I’m beyond the point where I’m asking myself IF Zack Greinke will be traded, but WHEN it will happen. It’s been a quiet offseason so far for the Royals but the rumors are still out there, loud and clear. Greinke’s in demand and Dayton Moore is fielding offers.
I’ve come to the conclusion that if the Royals are going to trade Greinke, it should be before spring training’s on the horizon.
First, the obvious reason is that Greinke right now has two years on his contract to go. Once the season starts, he’ll obviously have less time with his prospective new team. It’s like opening a package of food. Once you’ve popped the lid or broken the seal, while it may keep for a long time, it’s always declining in freshness. With every game Greinke pitches for the Royals, that’s one less he can pitch for a new team and by the time we see the trading deadline in July, he’ll have used up half a season on a likely-terrible Royals team.
That’s not to say that in July 2011 Greinke won’t be a valuable commodity. If, at that time, he still hasn’t been traded, he’ll be the biggest target for contending teams. He’ll still command a strong return, but not as strong as he could now, and the Royals stand to benefit with a collection of prospects for him. But they should get the most value when they can, and that time is now.
It’s pretty rare for a team to deal their franchise player in the first place, but when they have a good amount of years left on their contract, it’s even more unusual. Usually those trades are reserved for dumping salary once it’s clear the superstar’s team won’t be going for a division title. It’s pretty clear right now that the Royals aren’t going to contend against anyone but Cleveland in 2011, Zack or no Zack, so if they’re serious about trading him for a large haul of blue chippers, now’s the best time to get that maximum value.
Consideration should be given to the possibility that Greinke could have a poor start to the season, which would look bad following last year’s merely average campaign. I’ve seen skepticism from some fans who don’t think Greinke’s worth the package Dayton Moore is seeking, and I’m sure there are some GMs who have made similar conclusions. A slow start to 2011 would harm Greinke’s value as a trade chip.
I don’t want to see Greinke go. I think it’d be great to keep him in Kansas City as the anchor of a young but talented starting rotation. Especially if that group ends up leading the Royals to the playoffs, paying off Greinke’s patience and the good faith he demonstrated when he signed an affordable extension before 2009. Greinke in the lead car at a World Series celebration would be an amazing moment for Greinke, Kansas City and Royals fans everywhere.
But if he has to go, it needs to be now. The opportunity may be there, as we wait for Cliff Lee to make a decision about his next employer. Reports said that Lee would have a decision on his new team after the weekend and, well, here we are. The Royals have hinted that they wouldn’t trade Greinke until Lee had signed, and since that would leave Greinke as the lone true ace available, it’s a smart move to leverage his value even more. If it turns out that the Rangers sign Lee, the Yankees will likely be calling. If it’s the Yankees who get Lee, the Rangers should respond. There’s also the Blue Jays, who may see now as an opportunity to jump into the #2 spot in the American League East while the Yankees age. All three teams have the kind of prospects the Royals are looking to get for Greinke and they’re the favorites. Washington has been aggressive this offseason and have solid young players to offer as well, though they aren’t quite the franchise-changing upside players other organizations have.
My main concern about trading Greinke mid-season is simply precedent. There have been some big trades in the past in July, but it’s rare to see them include multiple top ten prospects or a player still with a large chunk of team-controlled years on his contract. That could be because a lot of deadline trades involve players who’ll be free agents after that season or just because executives have gotten to see three months of their prospects playing and don’t want to give as many of them up.
The good news is that Moore has reportedly made zero calls asking teams for offers on Greinke. That improves his bargaining position. He can be aloof, distant, indifferent and make other teams fall over themselves for his ace pitcher. My favorite quote about that stance comes from Aaron Gleeman of NBCSports.com : “Dayton Moore knows that the prettiest girl at a bar doesn’t have to ask guys to buy her drinks.”
So we wait. Cliff Lee has multiple offers out there and he’s going to be a well-paid man before the end of the month. And once that happens, it’s a scramble to see if anyone can meet the Royals demands.