a three-year, $36 million contract to Jose Guillen. He chose to trade a quality middle reliever for Mike Jacobs. He saw fit to sign Jason Fucking Kendall to a two-year, $6 million contract.
Yes, the minor league system seems to have been overhauled entirely. If the Royals can somehow manage to not fuck this all up, the credit likely has to go to Moore, but the fact remains that he has been below average when it comes to constructing a Major League roster. He has also had only one of his draftees advance to the Majors, and that was Greg Holland, so we are operating from a hypothesis based on theoretical projections when we look to the future with optimism. The overhaul of the minors seems to point towards Moore having a good idea as to what he is doing on the farm, and that is where Royals fans have to be looking when we begin to think about the probable departure of Zack Greinke in the coming months.
The most likely destination seems to be Texas, who are not in the AL Central, and are thought to be playing with the shorter stack of chips in the Cliff Lee poker game with the Yankees and possibly the Nationals. Even if the Rangers were to sign Cliff Lee, they would certainly have the prospects to trade for Greinke if they really wanted to make another run in 2011. With the key to a deal with the Rangers likely hinging on Jurickson Profar being included in the deal (who Greg Schaum covered in detail with info from the Newberg Report here), the Royals could also get an additional combination of players from the pool of Derek Holland, Tanner Scheppers, Martin Perez, Engel Beltre, Craig Gentry, Leury Garcia, and Julio Borbon, all of whom have been kicked around in rumors everywhere from The Newberg Report to USA Today. Given Schaum's knowledge of how the Royals operate, I'll defer to his notion that the Royals would more or less demand Jurickson Profar, which essentially rules out Engel Beltre, as it seems like a deal would be either/or for the bats of the non-throw-ins (read: Julio Borbon, Craig Gentry, and Leury Garcia, of whom the Royals would likely get one, possibly because they threw in Gregor Blanco). So I think from the Royals standpoint, it would probably take Holland, Perez, Profar, and either Gentry or Borbon to wrest Greinke (and Blanco) from their grip. That is probably the best deal they can get this off-season for Greinke, and most smoke is coming from camps believing that Texas is the best fit right now.
The next one that makes sense from the Royals' standpoint would be a three-team deal involving Arizona and a team like the Braves or Rangers in which the Royals got back Justin Upton. I'll not spend a lot of time on this as this seems less likely considering that the Royals are on Justin Upton's no-trade list. Maybe he would waive the clause, but it is an extra hurdle. With Upton signed through 2015, he would step in and be the cornerstone of the Royals offense at the ripe age of 23 and they'd have him until his walk year at 28 years old. The Royals would likely have to give up another prospect in a three-way deal, with the Braves/Rangers having to throw in three top-tier prospects, but the Royals would get All-Star level help immediately in this deal.
The next team that makes some sense, unless you are holding onto the notion that teams should not trade top talent within the division, an arcane notion that Moore & Co. could certainly be operating under, is the Twins. It would seem like the Twins likely have a pair of top prospects to build a deal around. Kyle Gibson and either Aaron Hicks or Ben Revere (Moore would hopefully demand Hicks over Revere, who has yet to develop anything resembling power) would likely be central to a trade getting done. There would also need to be a Major League-ready arm in the deal. Kevin Slowey's name has been included in some of the rumblings that I've but a fair amount of them have been utterly off-base and not at all in line with what Dayton Moore is generally accepted as having be his standard for pulling off a trade--two ML-ready players and two top prospects. It would likely take a Slowey type (I doubt they'd want to take on Nick Blackburn given his contract status) plus Gibson, Hicks or Revere, and a fringe Major Leaguer who addresses a positional weakness from the standpoint of organization depth.
Lastly, teams like the Braves and the Blue Jays make at least a bit of sense.
The Braves obviously have the talent in their farm system to pull off a deal, and Dayton Moore clearly feels comfortable trading with his old organization. A deal in which they got a pitching prospect like Julio Teheran, Mike Minor, Randall Delgado, or Arodys Vizcaino. While Mike Minor is a lefty, something the Royals don't exactly need right now, he also made his ML-debut this past season, so he is ready. Teheran seems like he would be off-limits in trade talks, so personally, Delgado seems like the closest righty to the Majors of the bunch. Unfortunately, the Braves are a little weak in the positional prospect arena. Freddie Freeman is a great prospect but plays first base, which isn't exactly a point of weakness with Eric Hosmer waiting in the wings. It would also seem like the Royals would try to get stronger up the middle. Maybe Matt Lipka or Andrelton Simmons would help get a deal done, but it would be less enticing than adding Freeman's bat. Sure, Hosmer or Freeman could be moved to a corner outfield slot, but the prospects don't seem to line up quite as well as they do in either the Twins or Rangers scenarios, and they're not getting a five-tool 23-year-old All-Star back like they would in an Upton deal.
|Shaun "Guns" Marcum representing|
Now, obviously, all of these deals share one thing in common: the Royals would be getting a shitload of talent back. Clearly, Dayton Moore does not need to trade Zack Greinke. There is even still a slim chance that the Royals could sign him to an extension if that is both Moore and Zack's prerogative when the time comes. As Moore has stated, the Royals will only trade Greinke if the right offer comes around. For this one time, they seem to be in the driver's seat and can command what they get in return for their ace.
Given the asking price, which seems pretty in line with what has been laid out here, it is improbable that the Royals deal Greinke. With the time frame Moore is working with, I actually, for once, have confidence that Moore will get a substantial haul for Greinke. I have been leery of most of his trades thus far, but Greinke's value seems pretty easy to me to ascertain.
As a subjective fan, I want to see Zack Greinke on the mound sporting a Royals uniform every fifth day. Objectively, I know that a deal that nets what that Rangers deal or that Blue Jays deal would bring back makes the Royals better in the long run.