In Your Dreams: Zack Greinke

The internet has gone gaga the past couple days after a report by Buster Olney that the Royals would listen to “any and all offers” for 2009 Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke.  The general speculation is that the Royals would have to be presented with a no-brainer of an offer to move their best player, and I agree with that.

In fact, I more than agree.  I say it’s ridiculous to even consider anything else.  Most trades should be something that benefits both teams.  Team A has a losing record, an aging, expensive slugger, and won’t have a use for him.  Team B needs a proven slugger for their playoff charge and is willing to take on age and salary to do it.  They’ll gladly give up prospects to a rebuilding team.  It’s win win.

But the Royals can take no other stance but “we’re going to rip you off, and laugh at you when we do it” if they’re to trade Greinke this off-season.

The issue has sparked a lot of debate on the Fansided network as well, especially following Jordan Campbell’s article on Cubbies Crib about the Cubs chances at landing the talented right handed starter.

First, this is all based on a report from ESPN’s Buster Olney, who’s generally in tune with a lot of league sources. I don’t refute that his report is correct. The way it’s being interpreted, however, I think is improper.

Some background on this conclusion (and it’s loose and based on nothing by my own interpretation, so have a salt shaker at hand if you so choose): I play a lot of fantasy sports starting in 1998 with a fantasy football league. I’ve played in fantasy baseball leagues that used touch-tone phones for lineup changes. I make a LOT of trades. A lot. As in I actively seek to be in the top three every season in swaps. I just like the negotiation process, I like bantering with other players, and I like to try to improve my teams at every chance possible.

But along those lines, I run into a LOT of bad trade offers, so to me “willing to listen to any and all” doesn’t translate to “will consider any and all” and that’s a subtle distinction. Listening, you can hear what names a team is willing to mention, get an idea who they may consider expendable, maybe even pick out a good value and store the idea in your notes for later. It’s just that, listening. Considering is a whole other story. If I value a player, I’m not going to take just anything for them, and the fact that I would consider a trade doesn’t require that I actually pull the trigger. This is the same situation the Royals are in now.

The Royals are looking realistically at the future and have in mind a window from 2012 to 2018 where the main group of prized prospects will begin reaching the major leagues and producing as the core of the team. Mike Moustakas should be on the roster next spring, and if not then, around the first of June. Eric Hosmer could be a September callup. Mike Montgomery and Danny Duffy aren’t far behind. Aaron Crow could rebound and be on his way for a late-season look in Kansas City. Then in 2013, Wil Myers, John Lamb, Crawford Simmons, Chris Dwyer, Christian Colon, and Derrick Robinson could be heading over from Omaha for some big league looks.

But in the middle of that timeline, the Royals could be without Greinke, as his contract extension will expire after 2012. That’s the impetus for the discussion – the Royals want to see if they can move Greinke for a package of players who will fit into that future lineup as producers on a contender.

And that, I suspect, would have to be a haul.

The asking price is high and for a number of good reasons:

1) Zack Greinke is an ace (and a young one at that)
Greinke’s ERA+ of 116 is fourth among active starting pitchers under the age of 27. Felix Hernandez, Matt Cain and Justin Verlander are the only starters above him within that age range. Greinke rates higher in active ERA+ than Cliff Lee, Josh Beckett and is 15th among all active starters.

His ERA+ over the past five seasons have been 116, 124, 126, 205 and 100 last year.

Oh, but he’s merely league average now. His Cy Young season was his peak.

While Greinke will be hard-pressed to match his 2009 numbers (2.16 ERA over 229.1 innings, 242/51 K/BB ratio, 1.073 WHIP) but then, ANYBODY would have troubles recreating that season, much less repeating it. And yet, I have a feeling Greinke has one more season like that one in him if not more.

Last year’s struggles saw a slight jump in homers per flyball and Greinke missed less bats. In 2009, Greinke’s HR/FB rate was 3.5% which is unsustainable statistically and everyone knew it going into 2010. Greinke’s latest mark was a 5.7% HR/FB ratio, which is still very good and below Greinke’s career rate of 6.6%. Then there’s the nugget that in a league where the average rate of homers per flyball is 10.6%, a career rate of 6.6% is strong.

Greinke finished two strikeouts short of tying Dennis Leonard’s franchise record (244 in 1977) in 2009 but fell to only 181 in 2010. His rates, however, were in line with career numbers, and Greinke simply missed less bats. Batters swung and missed 14% of the time, the lowest in a full season for Greinke since 2005 when Greinke was 21 years old. Batters made more contact in 2010 and with the Royals inept defense behind him, Greinke gave up more hits as a result. So I’ll grant you that, yes, Greinke regressed to the norm, but he’s still capable of striking out eight batters per nine innings and won’t walk more than 2.5 per nine. While Greinke is a flyball pitcher historically, he keeps it in the ballpark.

And at 27 years old on Thursday, that’s pretty damn good.

Some may argue that Greinke’s not as good as the Royals make him out to be due to his increased ERA in 2010, but as noted before, nobody would have done well with the Royals infield behind them, where the best fielder may be Billy Butler.

Let me repeat that. The Royals best fielder on the infield might be Billy Butler – the same Butler who’s been discussed as a career designated hitter at the ripe old age of 24.

That means more batted balls turn into hits, more runners are on, and you’re just going to give up more runs.

Using Bill James’s formula for Component ERA, Greinke’s ERA would adjust to 3.42 in 2010 rather than the raw 4.17 you’ll see on the record. That’s a lot more like it.

2) The Royals don’t HAVE to trade Greinke right now.
Greinke is under contract until the end of the 2012 season. This is fact. They could trade him during the Winter Meetings this year if the right deal comes around. If not, they can trade him at the deadline in 2011 if the right deal comes around. If not, they can trade him during the Winter Meetings next year if the right deal comes around. Last chance, they trade him in July 2012. The Royals hold all the cards right now.

This isn’t the same situation where the Royals were entering a season with Johnny Damon or Jermaine Dye or Carlos Beltran in the final year of their contract, under the gun to either sign them to a pricey extension (which the front office of those days was not prepared to do) or trade them. Other teams had all the leverage, which is why the collective return on those three was Mike Wood, Mark Teahen, John Buck, Neifi Perez, and Angel Berroa. Teams knew there was no chance we’d resign any of those three All-Star outfielders, and they knew we’d take what we could get.

3) This isn’t the Allard Baird regime anymore.
One day I’ll go through and retrace the footsteps of the Allard Baird era, where he would proclaim loudly and publicly that the Royals would trade player X for a corner bat and that’s all we were after. Rather than go after the best value possible, with a team that wasn’t going to contend soon, Baird shrunk the potential market by dictating exactly what type of player he wanted. It limited his bargaining position and sunk each and every trade. All the Royals have left of their incredible Damon/Dye/Beltran trio are Josh Fields and Chris Getz, acquired prior to 2010 for Teahen.

Dayton Moore takes a lot of heat, but at the trading deadline this season he deftly turned four players that factored into none of the Royals long-term plans into players that can contribute today (Sean O’Sullivan, Gregor Blanco) and also got players who can contribute tomorrow (Will Smith, Luke May, Tim Collins). He’s not going to just sell off pieces at fifty cents on the dollar, especially this early in the process.

At the deadline this year, rumblings were that the Royals were looking for two potential front of the rotation starters, an outfield bat and middle infield prospects for Greinke.

While the Royals shouldn’t limit themselves by position, they do have Mike Moustakas pictured as the everyday third baseman on a contender. Across the diamond, you’ll see Eric Hosmer. Behind the plate (for now) will be William Myers. Christian Colon is the early favorite for shortstop, and there are intriguing, though not knockout, prospects in the outfield sprinkled throughout the system.

In other words, a team’s offer would have to be an upgrade over players listed in the top ten of their league’s prospect rankings. That’s a hard price to reach. So that means the Josh Vitters, Freddie Freemans and the like are going to be tough to take on, as they’d be blocked or blocking another prospect. The argument against that is that, sure, the Royals felt like Alex Gordon would be the man at third for a couple decades and he’s in left field next year. So talent is talent. But it’s unlikely you’ll see a deal displace the big names in the Royals top-ranked minor league system.

4) There’s always the possibility that Greinke re-extends his contract in Kansas City
Back in 2006, Greinke had troubles during spring training dealing with anxiety disorder. Baseball being baseball, admitting such a condition would often induce catcalls and claims that he “suck it up”. Yet Dayton Moore and the Royals gave him time off, helped him out, and put him in Double A Wichita to get back into baseball shape, where he was surrounded by players around his age, some with which he’d played in the lower levels of the minors.

Point is, Greinke is a complicated young player. In a time of need that may have flushed him out of baseball entirely, the Royals were there to support him and provide him the right environment in which to thrive. Later, in 2007, he made his way back to Kansas City, mostly pitching out of the bullpen and showed the first signs of being the future All-Star everyone had expected after using the sixth overall pick in the 2002 Draft on him. In 2008, he improved even more, showing consistency all year, and in 2009, he broke out.

Kansas City is a small market, so a lot of casual fans may not have known his name, or if they knew his name, didn’t know the potential connected to it. His 2009 changed that. But despite the fame and cover stories of 2009, Greinke’s still a person, and he’s one who’s soft-spoken, reserved, humble. Sometimes even indifferent. He’s just not a fit for the bright lights of New York City or the glitz of Los Angeles. He’s right at home in Kansas City with an affable media, loyal fans, and an emerging franchise filled with top of the line minor league talent.

I’ll put it this way. Let’s say you have an anxiety disorder (I’ve known very close friends who have had strong to severe issues with these problems, and they are not a joke, trust me. They can be debilitating to the point of shutting someone down from everything for days or weeks if the attack is bad enough). Would you rather take a high-stress job in a place that’s just going to reinforce and enhance the stress levels, or would you find the most comfortable, accepting place you could find to perform your duties?

As mentioned before in this article, and multiple times all season, the Royals have the best minor league system in the game right now. Some of those players are just a couple of years from making it to the majors. Greinke has acknowledged the fact that these blue chippers aren’t so likely to step up from day one, ready to win. His comments on August 5 stood as a reality check that he might not want to be around to wait for more rebuilding.

But suppose the major league team wins 75 games next season, that the minor leaguers continue their ascent to the majors. Let’s say it’s starting to look like the Royals may have a shot to contend in 2012 rather than merely setting the groundwork? Would Greinke re-extend with the Royals? I say there’s a solid chance.

To trade him now, rather than see about that possibility, would be a mistake. Should a trade occur, however, it does require the huge return Royals fans expect.

If progress isn’t being made, the Royals can shop him around and see what they can get. For a player who’s among the best in the game, plenty of teams would show interest, but very few would have the right prospects to offer up this early.

Keep in mind that, for a player in a position that suffers more injuries than any other on the diamond, Greinke has never hit the disabled list, other than his anxiety in 2006. Over 1108 innings at the major league level, Greinke’s worst injury has been on comebackers to the mound, for which he’s missed zero time.

Highly skilled.



Overwhelming track record of health.

Fastball in the mid-to-upper 90s.

Wicked slider.

Curveball that travels slower than a Vespa.

All of the above describe Greinke’s makeup, and a team trading for him would get that combination of traits for two seasons, uninterrupted. That’s an immensely valuable player.

Last year, my idea of a trade the Royals couldn’t refuse for Greinke involved Greinke to Tampa Bay for Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore, Desmond Jennings and Reid Brignac. Yes, all four. Cy Young Award winners don’t come cheaply, nor should they. Players who could win one or more are even more rare.

Maybe my demands (and those of other Royals fans) are excessive. Some may scoff and question if Greinke is really that good, because, after all, who’d heard of him until 2009? Well, it’s Kansas City, a franchise that has eclipsed 83 wins just twice since 1993. Saved By The Bell wasn’t even in syndication yet. So no, nobody’s going to hear about hardly any Royals unless they put up a 2.16 ERA and and go two months between allowing homeruns.

Bottom line, if Greinke isn’t going to be a Royal in the 2013-2020 window (considering there are younger prospects who’ll still bubble up the ladder) where Kansas City hopes to contend, the Royals are right to listen to any and all offers. But for right now, they just need to listen. They shouldn’t move on to considering offers until July of this year at the very earliest.

He’s worth the wait.

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Tags: AL Central Allard Baird Baseball Dayton Moore Kansas City Royals KC MLB Royals Zack Greinke

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