A source with knowledge of the talks said the Brewers were indeed closing in on a trade for Kansas City ace Zack Greinke, but that the deal was not yet complete.
Word that the Brewers were close to acquiring Greinke for a package of prospects first surfaced on “Bernie’s Crew,” a blog hosted by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel but independent from the newspaper. It said Milwaukee would send shortstop Alcides Escobar, outfielder Lorenzo Cain and pitcher Jeremy Jeffress to the Royals for Greinke, shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt and cash.
Then the website OnMilwaukee.com, which regularly covers the Brewers, chimed in and, citing a source, said the Brewers would also send their top pitching prospect Jake Odorizzi to Kansas City in addition to the three other players. In this version, Milwaukee would get another Major League player in return in addition to Greinke.
Whether there was fire behind this hot stove smoke remained unclear late Saturday night. Multiple Brewers officials, including general manager Doug Melvin, did not respond to messages from MLB.com. Greinke’s new agent, Jeff Berry of CAA, the firm that represents Brewers outfielders Ryan Braun and Corey Hart, also did not respond to messages.
Joshuha Kusnick, the agent for two of the Brewers players included — Cain and Jeffress — said he had not been informed of any pending trades.
If the trade indeed is being discussed, then Greinke and some or all of the other players involved would have to undergo physical exams. Greinke would also have been asked for his approval, since his no-trade clause is believed by Melvin to let him block deals to Milwaukee.
Greinke, 27, has two years and $27 million left on his current contract. There’s no doubting his talent; he won the 2009 American League Cy Young Award while going 16-8 with a 2.16 ERA. In a more disappointing 2010, Greinke was 10-14 with a 4.17 ERA.
The Brewers and Royals did talk about Greinke earlier this offseason but Melvin sounded pessimistic during the Winter Meetings earlier this month that a deal could be struck, both because of the Royals’ asking price and because of Greinke’s no-trade clause.
But that was 10 days before Greinke switched agents, from SFX to Casey Close and Berry of CAA, and reportedly requested a trade. Royals general manager Dayton Moore confirmed the change in agents to MLB.com but declined to comment on the report about Greinke’s demand.
However, Moore did cast doubt on the Royals’ chances of signing Greinke to a contract extension.
“It’s no different than it was in 2008 before we signed him long-term,” Moore said. “You’re evaluating opportunities. We were fortunate to be able to sign him long-term in the winter of 2009 based on where the market is and where it’s going.
“It’s going to be incredibly difficult for us to sign him to another long-term contract, therefore it makes perfect sense for us to evaluate opportunities to potentially move Zack in the right type of deal — one that gives us back players that fit in the very talented group that we have on the horizon.”
The Royals’ discussions with other clubs have been ongoing, but Moore was believed to be seeking a bundle, notably premier young players for the middle of the field — particularly shortstop and center field — and the mound.
In the proposed deal with the Brewers, they are filling those needs. Escobar, 24, was Milwaukee’s starting shortstop in 2010 and is expected to be better offensively than he was as a rookie, when he hit .235 with a .288 on-base percentage and 10 stolen bases. Cain debuted in the Majors last season, is 24 years old, a fine center field defender and batted .306 in his first 147 at-bats with a .348 on-base percentage.
The pitchers reportedly heading to Kansas City are two of the best in the Brewers’ system. Right-hander Odorizzi may be the team’s top arm, a supplemental first-round pick from the 2008 Draft who went 7-3 with a 3.43 ERA at low Class A Wisconsin in 2010. Jeffress, a first-round pick from ’06, has been slowed by multiple suspensions for marajuana use but took a step up the prospect ladder in 2010, when he converted to relief and finished with a 2.23 ERA in the Minors and a 2.70 ERA in 10 appearances in the Majors.
It would be a heavy price to pay for Milwaukee, but Melvin has been focused all winter on ways to improve his starting pitching staff. Since Philadelphia signed free agent left-hander Cliff Lee, the focus on starting pitching available via trade has zeroed in on Greinke.
The Brewers already traded for one 2010 Opening Day starter this month, picking-up right-hander Shaun Marcum from the Blue Jays in exchange for top prospect Brett Lawrie, a second baseman. Marcum joined righty Yovani Gallardo and left-hander Randy Wolf atop Milwaukee’s rotation.
The Brewers also have lefty Chris Narveson at the back end of the rotation but Melvin made it clear last week that he was still looking for more. Brewers starters were next-to-last in the National League last season with a 4.65 ERA after ranking dead last in 2009.