I finally have a computer again folks. Let's see if we can't get back into the swing of blogging. And what better way to start than by dissecting the Greinke trade - one that for better or worse will be remembered for a very long time here in Milwaukee.
The consensus seems to be that the Brewers made a good trade in acquiring Zack Greinke from the Royals in exchange for Jake Odorizzi, Jeremy Jeffress, Alcides Escobar and Lorenzo Cain. I would like to confirm that belief for you all by stressing two main concepts: (1) the premium of star-level players and (2) competitive windows.
The recent transactions by the Boston Red Sox, and I suppose you could say their entire management technique the past several seasons, shows what good teams need to do to win. First, you must develop home-grown talent to get some star players and depth to fill voids. Then you should spend all resources available to obtain other star players. A team should not throw money around on the free agent market to acquire talent that 25 other teams fill with a guy making $400,000 a season. The point here is that star-level talent is what separates contenders from bad teams. It is damn hard to find, damn hard to keep, and for a team like the Brewers, utterly impossible to acquire in free agency. Its all about supply and demand. Zack Greinke is without a doubt a star player. Yes, he did not have his best season last year. But a disappointing season from him probably would have been good for a 3.50 ERA in the NL Central. And his 2009 season would have been good for a 1.80 season in the NL Central. There wasn't an injury last year, and there is not a real worry about Greinke declining. He is a star player.
The supply of Zack Greinke type players is at most 10. There was one similar player on the free agent market this offseason - Cliff Lee. Lee made four times more than what the Brewers are committed to with Greinke, albeit for a few more years. The supply of Zack Greinkes is exceptionally low. Meanwhile, the demand for him could not be higher. All 30 teams would take Greinke for the money he is making - $13.5 per year. In a pure economic setting not riddled with nonsensical historic contracts, Greinke would earn $30M per season.
For as much as I love prospects and how valuable they are over their 6.5 seasons of early career slavery, I don't share the same sentiments for any of the Brewers players trade away here as I do for Greinke. These guys are not stars. I never imagined Escobar as a star player, and for all his hype, he was one of the worst players in baseball last season. To expect him to become a star player within the next five years is wishful thinking. The guy can't hit. His defense took a step back this year, and I expect if he ever put on the weight needed to be a legitimate MLB hitter, he'd sacrifice a good portion of the one thing making him a major leaguer - his defense. I just don't see him becoming anything more than a good, not great player, and that's if he progresses significantly. There are 40 other guys like him right now. Even if he progresses, I'd say at his peak there are still 10 guys in the league who could replicate his performance. Meanwhile, there are only 30 shortstops who start in MLB. So, demand is not all that high for a guy like Escobar. If he hit the free agent market at his peak, he probably wouldn't make 1/3 of what Greinke would make. And I know the Brewers would have Escobar for 5 years as opposed to 2 for Greinke, but do you honestly think Escobar is going to be a major asset before 2013? Again, that's if he ever develops, which I'm not optimistic he will.
Everything about Escobar can be said about Lorenzo Cain. I applaud his bounce back last season. He had a great season. But he plays a more offensive minded position than Escobar. And there are a lot of really good CFs in the game. Cain may turn into a nice CF, but it's really hard to imagine him being a star. When contracts are handed out to CFs, it's the guys who can hit home runs and do everything that Cain does who get the premium money. Cain's ceiling just isn't that high because he won't have power. So, again, he is replaceable. Star players are not replaceable.
Jeffress and Odorizzi are a bit different in that they are pitchers, so the demand for them is considerable higher. But Jeffress's ceiling is as a good, not great, closer. And Odorizzi is barely a top-50 pitching prospect. While I like him more than most, the reality is that he's unlikely to ever be an impact player in MLB. Far less likely is he to be a star. And as I've repeated over and over, it's the star players that you need to contend because average players can be acquired so easily internally or through free agency.
Realizing that the Brewers traded quantity to get quality, the key to this trade ultimately is the Brewers' competitive window.
The Brewers now have a legitimate chance to win something in 2011 and a slight chance to win in 2012. Without Greinke, they would have had less than a 10% chance in 2011 and less than 5% in 2012 in my opinion. Greinke has pushed those odds upwards of 33% for 2011. Though that may seem small (and you're welcome to disagree), the reality is it is high enough to make an impact, and it is probably almost 4 times more likely that they compete this year with Greinke than without him. But what does this mean for 2013 and beyond? Well, the Brewers are fucked. Like, historically fucked. They have the worst farm system I can recall in my approximately 15 years of following farm systems. They have only two good players under contract for 2013 and probably 15 roster spots to fill with no hope of doing it through the minor leagues. I would be surprised if they didn't lose over 100 games at least once between 2013 and 2015.
But the key here is that Escobar, Jeffress, Odorizzi and Cain would not make a single bit of difference in those seasons. The Brewers already have a terrible farm system (which I would argue was easily the worst in baseball before this trade). So, what good does keeping them around do? The window is open. It will be open for 1 or maybe 2 years. And it will then slam closed. Very hard. There is no point in keeping 4 mid-level talents around to help the Brewers win 66 games in 2014. Why bother?
And with the window so clearly closing, it seems imminent that the Brewers will rebuild rather than try to compete after the next two seasons. I welcome this as much as I welcome the competitiveness I now expect for 2011. The Brewers may have 15 first round and supplemental first round picks in the next 3 years. That is an awfully good way to start the process of rebuilding. Add to that the fact that they will have almost $60M in annual salary off the books by then. That's a lot of money available to draft and sign the best players available. Hell, they could even sign an international player or two. The clean break from competition to rebuilding will be a great opportunity. And, even assuming the worst, that the Brewers are not in competition this year and everything falls apart, they can start trading away and rebuilding right there. Because they have so many quality chips in demand from other teams, they could accelerate the rebuilding if things went wrong.
The Brewers should have won 76 games last year. The Reds should have won 89. The Cardinals should have won 85. Have the Brewers effectively gained 13 games in the standings? Using last year's stats, Greinke and Marcum (about 55 VORP combined) replace (Davis, Suppan and Bush (-33 VORP combined). Alone, that's 9 wins. With more innings from the new guys, you can also eliminate some of the losses guys like Marco Estrada and Manny Parra provided. With any bounce back from Greinke, the acquisitions could be worth 12 or 13 more games. That puts the Brewers right on top of the Reds. Of course, the margin of error is exceptionally thin for the Brewers. They have no backup players anywhere and no help on the horizon from the minors. This is not the case with the Reds and Cardinals. But, hopefully the Brewers' bullpen additions by subtraction result in enough to overcome some anticipated declines and injuries. It should be really interesting, and it's one last shot for the Brewers to do something we all expected a lot more of when Weeks, Fielder, Braun, Hart, and Gallardo broke through 5 years ago.
Labels: Social Anxiety, Zack Greinke