Posted on 23 December 2010.
Zach Greinke is gone. It’s time to get over it and move on. The harsh realities of life forced Dayton Moore to seek the best deal the market would bear for Kansas City’s one and only star. And now the only thing left to do is evaluate what the Royals received in return.
The superstar-for-prospects trades of the past haven’t worked out too well in the past for the Royals. Look back at the trades of Beltran in 2004 (which brought Mike Wood, Mark Teahen and John Buck) and Damon in 2001 (which netted Roberto Hernandez, Angel Berroa and A.J. Hinch). Because of the high profile of these trades, the Royals had no choice but to give these six players every opportunity to succeed. But what they got was years of mediocre performance which finally came to an end when the Royals finally purged Buck and Teahen a year ago.
Hope springs eternal, however, and the pieces added in the Greinke trade make sense, at least on paper. The Royals farm system features a couple of prime corner position players, but it’s been void of up-the middle prospects for years. They’ve tried desperately to add shortstops and centerfielders through trades and free agency, but that strategy has produced mostly one-hit wonders (Berroa) and washouts (Neifi Perez, Coco Crisp, Rick Ankiel, etc.)
So Moore insisted on getting young, major-league ready, up-the-middle players with several years left under the control of their current franchise in return for Greinke. He landed two highly touted players that fit that description in shortstop Alcides Escobar and centerfielder Lorenzo Cain.
There wasn’t one “centerpiece” to the Greinke trade, but a big-league-ready shortstop was probably the non-negotiable element that had to be included. Escobar was Baseball America’s #1 rated shortstop going into the 2010 season when he was handed the starting job in Milwaukee.
Infatuation with Escobar waned during the last season when he struggled at the plate, hitting .235 with a .288 OBP. But Royals fans hope those struggles were merely growing pains at the expense of the Brewers. After all, he’d hit over .300 in the minors in both 2007 and 2008, and .298 in 2009, before getting into 38 games with Milwaukee in 2009, where he recorded a .304 average.
Escobar’s arm is reportedly one of the best in the league and he has the speed to be a threat on the base paths. He swiped 42 bases in his last minor league stop. If his bat can catch his other skills, he could finally vanquish the Yuninefi Berroacourt monster that has plagued the Royals for a decade.
At best, the Royals have fixed the shortstop problem for the long term. At the least, they have upgraded from a shortstop who will be 29 next season to one who will be just 24 and who is under the Royals’ control through the 2015 season.
The Royals don’t know what they have in Jeff Bianchi, a 2nd rounder in 2005 who has hit solidly but just can’t stay healthy. If he’s healthy, Bianchi will most likely start the season at Double A. Meanwhile, many are guessing Christian Colon, the 4th pick in the 2010 draft who played shortstop at Wilmington last season is a better fit at second base and will now shift over there. Many are already penciling in a double play combo of Escobar and Colon for the future.
Reportedly the Atlanta Braves coveted Cain but couldn’t swing a deal to get him. So the story goes that Braves scout Jim Fregosi told Moore “If you trade Greinke, get Cain.”
If that story is true, what is it about Cain that scouts love?
First off, Cain is an athlete. He’s tall, strong and fast. The Royals hope he can develop into a top-flight defender in centerfield, another position where the team hasn’t found a consistent fit. They tried handing the position to an injury-prone veteran the past couple of years – first Crisp, then Ankiel. They hope the 24-year-old who played 43 games in Milwaukee can solidify the position.
Cain shot up rapidly last season, partly due to trades and injuries. He hit .324 with 21 stolen bases at Double A Huntsville, then hit .299 with 5 steals in a short stopover in Nashville. Once in Milwaukee, Cain continued to hit, going .306 with a .348 OBP in 147 at bats.
The addition of Cain affects the way the rest of the outfield shapes up. One would assume that the Royals plan to make Cain their every day centerfielder. Before the Greinke trade, did they plan for Melky Cabrera to have that role? Will Melky now platoon with left-fielder Gordon? Or will they rotate Cain, Melky and Gordon with rightfielder Jeff Francouer?
Having options is a good thing for manager Ned Yost, but it might not be a good thing for Gordon. Gordon was not a Dayton Moore draft pick and may be running out of chances. The addition of Cain would also not bode well for reserve outfielder Mitch Maier and certainly not for Gregor Blanco. Blanco has shown some potential, but he’s mainly been in the mix because he’s a speedy slap-hitting type. Now the Royals have more options in center, so Blanco’s opportunity may have been short lived.
The acquisition of Cain is also not helpful to minor leaguers Jarrod Dyson, David Lough and Derrick Robinson, each of whom has been considered a prospect, but is about the same age as Cain.
The two major-league- ready position players were the essentials to get the Royals to consider the trade. But adding top-flight pitching prospects is what made the deal worth doing.
The Royals gained a major talent when 23-year-old Jeffress was included in the Greinke trade. Although he was a starter throughout most of his minor-league career, Jeffress appears perfectly suited for the role of table-setter for Joakim Soria. He showed he was more than capable his rookie season, notching 8 strikeouts and a 2.70 ERA in 10 innings of relief in 2010.
But let’s cut to the chase. Jeffress has tested positive for marijuana three times. Is that the type of guy who can hold it together when major-league money and major-league pressures come with the job? Is that the type of guy the Royals need in the clubhouse as they bring up their prized crop of prospects? Moore must either be naïve, or he must be certain Jeffress has his personal life under control.
If Jeffress can live up to his potential, his potential is scary. He can push 100 miles per hour and reportedly has an effective curve – which is why the Brewers made him the 16th pick in the 2006 draft.
The effect of Jeffress on the franchise will depend upon him. If he has his act together he could be a dominant reliever. If he can’t, the Royals are used to muddling through the later innings, so expect more of the same.
Still a couple of years removed from the big leagues, Odorizzi was hardly a throw-in for Greinke. A supplemental first-rounder in 2008 and the top pitching prospect in the Brewers’ system, the right hander immediately becomes perhaps the Royals’ top righty in their entire farm system.
Odorizzi is just 20 and will most likely start the season at Northwest Arkansas. But with very few right handers to compete with, he’ll be a top commodity. His addition takes some of the pressure off Aaron Crow to live up to his first-round billing.
As we’ve seen before, if any team can screw up prospects, it’s the Royals. These types of trades are intended to reel in several quality pieces in exchange for one superstar. But how many of these four will the Royals have to hit on for the trade to have been worth it? Is one quality starter out of the bunch a good value? Do all four have to pan out?
This trade can’t be sufficiently judged for years. The Royals are giving Moore time to build the team from the bottom up. But if Moore someday is deemed a failure, it may be based more on the results of this trade than anything else he does.