Royals trade Zack Greinke. And not to Texas.

Nobody’s been as insane about trading for Zack Greinke the last two and a half years as I’ve been.  Love everything about that guy, other than the one thing nobody really knows the answer to, the thing that Milwaukee is now counting on – Greinke raising his game (or at least sustaining it) when the spotlight burns brightest.  

I’m not happy that Greinke’s second team isn’t Texas, but there’s a parallel between his escaping the Rangers’ grasp and Cliff Lee doing the same nearly a week earlier.

We know more about the Rangers’ efforts to land Lee, and how close they apparently came to getting it done, than we do about their involvement with Greinke, who was traded this weekend, along with shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt, to Milwaukee for shortstop Alcides Escobar, outfielder Lorenzo Cain, righthander Jake Odorizzi, and a player to be named later, believed to be righthander Jeremy Jeffress.  But circumstantially, we can draw similar conclusions.

Texas was heavily in on Lee, reportedly agreeing at one point to extend itself financially to a level that many of us were concerned was dangerous, if not untenable, and ultimately declining to go yet another step (converting year seven from a vesting option to a guarantee) to close the deal.

We’re aware of the Rangers’ long-standing interest in Greinke, and of a number of reports over the last month that had them at the forefront of the teams positioned to match up with Kansas City.  But the nature of the talks between the teams was described, among others, by Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, who wrote just before the Winter Meetings (when Lee was still on the market):

To obtain Greinke, the Rangers will need to satisfy the Royals with a compelling trade offer, a process that’s off to a slow start.  The Rangers have floated multiple proposals for Greinke, but are “not even close” to meeting the Royals’ demands, sources say.  In fact, some with the Rangers believe the Royals’ asking price is so high, they won’t trade Greinke at all.

Bob Dutton of the Kansas City Star echoed the sentiment two days later:

The early buzz at the Winter Meetings suggests the Royals are already wearying at what they perceive as low-ball offers from the Texas Rangers for pitcher Zack Greinke.  The reverse view, not surprisingly, is the Rangers contend the Royals are asking for the moon – a charge the Royals don’t deny and insist is unlikely to change.

In that story, Dutton suggested that the Royals “want[ed] two impact prospects, with one preferably being a pitcher” and “another player or two capable of supporting roles on a major-league club.”  Among Kansas City’s targets, according to Dutton, were “shortstop Jurickson Profar, outfielder Engel Beltre and one or more of the Rangers’ talented young pitchers.”

That story was representative of all kinds of submissions during the Winter Meetings and since, with Profar’s and Beltre’s names popping up repeatedly, along with those of Derek Holland, Tommy Hunter, Martin Perez, and Tanner Scheppers.  

And just like six years and $138 million, or seven years and $161 million, the idea of even half of Profar and Beltre and Holland and Hunter and Perez and Scheppers going to Kansas City for Greinke began to make me nervous.  

I wanted Lee, but not at any cost.  

And I wanted Greinke, but not at any cost, either.

Back on November 17, I guessed it might take something like this: (1) Holland; (2) Perez; and (3-4) either Profar and Craig Gentry, or Leury Garcia and Beltre, for Greinke and out-of-options backup outfielder Gregor Blanco.

I wasn’t suggesting I’d make that deal.

Greg Schaum of RoyalsProspects.com speculated on December 2 that the Royals’ ask could look something like Greinke and minor league lefthander Danny Duffy for Holland, Hunter, either Profar or Beltre, either Robbie Erlin or Roman Mendez, and Garcia (if the Royals chose Beltre rather than Profar).

There was also word that the Blue Jays, who would have had to overcome inclusion on Greinke’s partial no-trade list (as did Milwaukee), were told they’d have to give up righthander Kyle Drabek and outfielder Travis Snider – and more.

If you’re in the camp that believes the Royals were reportedly asking for more from Texas and Toronto than they accepted from the Brewers, an arguable point though one up for debate (Keith Law of ESPN wrote that “[w]hat Kansas City got back is bulk, and fit, but not impact” and that “[t]here’s no single anchor prospect in this deal, a player who’d be a top-15 pick in a draft or who’d be a top-5 prospect in the Royals’ stacked system”), consider this from Jon Paul Morosi of Fox Sports on Sunday:

Don’t think it’s fair to criticize Rangers for not getting Greinke.  [Kansas City GM] Dayton Moore was very motivated to move him to NL.

The Royals got a deal done with Milwaukee.  They were apparently on the doorstep of a deal with Washington before Greinke said he’d veto the trade.  But as far as the American League clubs most prominently in on the righthander were concerned, the charges were in place that the Royals tacitly acknowledged – that they were “asking for the moon.”

Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus, asked what he believed a Rangers package equivalent to Milwaukee’s would have looked like, said Elvis Andrus, Scheppers, Julio Borbon, and Perez.  Ben Badler of Baseball America went with the same quartet other than the pitching prospect, matching Odorizzi with Erlin rather than Perez.   Some have suggested that, based on skill set, Beltre may be a better comp for Cain than Borbon is.

If those two well-respected writers are right about how those Brewers and Rangers players are viewed in the league, then the decision whether to match Milwaukee was pretty easy.

Downgrade the shortstop from Andrus (who is a more valuable player than Escobar) to Profar (who isn’t), and it still would have been a lot to give up.

And probably not enough.

Here’s the other thing, aside from the AL-NL issue that Morosi believes was a factor.  Look at what the Royals got, not only in terms of ceiling and projection but also where they are in terms of development stages.

Escobar is an everyday big leaguer with five more years of service before he can be a free agent.

Cain established himself in the second half as an everyday big leaguer, with six more years of service before free agency.

Jeffress, if he’s in fact the player to be named, debuted in September, giving him six more years of service before free agency.

Odorizzi is three years away from the big leagues, give or take.

Kansas City had baseball’s strongest farm system before the Greinke trade.  The club’s five best prospects by most accounts – first baseman Eric Hosmer, catcher Wil Myers, third baseman Mike Moustakas, and lefthanders John Lamb and Mike Montgomery – are probably between a year and two years away from arriving (with the possible exception of Moustakas, who is closer).  

The Royals are positioned well to make some noise in about three years, and there might have been one potential problem adding Perez and Beltre, for instance, two players on the same timetable as Hosmer, Myers, Lamb, and Montgomery.  Argue if you’d like that Perez and Beltre are an equivalent pair to Odorizzi and Cain, but Cain being ahead of the two Rangers kids in terms of service and Odorizzi being behind them theoretically tips the scales.  While it’s certainly not a primary factor when evaluating warring trade offers, if you can help it you don’t want to have to imagine Hosmer, Myers, Lamb, Montgomery, Perez, and Beltre all hitting arbitration at the same time, or free agency.

And that’s to say nothing of the concept of breaking in more than a couple key young players int
o prominent roles in a given year.

But again, there are indications that Texas would have had to part with more than Milwaukee did to get a deal done.  Whatever you think about a Perez-Profar-Scheppers-Borbon package, recognize from all that’s been reported, if it’s accurate, that Kansas City wanted – and got – big league talent in the deal (players that manager Ned Yost is familiar with from his days with the Brewers).  Maybe the Royals love Profar and love Beltre, whose beta is greater in each case than Escobar and Cain, but I’m just not sure the Royals were all about ceiling in this deal.  For the most part, yes, but they said all along they wanted some big leaguers in the deal, and they stuck with that.  

As Rangers fans we focused on the idea that Kansas City wanted pitching, center field, and middle infield help in any Greinke deal, and liked to think of ourselves as an ideal match.  But there was also the part about wanting players who could step in right now, and aside from Borbon – who regressed in 2010 after a 2009 summer debut that looked remarkably like Cain’s 2010 summer – Texas couldn’t match up on experienced position players, unless Andrus (who was signed and developed by Atlanta while Moore was there) were included.  Mitch Moreland fits the service time category the Royals wanted, but not the position profile.

Speaking of which, tack Holland or Hunter onto the deal, or Alexi Ogando, and how do you feel about it?

Making signature, blockbuster trades takes guts, but so does saying no to a deal that doesn’t work, and with both Cliff Lee and Zack Greinke, based on what we’ve been led to believe, it appears that Jon Daniels had the fortitude to resist going where he knew he didn’t really want to go.

Though Kansas City might have made that a pretty easy call.

(Quick aside: To make room on the 40-man roster, having removed two roster members while adding three, the Royals have designated infielder Joaquin Arias for assignment.)

Time will tell whether the Royals made the right decision by choosing the Brewers package over whatever Texas or others were offering, and whether the Rangers made the right choice by refusing whatever Kansas City’s final ask was.  Sometimes going after the player or players who are closer to helping is the right call (partly because it eliminates some risk).  Often, though, going the safer route leads to regret, something I wonder if Seattle might not encounter once Jesus Montero arrives.  

On the other side, I haven’t seen one story questioning what the Brewers gave up to land Greinke, teaming him up with Yovanni Gallardo and the recently acquired Shaun Marcum to create a formidable top three, all under control for at least the next two seasons.

If you think what the Brewers paid to get Greinke could depress the expectations of the Rays and Indians as they test Matt Garza’s and Fausto Carmona’s market value, think again.  Those two just got more difficult to pry loose.

Look, we all want Texas to make an impact move.  It’s not as if the team is sitting back and watching everyone else get to work.  It takes two sides to sign a free agent, two side to make a trade.  And even those opportunities can disappear quickly (example: Florida locked up righthander Ricky Nolasco, a conceivable Rangers target, for three years and $27 million last night).

There are two months left until spring training, and seven months until the trade deadline, and Texas still has both money and prospects to make things happen.  Not much has changed with anyone in the AL West, and this team was better than everyone else in the division last year with this group, before Lee arrived.

That’s not to say that the Rangers should be locked into the status quo, or that it’s aiming to do that, but we’ve all seen this team and other teams spend money unwisely or spend prospects unwisely, and when Texas does either one of those things, that will be the time to be miffed.  

The idea is not to win the winter, or to make a big splash (as some new ownership groups are inclined to do), but to make the team better and more likely to win baseball games, not just today but in the bigger picture, and while I’m as eager as anyone to see how the Rangers go about doing that, and disappointed that neither Cliff Lee nor Zack Greinke will be part of it, I’m not nearly as disappointed as I’d be if Texas had burdened its ability financially to keep the core together long-term or had gutted its farm system, hindering its ability to get better down the road in another way, just as important as the first.

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