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Greinke Trade Analysis

After having some time to really think about this trade, I’ve decided that I think I like it. As I mentioned yesterday, my initial reaction was not good, but the more I think about it, the more I think that the Royals got a haul that fits really well with the organization. The only thing I would have liked to see in a Greinke deal would have been a frontline starting pitcher that’s a little bit closer to the majors than Jake Odorizzi. Still, though, the return on this trade is not nearly as disappointing as I first thought.

The first thing to remember as far as trades are concerned is that we have no way of knowing what else was on the table, and we probably never will. It’s fun to speculate that the Royals could have had Drabek and Snider from the Blue Jays or Hellickson from the Rays, but we will likely never really know how the Brewers offer compared to any other. I did think that the timing of this deal was a little strange, but I believe that Dayton Moore felt that he had to move Greinke and quick. This isn’t based on anything but my own speculation, but I believe there’s a small chance that there were rumblings about Greinke and his attitude based on his asking out after signing a contract and almost admitting to not trying his hardest when he appeared to be bored with the 2010 season.

The other thing that is important to remember as Royals fans who are used to seeing their star players traded before they hit free agency is that this was a different animal. Johnny Damon, Carlos Beltran and Jermaine Dye were traded because they were about to price themselves out of the Royals range. Zack Greinke was not going to. He actually signed a long-term deal, so for those out there just shaking your heads saying, ‘same old Royals,’ I’d challenge you to rethink your position. I’ve ripped on Dayton Moore for a lot of things in the last couple of years, but one thing he has done is gotten David Glass to spend money on the team and the organization where Allard Baird could not. The Royals are no longer cheap in the draft, they’ve signed two of their best players to contract extensions and are way more active in the free agent market than they’ve been in quite some time. So it should be known that this trade was not driven by finances. This trade was driven by Zack Greinke whining about not wanting to play for a loser anymore. He tied the Royals hands and essentially forced them to trade him this offseason. It put the Royals in a bit of a bind, but I don’t think it had anything to do with the return that he was able to get. If Dayton had shopped him quietly without any whispers of him wanting out, I think the return would have been the same.

Okay, now onto the actual trade. Part of why I’m a fan of this trade is that it upgrades the defense so dramatically. Yuniesky Betancourt is one of the worst defensive shortstops in all of baseball while Alcides Escobar has potential to be one of the very best. He has plus range to both sides and has a fantastic arm. He’s fast and quick which allows him to get to just about anything near him. The casual fan will look and see that the Royals traded away one of their top home run hitters, but readers of this blog know that those numbers were fluky. That said, don’t be shocked if he pops 15 more this year in Milwaukee, but that park is more homer friendly than The K.

The defense picked up in this trade with the two position players has a chance to actually help offset the loss of Greinke on the rest of the pitching staff with the main beneficiary being Luke Hochevar who is a ground ball pitcher. A ground ball pitcher on a team with a terrible defensive shortstop is a recipe for disaster. The ERA that Hochevar should have had last year with an average defense was 3.93, but instead he ended at 4.81. Combine a year of maturation for Hoch along with a much improved defense, and I’ll go out on a limb right now and say he posts an ERA around 3.50 and earns it with his peripherals. The other thing the acquisition of Escobar does is allows the Royals to slide Christian Colon to second base, where he will go from an almost average shortstop to an above average defender at second. With plus glove Eric Hosmer at first, the Royals infield will be where ground balls go to die. Even Mike Moustakas with limited range has good hands and a good arm. With a rangy shortstop next to him, he’ll be made to look quite good I think.

Many worry about Escobar’s ability to hit, and they’re not alone. He would most definitely not be the first player to come to the majors with a good defensive reputation and a fairly solid stick and fall flat on his face, but he does have a nice minor league track record. He has great speed which allows him to beat out a few infield his and maybe even bunt his way on base a few times. In the minors, he was consistently a .280+ hitter, often with an OBP of around .330. He has little to no power to speak of, but he’s got a frame that will support a little more power, so I wouldn’t be shocked if he became an eight to ten homer guy in the future. He doesn’t walk quite as much as I’d like which is why he profiles at the bottom of the order rather than the top, but he still has a ton of value down there.

The other thing to consider when looking at his offensive potential is something we’ve talked about on this blog before. It’s his line drive percentage and batting average on balls in play (BABIP). As we’ve discussed, the BABIP should be about 12% higher than the line drive percentage. If a player has a 20% LD% then they should have a .320 BABIP. ¬†Something we may not have discussed is that the average LD% is around 19. One more data point before I get to my point here is that speed guys typically out perform their expected BABIP because of those infield hits that they’re able to get where guys like Billy Butler get thrown out by 4 steps. In 2010, Escobar’s line drive percentage was 21.5% meaning that his BABIP should have been around .335 or higher due to his speed. Instead it was .264. That certainly seems like something that regression to the mean will take care of. Let’s artificially bring his BABIP up to .330 for the sake of this to see what he would have done if he had gotten hits when expected. We’ll call them all singles for the sake of argument. Instead of a .235/.288/.326 line he becomes a .287/.337/.381. Those numbers may be a bit off, but they’re pretty close. If he can come near those numbers in 2011 with his defense, he’ll be worth 3.5 wins above replacement (WAR).

Moving on to Lorenzo Cain, I’ve already discussed what kind of defense we can expect from him in center. He’ll be helpful to guys like Kyle Davies and Sean O’Sullivan who give up a few too many flyballs. Cain’s speed in center will play well in cavernous Kauffman Stadium. He’s not a huge improvement defensively if you were of the belief that Dyson was going to open the season as the center fielder, but after the acquisition of Melky Cabrera that was a pipe dream. Cabrera, if he loses the weight he gained, is an above average defender, but Cain has a chance to be an elite defender, so the defense takes a big step up with this acquisition. Cain has a strong arm and gap closing speed. He’ll be fun to watch out there.

Offensively, he’s a bit of a late bloomer having not played organized baseball until high school. That he’s already this advanced as a hitter is a testament to his superior athleticism. Something you don’t see very often from guys like Cain is the ability he’s shown in the minors to actually work a walk. He’s got a chance to be a top of the order force. A name I’ve heard as a comparable player is Carl Crawford, but I’ll offer up a different comp for him – Austin Jackson of the Tigers. Jackson displayed a little more power in the minors, but not too much more. Cain’s about a year older than Jackson, but may actually have more upside due to his late entrance to the game. In a 43-game Major League debut in 2010, he hit .306/.348/.415 with a homer and seven stolen bases. In Jackson’s first Major League season (much bigger sample, mind you), he hit .293/.345/.400. Some people aren’t a huge fan of Cain, but I think he has a chance to be a fantastic player as he develops a little more power.

So those are the two position players in the deal. Let’s take a look at the pitchers starting with Jeremy Jeffress. Before we get into his baseball ability, I have to mention his off field issues. He’s been suspended twice for testing positive for marijuana use which is why he missed the first 100 games of 2010. Baseball fans know that means that he’s one positive test away from being banned for life. Not to downplay the dangers of drug use, but luckily for the Royals, marijuana is not a substance that is tested for in the Majors, so Jeffress should continue to be safe from a lifetime ban.

Performance-wise, Jeffress has been ranked at or near the top of the Brewers prospects for a couple of years now. He was almost exclusively a starting pitcher until his return last season when his 100+ MPH fastball and somewhat shaky command were shifted to the bullpen. He’s been outstanding there. In 32 minor league bullpen innings, he posted a 2.23 ERA with 43 strikeouts and, perhaps more importantly, just 12 walks. In the majors, he pitched just ten innings, but continued his success with a 2.70 ERA, eight strikeouts and six walks. Him being included in the trade makes the Royals back end of the bullpen a serious strength, and might even allow the Royals to trade Tejeda without feeling it or having the opportunity to convert Tejeda into a starter. I’ve hemmed and hawed on my thoughts about converting Jeffress back to the rotation, but I truly have no opinion either way. He wasn’t unsuccessful as a starter, but he has just been way more successful out of the bullpen. He could be the heir apparent to Soria if the Royals decide to truly blow things up and trade him as well.

While Jeffress is a nice prospect to have and should be a good pitcher, the prize pitcher in this deal was minor leaguer Jake Odorizzi. It has been announced that he will be assigned to high-A Wilmington. The interesting thing about Odorizzi is that when he was drafted, he was thought to be the best high school pitcher in the draft and was actually referred to as Zack Greinke lite which is quite interesting now. He has four pitches, three of them above average with an average changeup. He strikes me as the type of pitcher who isn’t terribly projectable, but has the chance to really hone all his pitches and become someone who the Royals can plug in the #2 spot in their rotation behind whichever lefty steps up to become the ace. He fits in well with the crop of prospects and could move quickly enough to be in the majors sometime in 2012.

We’re still learning about all these players, but I think this was a trade that actually helped both teams. The Brewers now obviously become a contender in the fairly weak National League Central with a top three of Zack Greinke, Yovani Gallardo and Shaun Marcum. Their bullpen is a little shaky, but the rotation is fantastic now and their offense remains one of the best in the league. Greinke will most certainly enjoy the run support he should receive from his new club. I find it a little funny that he can escape the Royals, but he can’t escape Yuniesky Betancourt, but that’s just my own personal laughing matter.

Contrary to many Royals fans, I don’t entirely hold a grudge toward Greinke for this whole situation. My real problems with this whole ordeal were the public announcements of wanting out. To me, that just seems like a slap in the face to a city that celebrated “Greinke Day” for every start and followed a Cy Young season with the fervor of a team in a pennant chase when the team was fighting to stay out of last. I’ll definitely follow the Brewers a little more closely in 2011 and 2012 and root for them to win. I’d love for the Royals to face Greinke in Game 1 of the World Series and beat him around, though. I’d love that mostly for the win, but a part of me would be incredibly excited to hear his comments about that after the game.

A lot of people believe that this Royals team is now a 100 loss team, and it very well may be. My first thought was that as well, but then I looked a little deeper into the team, and I’m not so sure that’s the case. The starting pitching may be terrible, but I think Hochevar and Mazzaro are going to be good this year. I think Duffy will make it up the majors quickly and be good almost immediately and I think the Royals go after a one-year veteran starting option that can put together a nice season. This team actually has some guys who can get on base, they have a little pop and they can catch the ball now. For years, Dayton Moore has played lip service to defense, but this off-season he has actually gone out and improved it. I’ve seen this mentioned a few times, but I’ll echo that 2011 just became a lot more fun to watch in spite of how bad the team might be.

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