You read that right. When I saw the trade, as first broken by Jim Breen over at Bernie’s Crew, I was in disbelief. But it actually happened. The Brewers have added a not only an ace, but possibly one of the 10 or even five best pitchers in the league. To acquire Greinke (as well as SS Yuniesky Betancourt and $2M), the Brewers sent Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, Jake Odorizzi, and Jeremy Jeffress
It’s easy to look at Greinke’s 2010 (4.17 ERA, 10-14) and say that he’s not an ace, but we know better than that. Even the old school guys and even the Baseball Writer’s Association of America knows better than that. Greinke had a similar (although not as good) season as Mariner’s ace Felix Hernandez: terrible run support and terrible bullpen support. Throw in some terrible defense, and you have Greinke’s season. His strikeouts were down and his home runs were back to human levels, but that shouldn’t be surprising, considering his 2009 season (2.16 ERA, 2.33 FIP, 9.4 fWAR!) was probably the best single pitching season since Pedro Martinez’s 1999.
We probably can’t expect Greinke to ever repeat that glorious 2009, but he’s still an elite pitcher. Projections for Greinke in the AL Central sit around a 3.30-3.60 ERA with similar peripherals. With a move to the NL, there’s no reason to believe that he can’t beat that. With a legitimate offensive team behind him (although rough defense behind him), Greinke’s winning woes should be behind him.
The Brewers rotation of Greinke, Yovani Gallardo, Shaun Marcum, Randy Wolf, and Chris Narveson isn’t quite the Aces Wild the Phillies have, but it’s on par with the Giants and Cardinals rotations and may be the second best in the league. Even with the losses of Escobar and Cain, the Brewers have to be considered an NL Central contender, if not the favorite.
Doug Melvin sold high on Lorenzo Cain. I’m a believer in his defense, but he has a complete lack of power (all of 28 minor league home runs from 2006-2010) and has some strikeout issues. Cain should be a good player for Kansas City, but he seems like a 3.0 WAR player to me at his best – he’s never going to hit for the power to take a step towards being a star. With Chris Dickerson (Bill James projection of .271/.363/.422) and Carlos Gomez in center field, any drop off should be minimal.
Alcides Escobar did nothing for the Brewers in 2010, but there’s still reason to believe he can be a productive shortstop. He should see some positive regression on his BABIP and could put up something like a .280/.320/.380 line for years to come. That, again, makes Escobar a decent MLB player, but like Cain, the odds are against him becoming a star. I’ll be shocked if he ever posts a SLG% above .400. The Brewers added Yuniesky Betancourt to play shortstop, but he might be the worst player in the majors, so Milwaukee will probably (at least possibly) look for other options there, such as Nick Punto or Cristian Guzman.
Jeremy Jeffress is another player with loads of talent, but he definitely has the lowest ceiling of the quartet. As far as stuff, it’s difficult to find a superior pitcher at any level of baseball. However, due to makeup problems and some control issues, Jeffress simply hasn’t been able to stick as a starting pitcher. The Brewers attempted to make him a starter in the Arizona Fall League, but most reports out of prospect guys like Keith Law were not positive. His absolute ceiling is as a closer, and he probably tops out as a useful bullpen piece. An asset, sure, but something that can easily be found in the later rounds of the draft, on the waiver wire, or in the Rule 5 draft.
The real prize for the Royals is Jake Odorizzi. The 2008 first round pick burst onto the prospect scene with a fantastic 2010 season with Class A Wisconsin. In 120 innings, Odorizzi posted a 3.43 ERA and a 2.98 FIP, striking out over 10 per nine innings and only walking three per nine. Odorizzi has a shot at becoming an ace, but it’s more likely that he becomes a solid #2 starter. Still, that’s an incredibly valuable commodity, and Odorizzi is likely going to be ranked in the top 100 prospects in baseball by most reputable lists.
Although losing Odorizzi hurts, Marc Hulet of FanGraphs put it best: “This is certainly quantity over quality. There are no can’t miss prospects and no blue-chip, young stars. You have a raw, potential No. 2 or 3 starter, an eighth- or ninth-inning reliever, a slick-fielding, light-hitting infielder, and a speedy centerfielder with contact issues.” The Brewers long-term future isn’t helped by this at all – their system is almost certainly last in the league now – but if the plan is to go for it, this is the move Doug Melvin needed to make. Zack Greinke gives the Brewers a fantastic starting rotation to go along with one of the league’s top offensive units.
2011 will be a great year for baseball in Milwaukee. The race for the NL Central is on.