Examining the Zack Greinke Trade Market

By: Ryan Smith

Now that the All-Star Game has come and gone, it’s time to get back to the grind for the Milwaukee Brewers.

For the players, that means doing whatever they can to get into the mix for the NL Central race, or at least positioning themselves to make a run at one of the Wild Card spots.

As the trade deadline approaches, Doug Melvin faces the unenviable task of deciding whether or not to trade Zack Greinke.

For Doug Melvin, the grind is a completely different animal. For Doug Melvin, the All-Star Game provided no such break. Instead, while Ryan Braun was participating in the All-Star Game and other players were using the four-day break to spend time with their families, Doug Melvin was still wrestling with one of the biggest questions in Major League Baseball right now:

Should the Milwaukee Brewers trade Zack Greinke?

Personally, I am torn on this subject. The diehard fan in me wants to see Zack Greinke pitch as many games as possible in a Milwaukee uniform. That part of me would love to see him stay with the team through the rest of this season and lead us into the playoffs.

But then there’s the realistic side of me. As much as I would love to see Greinke remain a Brewer for the rest of 2012, I have admitted before that I think the smartest move would be to trade the star right-hander.

Now, as recently as today, there have been some rumors that Milwaukee could surprise many baseball experts and sign Greinke to an extension before he hits free agency this offseason. Jon Heyman of CBS reported that the Brewers are ready to offer Greinke a 5-year, $100 million deal to stay in Milwaukee beyond 2012. But in his report, Heyman quotes Doug Melvin as saying that “players at that level who get this close to free agency do tend to test the market.”

So while the Brewers are willing to make one final push at keeping Greinke, it seems more than likely that the front office could move him to a contender.

Teams will be lining up for the services of the former Cy Young winner.

With that in mind, I thought I’d take a look at what the Brewers could be looking at as far as prospects from some interested teams. Technically, you could say that any team would be interested in acquiring a top-of-the-rotation arm like Greinke. But I thought I’d focus on a few teams that have been reported multiple times as having interest in meeting Milwaukee’s demands for Greinke: the Atlanta Braves, the Los Angeles Angels, the Texas Rangers, and the Baltimore Orioles.

While I plan on mentioning a few potential prospects that could join the Milwaukee organization from each of these teams, it is important to note that I’m not saying we would need to receive all of these players to make the trade happen. I also am not placing a ton of weight on being position-specific when it comes to these prospects. Yes, it would be nice to add another arm to our farm system or potentially find our shortstop of the future, but when trading for top-tier prospects, you get whatever talent you can. If you have a surplus of talent at one position, then you can figure it out when you get there. Frankly, too much talent is a wonderful problem to have.

In breaking down these potential trade partners, I thought I’d rank them based on which team I thought could offer the best realistic package to Milwaukee for Greinke. Without further ado, let’s start off with…

#4 – Baltimore Orioles

Coming into the season, not many people expected Baltimore to potentially compete for any sort of playoff spot. Even after they started out 29-17, most experts figured they would come back down to Earth. While they did start to struggle a little more as the season went on, they still find themselves at 45-40, well in the thick of the American League Wild Card race. When I look at this Orioles team, I can’t help but feel a certain familiarity. Baltimore is an organization with a relatively new and impressive ballpark, a loyal fan base, and a long, recent history of losing. Sounds a lot like the 2008 Milwaukee Brewers.

In 2008, desperate to make the playoffs for the first time in 26 years, Milwaukee traded away multiple prospects – including the organization’s top prospect in Matt LaPorta – to add CC Sabathia to the top of our rotation. The rest is history.

Could Zack Greinke be Baltimore’s Sabathia?

Unlike Milwaukee in 2008, I don’t think there’s any chance that Baltimore parts with either of its top prospects, RHP Dylan Bundy and SS Manny Machado. ESPN’s Keith Law has those two guys and the second-and-third overall prospects in all of baseball. While I’d love to land one of those guys in a Greinke trade, I said earlier that I wanted these to be realistic trade scenarios.

However, one of the perks of being one of the league’s worst teams over the last decade is that you have the chance to acquire a lot of talent in the draft. While Bundy and Machado are all but untouchable, I think Doug Melvin would at least have to listen to an offer that included 2B/3B Jonathan Schoop. Schoop probably won’t be a defensive star in the league, but he does have the arm to play third. More importantly, his bat certainly profiles there. The guy can flat-out hit. Not only that, but he has also shown the ability to make adjustments when he has been promoted to a more challenging level. 1B/3B Nick Delmonico would also be a decent player to acquire, though he is not on the same level as Schoop. As far as pitching is concerned, I would like to see the Brewers obtain either LHP Eduardo Rodriguez or RHP Parker Bridwell.

Like I said, Baltimore has talent in their farm system. But if Schoop isn’t part of any deal, Doug Melvin should just hang up.

Ideal Potential Deal: Greinke for 2B/3B Jonathan Schoop, LHP Eduardo Rodriguez, multiple other minor league prospects

#3 – Los Angeles Angels

The Angels’ farm system graduated its top prospect this season when Mike Trout was promoted to the big league club. All he’s done since then is make the All-Star Game and head to the front of the line for the AL MVP.

With Trout out of the system, 2B/SS Jean Segura becomes the top prospect that the Angels have to offer. In AA this season, Segura has produced a .286/.332/.398 line. He’s not going to tear the cover off the ball, but he is a hitter who has the ability to spray line drives all over the field while providing solid defense up the middle.

RHP Garrett Richards has split his time this year between AAA and the big leagues. He hasn’t necessarily had the success you’d like to see, struggling with his location (4.71 BB/9) at times. Still, he’s a good player with a fastball that stays 94-98 late into games. RHP John Hellweg is another pitcher with a powerful fastball, but he also struggles with his command (4.88 BB/9). However, he’s only in AA and has some time to work on those command issues.

Ideal Potential Deal: Greinke for 2B/SS Jean Segura, RHP John Hellweg, multiple other minor league prospects

#2 – Atlanta Braves

The rest of the teams on this list are not in the same boat as Baltimore. All three of these teams have had recent success. They aren’t going to be making a deal for Greinke just to make the playoffs. If these teams try to acquire the right-hander, it is because they think he could be the final piece to their World Series puzzle. Atlanta is a team that almost needs to do something because the division title is well within their reach. Philadelphia has fallen off drastically, Miami lacks consistency, New York seems to be winning with two players (Dickey and Wright) doing most of the work, and Washington will soon be faced with an innings limit on their ace.

If Atlanta ends up being the team to land Greinke, Milwaukee should expect to receive multiple pitching prospects in return. Atlanta seems to have quite a bit of pitching talent in their system, while they seem to lack position players that can hit consistently.

Atlanta’s top prospect, RHP Julio Teheran, has had some difficulties this season with the long-ball (1.68 HR/9), but his xFIP of 3.47 suggests that the rest of his stuff has been pretty effective. He’s only 21 and playing in AAA, and he has a decent fastball-changeup combo that he can throw for strikes.

After Teheran, there is a bit of a drop-off. Arodys Vizcaino would have been a guy to target, but he underwent Tommy John Surgery in March. Randall Delgado is an arm that would be nice to add to your system, but he has been pitching at the major league level this season and hasn’t exactly been blowing anyone away, which leads me to believe he might be a bullpen arm waiting to happen. Christian Bethancourt might be the best defensive catcher in the minor leagues. He calls a good game and has the arm to shut down any team’s running game. I’m not sure if Atlanta would part with him, but I wouldn’t blame Melvin for holding out for both Teheren and Bethancourt. After all, Greinke is the best arm on the market.

Ideal Potential Deal: Greinke for RHP Julio Teheren and C Christian Bethancourt

#1 – Texas Rangers

I’ll admit that the Atlanta deal would be one I could live with. But I’ve been saying for quite some time now that if we are going to trade Greinke, I want Texas to be on the receiving end. Texas is in a unique situation because they have appeared in the World Series the last two seasons while still producing one of the top farm systems in Major League Baseball. In fact, Keith Law ranked the Rangers as having the seventh-best farm system in all of baseball.

Making it to two straight World Series is pretty impressive, but the Rangers failed to win it all each year. They also watched their top pitchers in each season (Cliff Lee in ’10, C.J. Wilson in ’11) walk away at season’s end. They added Yu Darvish to the top of their rotation before the start of the season, and then they signed Roy Oswalt to strengthen that rotation. Still, finding a way to acquire Greinke’s arm could certainly put them in the driver’s seat to be the AL’s World Series representative for the third consecutive year.

I mentioned earlier that Baltimore had two of the top three prospects in all of baseball. Texas has the other. SS Jurickson Profar is everything you’d want in a baseball player. He hits for average, hits for some power, plays excellent defense, and keeps improving even as he reaches more challenging levels. Profar would be even more hands-off than either of Baltimore’s top prospects.

Now, I know this isn’t likely because they are using him this season, but wouldn’t Profar’s excellence make current SS Elvis Andrus an interesting trade chip? Andrus is an excellent defender who also seems to be able to hit for a consistent average. I know I said that position wouldn’t play a role in these scenarios, but the Brewers certainly lack that shortstop of the future. Hell, the Brewers lack a shortstop of the present. Andrus would be a nice find for Milwaukee.

As far as other prospects go, I’ve been a fan of 3B Mike Olt for the last year or so. He’s a slick-fielding third baseman who can swing the bat as well. This year in AA, he’s produced a line of .292/.403/.574. Sound like a nice guy to add to Milwaukee’s system? I thought so.

As far as pitching is concerned, Texas did promote LHP Martin Perez up from AAA this year, but he’d still be a nice guy to add that could help fill the spot Greinke would leave behind. RHP Neil Ramirez would be another guy that would add some depth and talent to our farm system. But the pitcher I would most like to snag in a Greinke deal would be RHP Cody Buckel. He just turned 20 this year and he really seems to be figuring it out. He seems to be striking guys out (7.25 K/9) while not allowing the long ball (0.81 HR/9) in AA.

Ideal Potential Deal: Greinke for SS Elvis Andrus, 3B Mike Olt, and RHP Cody Buckel

Maybe I’m aiming too high with that last deal. Maybe Texas wouldn’t give up all of that for a two or three month rental of Greinke.

Then again, maybe getting to the World Series isn’t enough for this team. Maybe getting there two years in a row only to walk away empty-handed has pushed them to a point where they are willing to sacrifice some of their future talent to win it all now.

And Zack Greinke could certainly help them win it all now.

Yes, it would be painful to see Greinke go. But at the same time, I hated seeing Prince Fielder leave. I hated the fact that we got a late first-round draft pick in return for him.

If Greinke is going to go, let’s make the most of it. Let’s restock our farm system.

Instead of letting the franchise start a freefall, let’s set it up for a quick rebound.

Addressing Milwaukee’s Dependence on the Bandwagon Fan

By: Ryan Smith

The term “bandwagon fan” is one that carries a negative connotation. The bandwagon fan only starts to support a team when that team is having some level of success. If the team is a historically bad team or is a team that is experiencing tough times, the bandwagon fan is nowhere to be found. To be labeled a bandwagon fan is often meant as an insult. The “true fans” have a sort of animosity towards the bandwagon fans because, well, they’re bandwagon fans.

I grew up a fan of two teams: the Milwaukee Brewers and the Boston Red Sox. I was a fan of the Brewers because I grew up in Wisconsin and was lucky enough to attend a game or two every year at County Stadium. I was a Red Sox fan because I actually got to see them play of television occasionally. I also wanted to be a pitcher when I was young, and Roger Clemens became my favorite pitcher for quite some time. When he bolted to Toronto, I stayed with Boston. To this day, I cheer for Milwaukee and Boston. It’s what I’ve always done, and while I may be more of a die-hard for Milwaukee as I attend more and more games each year, I assume I’ll always root for both teams.

Boston and Milwaukee. I’m not sure if there could be two more opposite markets outside of New York than those two. Red Sox Nation spreads far across the globe, with many lifers and bandwagon fans sporting Boston gear on a daily basis. Even when Boston struggles from time to time, they still sell out every game and do very well when it comes to merchandise sales. Frankly, Boston is such a large market naturally that the bandwagon fan does not make much of an impact to the day-to-day and season-to-season operations of the Red Sox front office.

I’m pointing all of this out because the Milwaukee Brewers are getting very close to the point where the bandwagon fans are going to disappear. And I have one message for Brewer Nation:

The Brewers need the bandwagon fans.

Without bandwagon fans, Miller Park might start looking like it did back in 2003.

It’s no secret that Milwaukee is the smallest of the small-market teams in Major League Baseball. From 2002-2006, the Brewers ranked no higher than 17th in total attendance in any of those seasons. In 2007, when Milwaukee finished above .500 for the first time since the ’92 season, Milwaukee’s attendance jumped to 12th in all of baseball. After that, the Crew finished 9th (2008), 9th (2009), 11th (2010), and 7th (2011). In 2012, the Brewers are currently sitting in 11th place once again.

It should be no surprise that as the Brewers started to find more success on the field, they also found more success at the ticket office. That’s how this whole system works. If the team is winning, the bandwagon fans will find their way to the ballpark. And when the team starts to struggle, the bandwagon fans will scatter.

Without the bandwagon fans, the front office might not spend the way they have in recent years.

But as those attendance numbers so clearly point out, those bandwagon fans are immensely important when it comes to stimulating the Milwaukee Brewers economy. And when the Brewers are selling more tickets, more jerseys, more concessions, more everything, the front office is going to be more inclined to spend some of that money they are making. When those attendance numbers drop, so will the payroll of the Milwaukee Brewers.

Here’s my point: the self-proclaimed “true fans” of the Milwaukee Brewers should not be so quick to vilify the bandwagoners when they jump ship because, unlike Boston, we need them.

The cold, hard truth is that the next few years could be very lean ones in Miller Park. Zack Greinke could (and should) be traded in the next few weeks. Shaun Marcum’s recent trip to the DL should be seen as a blessing to Doug Melvin, because Marcum was quickly pitching himself out of Milwaukee’s comfort zone as far as his next contract is concerned. Rickie Weeks hasn’t been Rickie Weeks ever since he legged out an infield single last July against the Cubs, spraining his ankle in the process. The farm system has some decent pieces, but there’s not a lot that’s ready to be harvested for a while yet. Outside of Ryan Braun, Yovani Gallardo, and The Jonathon Lucroy, Milwaukee doesn’t have a lot of long-term promise on the current roster.

And if the bandwagon fans don’t find their way to Miller Park every now and then, things might not get much better any time soon.

So, to the bandwagon fans out there, I would just like to remind you about the fun times we’ve had these last few years. Remember the Sabathia craze? Prince’s monster shots? Braun’s MVP? T-Plush and Beast Mode? The NLCS? The tailgating? Even though times are rough right now, that can’t erase all of those memories, can it?

And to the “true fans” out there, I just want to remind you to invite those bandwagon fans out when you go to catch the game at a local sports bar. And when you are planning a weekend trip to Miller Park, remember to include those same bandwagon fans in your evite or your Facebook event. Above all else, do whatever you can to keep those bandwagon fans from straying too far.

Bandwagon fans, don’t be strangers to Miller Park. On behalf of Brew Crew Nation, this die-hard member wants to let you know that you are always welcome here.

Will the Acquisition of A.J. Burnett Steer the Pirates Ship in the Right Direction?

by Kevin Kimmes

Well, it’s official, the Yankees have worked out a deal to send A.J. Burnett and $20 million in cash to the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for outfielder Exicardo Cayones and right-handed reliever Diego Moreno. While the move makes sense for a Yankees squad who had been carrying 7 potential starters since the January 13th acquisition of Michael Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda, does the move benefit a Pirates squad who many have already written off to be in the bottom half of the NL Central this year?

You Can’t Always Get What You Want

When the Yankees acquired Burnett in 2009 it was to bolster a starting rotation which carried CC Sabathia as its ace, along with Andy Pettitte and Joba Chamberlain.  Burnett was viewed as a potential number 2 coming off of a 2008 season where he had gone 18-10 in 35 appearances (his career best for win percentage) with an ERA of 4.07 for the Toronto Blue Jays. For the short-term the acquisition seemed to pay off as Burnett went 13-9 in 33 games in 2009, and carried an ERA of 4.04 (2nd best for Yankee starters behind Sabathia). However, something was about to go horribly wrong.

The 2010 season marked the beginning of  Burnett’s fall from grace as he posted the worst ERA of his career (5.26) as well as a sub .500 winning percentage (10-15 in 33 games), something he had not done since 2001 when he was with the Florida Marlins.

2011 proved to be a slight improvement (11-11 in 33 games with and ERA of 5.15), but obviously was not the sort of production the Yankees had expected when they signed Burnett to a 5 year $82.5 million dollar contract. Thus, a decision had to be made.

Off the Hook

With this years Yankees already sporting more starting pitchers than needed going into camp (Sabathia, Nova, Garcia, Hughes, Pineda, and Kuroda), A.J.’s failings made him expendable. So, when the Pirates failed to acquire veteran free agents Edwin Jackson and Roy Oswalt, the stage was set for talks to begin.

Reportedly, the Pirates will be required to cover $13 million of the remaining $33 million due to Burnett over the next two years. So, at $6.5 million per year, is the investment worth it to a Pirates team that, ironically enough, is also overstocked with starting pitching?

One More Try

Earlier in the week, Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle, was optimistic regarding the move pointing to the likes of Javier Vasquez and Carl Pavanno as examples of players who were able to revitalize their careers by leaving New York. Some of this optimism my also be coming from the fact that PNC Park is considered by many to be more of a pitcher friendly park, especially when compared to the new Yankees Stadium.

Another thing to consider is that Burnett should provide some durability to a Pirates starting rotation that struggled with durability last year. In 2011, not a single Pirates pitcher reached 175 innings. Burnett, despite having some injury issues early in his career, has provided over 180 innings of starting pitching in each of the last 4 seasons showing that he should be a reliable starter for the Pirates.

So, what can fans expect from Burnett this year. I predict that he will find himself 11-10 in 33 starts with an ERA around 4.52. Will this change the Pirates standing in the NL Central race? Yes, but only slightly as it moves them up a spot past the Cubs, meaning they should finishing 4th in the Division behind Milwaukee, Cincinnati, and St. Louis.

Sorry Pirates fans, this move, while beneficial, will not change your course for the season drastically enough to make you a contender.

Ace(s) Up Our Sleeves: The Wonderful Dilemma of Having Two Staff Aces

By: Ryan Smith

While discussing the idea of this article with the Cream City Cables brain trust, the unavoidable question was finally asked:

How do we define “ace” in the baseball world?

There’s a number of different ways one could approach this term. The ace is the #1 starter in the rotation. The ace is the best pitcher on a given team. The ace is the guy who pitches on Opening Day.

Personally, while I think all of these definitions have some truth to them, they don’t say enough. All of these definitions imply that each team has a true ace while I feel that is not the case at all; I only have to point to my Pittsburgh Pirates preview to prove that not every team has an ace.

Before I go off on a tangent about how terrible the Pirates’ rotation is going to be, let’s go back to my initial thought. What is the definition for ace?

When I think of a staff’s ace, I think of the guy you would want on the mound in a must-win situation. That could mean that your team is in Game 7 of the NLCS, or it could mean you are on a four-game losing streak in May and need to stop the bleeding. Either way, you need to win. You want the ball in the hands of your ace.

Sabathia's run as Brewers' ace was short-lived, but it did end a 26-year playoff drought.

In the last decade or so, the Brewers have rarely been known for their pitching prowess. Ben Sheets was certainly ace-quality, but his best years were squandered on embarrassing squads. In 2008, GM Doug Melvin made a big splash by trading for CC Sabathia, an ace-for-hire who pitched the Brew Crew into the playoffs and then headed off to New York and the deep pockets of the Yankees.

Enough about the past; it’s 2012. A new season is on the horizon. Pitchers and catchers report soon. And the 2012 Brewers have two aces at the top of the rotation.

So I’m here to tackle a different question.

Yovani Gallardo or Zack Greinke: Who is the true ace of the 2012 Milwaukee Brewers?

This is certainly unfamiliar territory for Brewers fans. A few years ago, the idea of having two dominant starters in the Brewers’ rotation only seemed possible in the video game world. Instead, thanks again to Melvin’s go-for-it attitude, here we are.

2011 was the first year that we saw the Greinke/Gallardo pairing, though we had to wait longer than expected because of a certain pitcher’s tendency to play pick-up games of basketball and then get hurt during said basketball games. But I digress.

For the most part, the first edition of Zack & Yo was a smashing success. Let’s take a look at their individual numbers from last season.

In 33 starts, Gallardo went 17-10 with a 3.52 ERA. He struck out 207 and walked 59 over 207.1 innings pitched. That last part might be the most impressive stat that I mentioned thus far. Before 2011, Gallardo’s career-high for innings pitched was 185.2. It always seemed that he fell in love with the strikeout, driving his pitch count up in the early innings and forcing the bullpen into action before the 7th inning.

Taking a look at some of Gallardo’s advanced stats, you’ll see his K/9 was 8.99 – his lowest in three years. His 2.56 BB/9 was a career-best, as was his 3.19 xFIP. All of these stats basically support what I was alluding to in the previous paragraph; in 2011, Gallardo finally matured into the pitcher we had seen flashes over the previous few seasons.

While fans had to wait a little bit longer to see Greinke take the mound, he proved to be well worth the wait. In 28 starts, Greinke went 16-6 with a 3.83 ERA. He struck out 201 while walking only 45 in 171.2 innings pitched.

The advanced stats get even more impressive for Greinke, who posted a career-high 10.54 K/9 while maintaining a 2.36 BB/9, which is right around his career norm. Finally, he posted an astounding 2.56 xFIP, which was the best in all of baseball.

So while Gallardo was having a coming-of-age season, Greinke reached back and pitched a lot like his 2009 Cy Young-winning self.

While the regular season seems to have been a dead-heat, the postseason paints a different picture.

In three 2011 postseason starts, Gallardo went 1-1 with a 2.84 ERA. He struck out 16 while walking eight in 19.0 innings pitched.

Greinke struggled a bit more in October. In his three 2011 postseason starts, Greinke also went 1-1, but he finished with a whopping 6.48 ERA. He struck out 13 while only walking four in 16.2 innings pitched.

So I’ve thrown a lot of stats out there, but I haven’t really addressed the question at hand. Who is our ace for 2012?

Well, while Gallardo has proved to be a consistent pitcher who seems to be getting better every year, Greinke is my choice for the ace of the 2012 Milwaukee Brewers, and here’s why.

While I think Gallardo will continue to grow as a pitcher, I’m not sure we can expect him to improve on all of these career-best numbers while coming off of a season where he pitched 40 more innings than he ever had pitched before. It’s true that the Brewers defense should be improved (hello, Alex Gonzalez!) but I still can’t expect Gallardo to keep posting better numbers. Greinke, on the other hand, didn’t even have his best season last year. He had over 200 innings pitched in three consecutive seasons before 2011, so he won’t have to deal with the same growing pains that will face Gallardo.

With 2012 being a contract year, I predict that Greinke will pitch like the ace that he truly is.

And of course, there’s one other factor that I haven’t mentioned yet. 2012 will be a contract year for Mr. Greinke. History tends to show that players often rise to the occasion when they’re working for a new contract, and I don’t think Greinke will be any different.

Now, I know Greinke is currently representing himself, and some of you might argue that this could cause a distraction to him during the season. I don’t buy it. Greinke is a smart guy who knows what he’s doing. He knows that if he pitches up to his ability, he is going to have no shortage of teams vying for his services. And if you think he’s doing the whole “agentless” thing without any sort of advisor or consultant, you’re kidding yourself.

In the end, it really doesn’t matter which player is considered the ace of the staff. If the Brewers plan on contending this year, they are going to need both of these guys to bring their best every time they step on the mound.

So, instead of worrying about who the ace is, why don’t we just enjoy the fact that we have two of the best pitchers in baseball playing for our beloved Milwaukee Brewers?

Of course, I’d love to hear your opinions on this topic, so feel free to comment below, praising my selection or telling me to pull my head out of a certain orifice. Either way, I’d love to hear from some of my readers.