Welcome to the offseason of the unexpected, in which the Brewers can trade for Zack Greinke, the Phillies can come out of nowhere to sign Cliff Lee and the Nationals can swoop in for Jayson Werth. If nobody sees it coming, you can bet it’s going to happen.
The prevailing baseball wisdom was that the Brewers, after trading top positional prospect Brett Lawrie at the Winter Meetings for Blue Jays right-hander Shaun Marcum, didn’t have enough left in their prospect pool to pry Greinke from the Royals. So the Brewers instead looked at free agent Carl Pavano, continued conversations with fellow free agent Chris Capuano and talked with teams like the Braves and Marlins about lesser trades for younger, unproven arms.
Then, over the weekend, Milwaukee general manager Doug Melvin made his stunning move, acquiring 2009 American League Cy Young Award winner Greinke along with shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt and $2 million for a package of four premium young players: Shortstop Alcides Escobar, center fielder Lorenzo Cain and pitchers Jeremy Jeffress and Jake Odorizzi.
Reaction from around the game was plentiful. Here’s a taste:
Prospects. All you hear in baseball, all the time, is that certain prospects are too valuable to trade.
Brewers GM Doug Melvin evidently does not believe in that premise. And he is gambling his job that he will be proven right.
Melvin made the most surprising trade of the offseason on Sunday, acquiring Royals ace Zack Greinke and shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt for four of the Brewers’ best young players.
Two of the Brewers’ projected regulars, shortstop Alcides Escobar and center fielder Lorenzo Cain, are part of the package for Greinke. So are two of the team’s top young arms, right-handers Jeremy Jeffress and Jake Odorizzi.
Odorizzi, 20, actually draws comparisons to Greinke, but some rival clubs believe he could end up in the bullpen. Jeffress, 23, has tested positive three times for marijuana, but throws in the upper 90s and made an impressive debut as a reliever last season.
Melvin clearly is trying to win next season, which almost certainly will be the last in Milwaukee for first baseman Prince Fielder and perhaps the last for second baseman Rickie Weeks.
Earlier this offseason, Melvin made a similar but less extravagant deal, trading perhaps his top prospect, infielder Brett Lawrie, for Blue Jays right-hander Shaun Marcum.
Which is why one rival executive, upon learning of the Greinke deal, used the term “gutted” to describe the state of the Brewers’ farm system.
That description might very well be accurate. But if the Brewers reach the postseason in Fielder’s last hurrah, Melvin will simply figure out the rest later. …
Too many current GMs are afraid of trading prospects, afraid of making deals that will come back to “haunt” them. Well, the idea isn’t to win the Baseball America organizational rankings. The idea is to win the World Series.
Three years ago, the Tigers traded six players to the Marlins for third baseman Miguel Cabrera and left-hander Dontrelle Willis. The Marlins received the two jewels of the Tigers’ farm system, center fielder Cameron Maybin and left-hander Andrew Miller. Both flopped and were traded this offseason.
Prospects are fine, but Doug Melvin needs players.
He’s getting one of the best.
Not long after the Milwaukee Brewers spiraled deep into the standings at the outset of season and speculation began about whether manager Ken Macha might be fired, I wrote here about how awful the Brewers pitching was, and how no manager would have won with that group.
Within hours, I got an e-mail response to that piece — about how it was a dead-on assessment of Milwaukee’s troubles, and how poorly the team’s general manager had done in building a pitching staff that could contend.
The note was from someone uniquely qualified to render an opinion on the matter: Brewers general manager Doug Melvin.
He will not repeat his mistakes going into next year, with the additions of Shaun Marcum — who figures to be a high-end National League starter, along the lines of a Tommy Hanson — and now Zack Greinke. Suddenly the Brewers might have the best rotation of any NL team other than the Phillies and Giants.
The big surprise, of course, was that Milwaukee had enough talent in its system to make the deal. Sources told ESPN.com last week that the New York Yankees and Texas Rangers didn’t match up very well with Kansas City. But Toronto and Washington appeared to be ahead of the Brewers in the pecking order.
Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos, an ardent Greinke suitor, appeared to make an awfully inspired move two weeks ago when he traded Marcum to the Brewers for minor league infielder Brett Lawrie.
The deal looked brilliant on two fronts: (1) By sending Marcum to Milwaukee, Anthopoulos lessened the Brewers’ need to rush out and acquire another starter; and (2) by acquiring Lawrie, Milwaukee’s top prospect, Anthopoulos took away one of Milwaukee GM Doug Melvin’s main trade chips.
Little did we know. Melvin was thinking two steps ahead, and Moore found his match in Milwaukee.
It will take time, of course, to hand out the grades for the two teams. But if Escobar and Cain are even average big league regulars, [Royals GM Dayton] Moore probably did OK. And if Odorizzi builds on the potential he showed in 2010, when he was Milwaukee ‘s minor league pitcher of the year, or Jeffress works through his off-field issues and becomes an effective closer for Kansas City, Moore did better than OK.
With a single, unexpected move, the Brewers may have become NL Central favorites. … The addition of Greinke makes the Brewers five to six wins better than they were without him, a gain they give back some of with the shortstop exchange, but not nearly enough to change the deal for them. This is a significant step for the Brewers, an even bigger move than the acquisition of CC Sabathia that propelled them into the 2008 playoffs. …
The Royals didn’t break the bank with this deal. This isn’t their Mark Teixeira trade. They took their upside in the arms of Jeffress and Odorizzi and got low-service-time, low-cost position players who have some potential to become good regulars, though not stars. It’s easy to see all four of these guys as contributors to the 2016 World Champions; it
‘s just hard to see any of them as MVPs or Cy Young winners. Then again, that’s the job of Eric Hosmer and [Mike] Montgomery.
Whatever the analytic angles, the story here is that this trade is fantastic for baseball. In an offseason dominated by what the East Coast scary monsters have done, the big-market dollars spent by Boston and Philadelphia and even Washington, it’s refreshing to see a legitimately small-market team make an aggressive move to win now. The Brewers are living off the talent generated by the time Jack Zduriencik spent with them, watching it on the field and using it in trades. This step, though, using some of that bounty to accelerate the process and put a winning team on the field — a championship team on the field — is not one that every organization can navigate. Doug Melvin earned his pay with this deal, trading some of the team’s future to enhance its present, the one where his lineup is loaded with at-peak hitters and his team has money to spend.
Melvin still has work to do. Betancourt is a terrible player who needs to be replaced. He may have to find an alternative for center field, where Carlos Gomez has failed to be a solution. Without Jeffress, the Brewers could use a power arm for the ‘pen. Having traded for Greinke, the Brewers have made it very clear what they’re trying to do; it will do them no good now to hold back financially as they look to put the best team they can on the field next year.
Today, throughout baseball, people are talking about the Milwaukee Brewers. That’s a good thing, no matter who you root for.
Rather than settle for more Jeff Suppan-level solutions and digging up the next Doug Davis, Melvin has gone out and acquired what the free market did not have on offer in any number, spending prospects to acquire quality starting pitching. Trading for Shaun Marcum already armed the Brewers with a quality starter for the next two seasons, but dealing Brett Lawrie was just the first step in a massive amount of prospect off-loading to try and get at least one more divisional flaglet or wild-card invitation to October. As the Giants just demonstrated, anything can happen once you get there, and if you’re armed with your own stock of quality starting pitching, you can beat anybody, even the latest employer of Cliff Lee. It’s an entirely sensible adaptation to a market where few top free agents are going to decide that they’ve always wanted to spend their best years in Milwaukee. …
To merely call this deal a win/win trade understates what the Brewers achieved, because their medium-term future with Lawrie at second, Jeffress in the pen, and Cain in center wasn’t guaranteed to do much more than deliver more of the immediate same, 80-win teams and honorable also-rans. By the time Odorizzi might have arrived, Melvin’s head could have long since rotted off the pointed stick it might have been mounted on after not getting any more than one wild-card appearance from a win-now cadre of talent.
So, no more half-measures. If the Reds can win the NL Central, then going for it seems like an appropriate order for the day.
The Brewers might be trying to win now, but … traded away three Major League-ready players. Both Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar were penciled in as starters, and Jeremy Jeffress was a likely candidate for the bullpen. Unfortunately, the Brewers don’t have solid replacements for any of those players.
Carlos Gomez is expected to start in center field following Cain’s departure. While Gomez dazzles in the field and on the base paths, his career .293 OBP leaves much to be desired. Despite his struggles at the plate, Gomez’s defense should make him a useful contributor during the upcoming season. In his first press conference with the Brewers, Ron Roenicke emphasized being aggressive on the bases, which should play into Gomez’s strengths.
The scariest aspect of the Yuniesky Betancourt acquisition is that (gulp) Melvin has already penciled him in as a starter. Betancourt carries a rather infamous reputation among the stat-community, and it’s safe to say he isn’t the answer for the Brewers. There is a chance that Craig Counsell returns to the team, but likely as Betancourt’s backup. Offensively, the Brewers will need to succeed despite employing both Betancourt and Gomez as starters.
Their pitching rotation, however, has drastically improved this off-season. The acquisitions of Greinke and Shaun Marcum give the Brewers one of the best rotations in the National League. Though many considered Greinke’s 2010 a let-down, he was still worth 5.2 WAR, better than any pitcher on the Brewers’ roster. Yovani Gallardo might be named the opening-day starter, but Greinke will be the best pitcher on the team next season.
Shaun Marcum carries incredible value as a third starter. Despite missing the entire 2009 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, Marcum turned in the best season of his career in 2010. Though most pitchers typically struggle with control following the surgery, Marcum posted one of the best BB/9 rates of any starting pitcher last season. Brewers’ starters posted the worst BB/9 rate in the league last season, so Marcum’s ability to limit walks will be a welcome addition to this rotation. …
Of all the teams in the Central, the Brewers have made the largest strides this off-season. While the Reds and Cardinals focused on marginal improvements, the Brewers completely overhauled their rotation. The Reds and Cardinals should compete for the division, but the Brewers’ off-season acquisitions will be tough to beat.
Big markets trade highly rated prospects for established players with the objective to win now.
Small markets typically shed salary for young guys and don’t really care if anyone buys tickets when the product stinks because, well, there’s always the revenue-sharing money to pocket.
Thankfully, the Brewers don’t slink through the small-market loophole. They honor the responsibility to be competitive for the 3 million-plus who fill Miller Park in good times and bad. You could say the team is merely fulfilling its obligation, but it has become much more than that in this rare place where an uncommon level of trust has been established between customers and management.
What general manager Doug Melvin has accomplished is just this side of remarkable. In a matter of days, the Brewers have been transformed from a team that had no chance because of its pitching staff to a genuine contender with Greinke and Shaun Marcum added to the rotation.
Greinke, Marcum, Yovani Gallardo, Randy Wolf and someone else may not match what the Philadelphia Phillies have assembled, but it makes the Brewers very competitive in their own division because Melvin has completely rebuilt the pitching staff without touching the everyday core.
Ryan Braun is still a Brewer. So are Rickie Weeks, Casey McGehee and Corey Hart.
And so, too, should Prince Fielder.
Now there is absolutely no incentive to move Fielder before his contract expires after the upcoming season. With Fielder in the
middle of a lineup that is more than occasionally capable of double-digit scoring – but now doesn’t have to shoulder the load because the rotation is suddenly trustworthy and solid – the Brewers are dangerous.
Now it’s your turn. What do you think of the Brewers’ big moves this month?