As we near the start of spring training and the 2012 regular season, we start to analyze players to see which will perform well, which will perform poorly, which will stay put and which will be traded. We make projections and predictions and try our best to single-handedly determine who will walk away eight-and-a-half months from now with the trophy. We're usually wrong, but we try regardless.
I predict that in 2012, Zack Greinke will wear two different uniforms, and neither one will so much as appear in the World Series. I also predict Zack Greinke will have yet another average year that everyone describes as "great", but teams will still line up to pay him ace-money after the season when he becomes a free agent.
Apart from his 2009 AL Cy Young-winning season with Kansas City, Greinke has consistently hovered around a 3.80 ERA with decent strikeout totals and fairly unimpressive win totals ... AVERAGE.
But, in the minds of many, he is a 28-year-old ace, so come the trade deadline, when the Brewers are in third place thanks to the loss of Prince Fielder and 50 games of Ryan Braun, they'll likely look to restock the farm system by dealing Greinke to a contender for the stretch run. The only question is, which teams should go after him?
The Atlanta Braves, as we all know, suffered a September collapse of epic proportions in 2011. However, unlike their AL counterparts, the Boston Red Sox, the Braves do have a legitimate excuse for why they crumbled down the stretch.
The Braves have one of the best starting rotations in baseball. Veteran Tim Hudson leads a staff made up of some of the game's best young arms in Tommy Hanson, Jair Jurrjens, Brandon Beachy, and this season, Julio Teheran.
There is, however, one problem with Atlanta's masterful squad, and that is their ability to stay healthy. Hanson and Jurrjens have suffered repeated injuries over the last couple of seasons, putting into question each pitcher's long-term health. Both pitchers went down with injuries last September, sealing the Braves' fate.
While Atlanta seems confident Hanson can bounce back and remain healthy, they have their doubts about Jurrjens, as evidenced by their willingness to deal him to anyone that had interest this offseason. Unfortunately for the Braves, those clubs had concerns about Jurrjens' health as well, and all passed on possible deals. So, how do the Braves make up for the inevitable loss of one of their young studs? Well, that's where Zack Greinke comes into play.
Greinke, as I said, isn't a true ace-type pitcher, but in the spaciousness of Turner Field he is sure to thrive. If the Braves can put together a package of prospects centered around Jurrjens, they could probably be able to pry the former Cy Young-winner away from the Brewers. In a pitcher's ballpark, Greinke could be an ace, and he has the potential to help lead the Braves back to the World Series for the first time since 1999.
In 2012, the newly-minted Miami Marlins will open their shining new ballpark. With that knowledge in mind, the Marlins have made it a priority to turn themselves from basement-dwellers in the NL East to playoff contenders with one offseason spending spree. They went out and signed reigning batting champion Jose Reyes, All-Star closer Heath Bell, and perhaps the most consistent pitcher in baseball Mark Buehrle. Unfortunately, the way I see it, not even all these moves will get the Marlins to the playoffs in 2012.
The Marlins are a fairly young team, and they seem to be counting on their new acquisitions and the return of their ace, Josh Johnson, to carry them to the postseason. They are banking on Johnson staying healthy, Buehrle transitioning to the NL successfully and their remaining cast of inconsistent starters figuring things out. What the Marlins need to contend is one more above-average pitcher, and Zack Greinke is probably their best option.
If the Marlins could swing a deal for Greinke, it would at least give them a fighting chance if Johnson can stay healthy. A pitcher like Greinke would make a great starter behind a true ace in a good rotation and would match up nicely against most of the league's other No. 2 starters. Putting together a package to satisfy the Brewers might be easier said than done, however, and if other teams get involved, the Marlins might not have what it takes to reach an agreement.
The Toronto Blue Jays made a bold move two offseasons ago when they traded the best pitcher in baseball, Roy Halladay, to the Philadelphia Phillies. At that point it seemed like they didn't have much going for them in the AL East, and they finally accepted that they needed to enter a rebuilding mode, and the first step was to part with their ace.
I don't know about the Blue Jays' front office and GM Alex Anthopoulos, but I now look back at the Halladay trade as a big mistake. The very next season after the trade, Halladay won a Cy Young with the Phillies, and more importantly, Jose Bautista emerged as one of the best hitters in the game today.
In 2010, Roy Halladay went 21-10 with a 2.44 ERA and 219 strikeouts, and Jose Bautista hit 54 home runs and drove in 124 runs. In 2011, Halladay went 19-6 with a 2.35 ERA and 220 strikeouts. Jose Bautista hit .302 with 43 home runs and drove in 103 runs.
So, looking back, the Blue Jays could have had the game's best pitcher and best hitter on the same team the last two years. Maybe that puts them in a position to make the playoffs, maybe not. We'll never know. But what we do know is that the Blue Jays seem to be on the fast track to contention, even more so once the second wild card is added. While the Jays might also need one more big bat to become real players again, they really need one more reliable pitcher, someone like Zack Greinke.
Obviously Toronto is prepared to spend the kind of money it will take to retain a player like Zack Greinke if they can find a way to acquire him from Milwaukee; we all saw that this year with their monster $50 million-plus bid on Japanese sensation Yu Darvish. So, they might just opt to wait for the offseason and sign Greinke as a free agent, but what happens if the players they have now keep them close in the playoff race in 2011, especially if the second wild card is already in place? They might feel the pressure to make a move and pick up another starter for the stretch run, and who better than Greinke?
In my honest opinion, I don't see Greinke in a Blue Jays uniform in 2012. Could it happen? Absolutely, but I think that the Blue Jays are more likely to go after someone like Cole Hamels once he reaches free agency than to unload prospects on Greinke. But, it is baseball, and you really never know what's going to happen until it actually does.
The Detroit Tigers shocked the baseball world two weeks ago when they signed free-agent All-Star first baseman Prince Fielder to a nine-year $214 million contract. All of a sudden, the team that was in trouble after losing DH Victor Martinez to ACL surgery was back in the game, and in a big way.
The Tigers are the clear favorites in the AL Central, and they seem to be in a good position to at least return to the ALCS in 2012. However, if I was Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski, I would be looking for one last piece to the puzzle, and that piece would be Zack Greinke.
The Tigers rotation, as it currently stands, will likely be made up of the reigning AL Cy Young and MVP, Justin Verlander, Doug Fister, Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello, and top prospect Jacob Turner. Now that's not a bad rotation by any means, but it could easily be better.
I personally view each pitcher after Verlander as being better off in the spot below where they are listed, meaning I would prefer Fister as the No. 3 Scherzer as the No. 4 and Porcello and Turner fighting for the No. 5 spot. The addition of Zack Greinke would provide the Tigers with a true No. 2 pitcher in their rotation behind Verlander.
Greinke is really a perfect fit for the Tigers in every way. He has experienced success in the AL Central with his former club, the Kansas City Royals, so he knows the hitters in the division well already. He would thrive in a pitchers' ballpark like Comerica Park and would likely see his ERA drop into the low threes. He would also greatly benefit from playing alongside Verlander, who could likely teach Greinke a thing or two and make him into an even better pitcher than he already is.
The Tigers have shown they are willing to spend the money to contend, so I think they would probably be able to retain Greinke after the season as well, maybe even locking him up before he hits free agency. Plus Greinke already has a friend in Detroit in Fielder, who he played with last year in Milwaukee. Even if it means surrendering Turner to the Brewers, I would pull the trigger on a deal to land Greinke in Detroit if I were Dombroski. It just seems like a perfect fit.
However, there is one more team that might just be desperate enough to outbid all others at the trade deadline if their season goes in any way like I expect it to in 2012...
If there is any team that needs a serious shot in the arm for the 2012 season, it's the team that finished the 2011 season in the worst way possible. Everyone knows by now of how the Red Sox simply fell apart down the stretch in 2011. The "World Series favorites" failed to even make the playoffs after blowing a nine-game Wild Card lead in September.
So, how many people would have believed me in September if I had told them the Red Sox would actually be worse in early February, just under two weeks away from spring training, than they were at the end of the 2011 season? Not many, I'd guess. But that's the hard truth of the matter, as the Red Sox are by no means the favorites for anything in 2012.
The only significant moves of the offseason for the Red Sox thus far are moves to replace superior individuals who have left Boston. First, Ben Cherington was promoted to replace Theo Epstein, who left Boston for the north side of Chicago. Next, Bobby Valentine was hired to replace Terry Francona, who "left" the team (we all know he was fired) after leading them to their first two championships in 86 years. Then, Boston traded for A's closer Andrew Bailey to replace their All-Star closer, Jonathan Papelbon, who left for Philadelphia without even receiving an offer from the Red Sox.
The Red Sox also traded for Astros' closer Mark Melancon, who will replace Daniel Bard, who is moving to the rotation to replace John Lackey, who is undergoing Tommy John surgery. Finally, Marco Scutaro was traded for Rockies' reliever Clayton Mortensen, creating a platoon situation at shortstop with Mike Aviles and Nick Punto.
Sounds like a great team, doesn't it?
By my measures, the Red Sox will be reaching desperation by mid-June to early-July, as they will likely be in either third or fourth place in the AL East. If there is a second wild card, they won't be atop the standings for that either, as the Rangers, Angels and Rays will all have better records than the boys from Beantown. It is then that you will see Cherington make a hasty move and trade a package of top prospects to the Brewers for Zack Greinke.
I expect Will Middlebrooks, Lars Anderson and Ryan Lavarnway to be among the casualties of this deal for the Red Sox. Greinke will do fine in Boston, but he won't be an ace. He probably won't be anything more than a No. 3 or No. 4 starter with an ERA in the low fours thanks to Fenway Park.
The worst part is that he will likely only spend the second half of 2012 in Boston before heading elsewhere through free agency in 2013. Those prospects will be replaced with compensation picks in the 2013 Draft, putting the Red Sox back a couple of years as far as their farm system goes.
Mark my words, Greinke will be in a Boston uniform in 2012. Red Sox fans just have to hope I'm wrong about everything else.