Greinke to the Brewers
The evidence would suggest that Doug Melvin is a very single-minded man.
One year, he was all about relief pitching. Another, focused on defense. Yet another, building starting pitching depth.
This year, he has focused on high-quality starting pitching to the exclusion of everything else. First, he swapped 2008 first round pick Brett Lawrie for Blue Jays starter Shaun Marcum. Now, he’s bet the farm on Zack Greinke, giving up four youngsters in a deal for the 2009 Cy Young Award winner.
One thing is clear: The Brewers rotation looked dreadful a few weeks ago, and now it looks very solid. Greinke, Marcum, and Yovani Gallardo comprise a 1-2-3 that any team (except the Phillies) would desire, and adding Randy Wolf to that threesome makes it look even better.
Of course, the wisdom of a deal isn’t just in what the get. The real question is, did the Brewers give up too much to increase their odds of winning in 2011?
The end of the Prince Fielder era
I’ve long been surprised that no one blew away Melvin with a trade offer for Prince. For whatever reason, it hasn’t happened, and Fielder is still in the fold … at least for a few more months. The team will look very different without him, and it’s all but certain that the first baseman will be elsewhere in 2012.
If the Brewers are going to win with Prince, it’s going to have to be in 2011. And if the Crew is to win in 2012 and beyond without Prince, the team will have to rely less on a deadly 3-4 combination.
At the risk of stating the obvious: The trades make the Brewers better in 2011. The difference between 400+ innings of Greinke and Marcum and 400+ innings of whoever the hell else Melvin would have dug up will be huge.
Some of the discarded players–Escobar, Cain, and maybe Jeffress–were part of the Crew’s 2011 plans, but none were as crucial as the starting pitching gained in exchange. Escobar should continue to improve at the major league level, but there’s no guarantee that’s going to happen soon, suggesting that his .614 2010 OPS might be better as somebody else’s problem.
Cain excelled in an extended audition last year, but we may have seen the best he’ll ever produce. He’s turning 25 in April, making it possible he’s a late bloomer, or more likely, that he’ll have a few league-average seasons before becoming a part-timer in his 30’s. Jeffress has always had huge potential, but can only be viewed as a reliever at this point, and one with serious control issues.
The 2011 Brewers
In other words, there’s little short-term tradeoff. I’m not convinced that the Greinke-Marcum duo makes the Brewers favorites in the Central next year, but you could certainly make the argument.
The biggest problems with the 2011 squad are the ones that existed before the deals. A month ago, we wondered whether Escobar and some combination of Cain and Carlos Gomez would provide anything better than replacement-level offense. Now the focus is on the same positions, but with less hope. Now both spots are up for grabs this spring, with Yuniesky Betancourt and Gomez presumably in the lead.
I think it’s safe to assume that at least one of those two positions will end up being dreadful. Maybe both. I also think the Brewers should be happy with that result. I’d rather have two studs and two replacement level players than four mediocre to average players.
Frankly, it’s tough to imagine Doug Melvin making any other (realistic) pair of moves to better boost his team’s chances for the 2011 playoffs. If you don’t like the deal, it can only be because you’re concerned he traded away too much of the future.
2012 and beyond
Did he? As is always the case in these sorts of deals, it will be at least seven or eight years before we know the whole story.
Let’s take a specific look at 2012. As mentioned, the Brewers assume they’ll be without Fielder. They will, however, still have a substantial core–just about everybody else in the 2011 lineup except for Fielder and Rickie Weeks, and the same top four in the rotation. Slot Mat Gamel into first base, assume you’ve got a bit of money to play with after Prince’s departure and everybody else’s raise, and that still looks like a pretty good team.
To find the possibility of a serious downside, you have to look further into the future. Sure, it would be nice to have Lawrie playing second base as soon as Weeks departs, but it’s very possible Lawrie will never play a major league inning as a second baseman.
It’s fun to wishcast a 2013 or 2014 Brewers team with Escobar at short, Cain in center, and Lawrie somewhere. Maybe Jeffress closing and Odorizzi enjoying a successful rookie year in the rotation. Realistically, though, Escobar and Cain may never be reliably league-average hitters; Lawrie may end up stuck in a corner; Jeffress could just as easily flame out as last a full season as an 8th-inning guy, and Odorizzi hasn’t yet pitched above single-A.
The combined packages for Greinke and Marcum are better than what Milwaukee sent to Cleveland for CC Sabathia, but not hugely so. Here, we get two starters for two years each, instead of one for half a season. Just because that deal hasn’t panned out for Cleveland doesn’t mean these won’t for the Jays or Royals. But the playoff run in 2008 showed us just how unimportant prospects are in September–unless you swap them for someone valuable.
Without these deals, the Brewers wouldn’t have made the playoffs next year. It’s possible they wouldn’t have broken .500. Now, they are contenders in 2011, and it will only take one or two solid moves to make them contenders again in 2012. Literally or figuratively, “the entire farm system” might just be worth it.