Anybody who has participated in a snake-type fantasy draft (in any sport) is familiar with the idea of the run. In baseball, it’s often the closer run. All of a sudden, one or two guys draft a closer. The next thing you know, it’s two rounds later and you’re drafting Mike MacDougal as your first closer. Not a cool feeling.
Over the past two offseasons now, the National League Central has gone on something of a starting pitchers run, with the Brewers, Cubs, and Reds all making trades for young hurlers who will likely serve as their teams’ Opening Day starters: Zack Greinke, Matt Garza, and Mat Latos. Let’s revisit what each team received and parted with in acquiring their aces.
Matt Garza: Acquired 1/8/2011 (along with Zach Rosscup and Fernando Perez) for Chris Archer, Hak-Ju Lee, Sam Fuld, Brandon Guyer, and Robinson Chirinos.
Contract status at acquisition: Entering second of four arbitration seasons (due to Super Two qualification).
Zack Greinke: Acquired 12/19/2010 (along with Yuniesky Betancourt) for Jake Odorizzi, Jeremy Jeffress, Alcides Escobar, and Lorenzo Cain.
Contract status at acquisition: signed to a two-year, $27 million deal.
In terms of the prospect packages given up, it is clear that the Brewers gave up the least in the three trades. Jeffress will not have any value until he finds the strike zone and even then he profiles as a middle reliever at this point. Escobar, although fresh off top prospect status, lost much of his sheen after it became apparent he would struggle to hit for average in the majors (seeing as he would never hit for power). Cain profiles as a Carlos Gomez-type, with an excellent glove and a terrible bat — useful, but abundant. Odorizzi was the real prize — he reached #69 on Baseball America’s top-100 prospect list prior to the 2011 season. However, Odorizzi struggled in his first season in the Royals’ organization, sputtering to a 4.72 ERA. At just 21, there’s still plenty of time, but next year — presumably his second go-round at the level — will be key.
The other two trades included at least two top prospects. The Cubs were forced to part with two top-100 prospects: pitcher Chris Archer, who was ranked #29 by Baseball America (and dealt with similar struggles as Odorizzi) and shortstop Hak-Ju Lee, ranked 92nd (who did not struggle in High-A as a 20-year-old). The Reds dealt 73rd-ranked Yonder Alonso (who will surely rank lower now) and 2010 first-rounder Yasmani Grandal (unranked but expected to reach the rankings for the 2012 season) to San Diego.
Of course, some of this represents the differing monetary costs — the Padres needed to receive top prospects for the privilege to control Mat Latos’s arbitration (pre-free agency) seasons, and Matt Garza will make roughly as much in three seasons as Greinke will make in his first two as a Brewer. But it is far easier to recoup monetary costs — budgets change, bad contracts can be dumped — than it is to recoup lost talent. Just ask Doug Melvin about Brett Lawrie, who oddly seems to be the best player dealt in this whole scrum for probably the worst pitcher in Shaun Marcum.
As such, it’s hard for me to declare the acquisition of Zack Greinke as anything other than a rousing success. Where other teams were forced to part with top talent in order to acquire their aces — pitchers which, particularly in the case of Latos, may not measure up to Greinke’s standard — the Brewers were able to acquire their ace for what essentially amounted to spare parts in the grand scheme of the system. Greinke’s legacy in Milwaukee will eventually be determined by his 2012 performance and, potentially, whether or not he signs an extension with the club. But right now, at least, there doesn’t appear to be much in the way of buyer’s remorse for the Brewers.