The 2010 Milwaukee Brewers were a disappointment. After a Wild Card berth in 2008, the team was already something of a disappointment by coming in under .500 in 2009. The problem was easily identifiable: bad pitching. The hitting, with Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun, was championship-caliber. It was the pitching, stupid. The pitching.
And that's the story of how the Brewers decided to go nuts with the pitching. They traded their best prospect, Brett Lawrie, in a straight-up swap for Shaun Marcum. Then they traded their starting shortstop and more prospects for Yuniesky Betancourt, with the Royals also agreeing to throw in Zack Greinke. The Brewers weren't being shy. They figured there was something of a Prince Fielder window, and it was closing.
To get Zack Greinke, they gave up:
- A young starting shortstop
- A 20-year-old right-handed pitching prospect with tremendous upside
- A hard-throwing, wild prospect who probably projected as a reliever
- A youngish center fielder they could never find room for
And they were right. The Prince Fielder window was closing, and closed when Fielder left after last season. Oh, they tried to prop it open with Aramis Ramirez, but the team didn't reclaim the magic. There were injuries and disappointments all around. The bullpen was … oh, man, that bullpen. But when they couldn't come to an agreement on an extension with Zack Greinke, they decided they needed to get value for him while they could.
When they traded Zack Greinke, they received:
- A young starting shortstop
- A 23-year-old right-handed pitching prospect with tremendous upside
- A hard-throwing, wild prospect who probably projects as a reliever
The Brewers went to the National League Championship Series last year, and they were a couple of wins away from the World Series. When it comes to Greinke, at least, all they're down is one Lorenzo Cain.
That's too simple by a bunch. It's easy to compare John Hellweg to Jake Odorizzi when you reduce them to a generic "prospect" label, but they're different pitchers with different upsides and different potential. But still, it's not hard to find the parallels between what the Brewers gave up and received for Zack Greinke. It rarely works out that neatly.
Jean Segura is the big prize. The original Greinke trade cost Alcides Escobar, who was supposed to anchor the middle of the Brewers' infield for years. The system was dry, and Alex Gonzalez was lost to a crushing injury, even if he was just a veteran stopgap for a team that was supposed to contend. If Escobar was supposed to be around for a while, though, Segura will be around for even longer if things work out.
The Brewers still gave up more than they got back. It isn't just Cain that tips the scales; right now, Odorizzi is probably the best pitching prospect of the four swapped for Greinke, and he's close to reaching the majors for good. The Brewers could really use a pitcher like Odorizzi right about now.
But that tally doesn't include an NLCS appearance. That doesn't include a near World Series berth. There were tangible benefits to having Greinke that you don't have to squint to see. Teams go for broke all the time, and they don't always end up with a division title and a Division Series victory. Not only did the Brewers get that, but they also recouped some of their losses at the other end. Think of it as a car that lost value the second they drove it off the lot. It was never going to appreciate in value, but it was still worth a good amount at the end of the loan.
It used to be that teams waited until a player's last year of his contract to deal him. Billy Beane started getting bigger packages and better prospects when he started trading his pitchers a year or two before free agency, and that's the paradigm now. The quality of the prospects is supposed to improve because the team gets the veteran for longer. But there's an ancillary reason, it seems like: The extra year acts like a sort of reset button or ejection seat if things go awry. The Brewers didn't trade for a rental, and they paid a premium. They were able to get some of that premium back. It was almost a neat, tidy, even exchange all around.
The, uh, Shaun Marcum deal wasn't quite as tidy. But ignore that for now, Brewers fans, and hope that Segura pans the hell out. The organization could have done a lot worse when it comes to the risks and rewards of Zack Greinke.