Zack Greinke Traded to Milwaukee Brewers: Could the Royals Have Done Better?

James Stewart-MeudtCorrespondent IIDecember 20, 2010

ANAHEIM, CA - AUGUST 11:  Zack Greinke #23 of the Kansas City Royals pitches against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Angel Stadium on August 11, 2010 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

As soon as free agent starting pitcher Cliff Lee signed with the Philadelphia Phillies, all eyes shifted to Kansas City Royals ace Zack Greinke.

Amid questions of anxiety disorder, the list of teams able to trade for the 2009 Cy Young winner was short.

The New York Yankees, having lost out on signing Lee, seemed likely to target Greinke, but the idea of Greinke being able to handle pitching in New York was a bit far-fetched.

The Texas Rangers, having also lost out on Lee, were also seen as a potential landing spot.

However, in the end, the Royals traded their ace to the Brewers for four prospects: OF Lorenzo Cain, SS Alcides Escobar and minor league pitchers Jake Odorizzi and Jeremy Jeffress.

Depending on your opinion of Greinke, you might view the prospects Kansas City got in return for Greinke to be quite the haul.

Other than his 2009 Cy Young campaign, Greinke has never had an ERA under 3.47 or struck out more than 200 batters.

At one time, Greinke even contemplated quitting baseball.

You have to give him credit for keeping his head down and pressing on through his anxiety issues, but he really isn't that great of a pitcher.

That said, Greinke was one of the better pitchers available through a trade, so the Brewers made the right move here.

But could the Royals have gotten a better haul from another team?

The Royals' asking price for Greinke was said to be very high, but you wouldn't know it from the package they got from Milwaukee.

Escobar, a defensive wonder at shortstop, posted an OBP of just .288 last season in 145 games. He isn't going to hit for much power, but he still only hit .235. He did collect 10 triples, but triples aren't important if you only score 57 runs.

Cain is a decent outfielder (career minor league fielding percentage of .976) but has almost nothing to offer in the power department. In six years in the minors, Cain hit just 31 home runs and has a slugging percentage of .416.

In 43 games in the majors last season, he hit .306 with one homer and 13 RBI. There isn't anything about Cain that jumps off the page or makes you think he's going to be much more than a defensive outfielder.

As for the pitchers the Royals received for Greinke, patience is going to be key for the Royals.

Jake Odorizzi is just 20 years old and has some promise but pitched in the Class-A Midwest League last season. He has four average or above average pitches with plenty of room to grow. He throws both a two-seam and four-seam fastball, and the two-seamer has good movement to either side of the plate.

Odorizzi should move up the minors quickly since he has a good repertoire, but we're probably talking three or four years for an appearance in the majors.

Jeremy Jeffress appeared in 10 games for the Brewers last season, posting a 2.70 ERA and eight strikeouts in 10 IP. Stuff-wise, Jeffress has the goods. His fastball is explosive, with 100-plus mph potential, and he possesses a breaking ball that can be a great out pitch.

However, he has served two suspensions for marijuana use while in the minors, so his mental makeup is a question mark.

Over the last few years, teams who have traded an ace pitcher haven't always brought in a wealth of talent.

When the Minnesota Twins traded Johan Santana to the New York Mets in 2008, they received Phil Humber, Carlos Gomez, Kevin Mulvey and Deolis Guerra. A quick glance at those names indicates the Mets stole Santana, but it could really go either way given Santana's injury history since joining the Mets.

Also in 2008, the Cleveland Indians sent ace CC Sabathia to the Brewers for Matt LaPorta, Michael Brantley, Zach Jackson and Rob Bryson. LaPorta was a big minor league prospect at the time but hasn't impressed so far in the major leagues.

The Royals had to trade Greinke. They're going nowhere in their division but have a lot of minor league talent on the way. When Greinke hit free agency in 2013, he was sure to take a big paycheck and pitch elsewhere. Make no mistake—it hurts Royals fans to watch their ace leave, but it was the right move.

Despite the players the Royals received in return for Greinke, they did reasonably well. Escobar will start at shortstop next season, replacing Yuniesky Betancourt, and Cain could patrol center field.

The Toronto Blue Jays and Washington Nationals were also interested in trading for Greinke and were perhaps ahead of the Brewers in the pecking order.

But the Royals wanted Kyle Drabek in any trade with the Blue Jays, and that wasn't going to happen. Nor were they going to get Jordan Zimmermann from the Nationals.

The trade with the Brewers was the right move and brought in a reasonable amount of talent given Greinke's ability. The trade could actually go from "OK" to "great" for the Royals depending on the future performances of Jeffress and Odorizzi.