The Royals have agreed to part with the face of their franchise, trading right-hander Zack Greinke to the Brewers. But in so doing, they hope that they have added quality pieces to their roster for 2011 and especially for many years down the road.
Kansas City sent the 2009 American League Cy Young Award winner, who had been a Royal for the entirety of his professional career, to Milwaukee as part of a six-player trade. The Royals received shortstop Alcides Escobar, center fielder Lorenzo Cain and top pitching prospects Jake Odorizzi and Jeremy Jeffress. Along with Greinke, KC sent shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt and cash to the Brewers.
An official announcement was made early Sunday afternoon. Word that the Brewers were close to acquiring Greinke for a package of prospects first surfaced Saturday night on "Bernie's Crew," a blog hosted by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, but independent from the newspaper. Then the website OnMilwaukee.com, which regularly covers the Brewers, chimed in, and citing a source, added Odorizzi's name to the mix.
Escobar, Cain and Jeffress were added to the Royals' 40-man roster, while Odorizzi was assigned to advanced Class A Wilmington's roster. In addition, the Royals designated infielder Joaquin Arias for assignment to bring the Major League roster to 40.
"We got a young shortstop and a young center fielder, and a great looking young pitcher in Jake Odorizzi, and a right-handed pitcher [Jeffress] who we feel his troubles are behind him and he's got a terrific arm," said general manager Dayton Moore.
Prospects in Greinke deal
The buzz may have been about the Brewers adding Zack Greinke to the top of their rotation (and Yuniesky Betancourt to the infield), but the Royals got three exciting prospects, along with young shortstop Alcides Escobar, in return. Here's some more info on Jake Odorizzi, Lorenzo Cain and Jeremy Jeffress.
Jake Odorizzi, RHP
One scout who saw Odorizzi, the Brewers' supplemental first-round pick (No. 32 overall) in 2008, in the Midwest League this season, said he was the best pitching prospect he'd seen all summer. The 6-foot-2 right-hander, who was taken out of the Illinois high school ranks, was the Brewers' top pitching prospect.
Jeremy Jeffress, RHP
There are few pitchers with more life in their arms than Jeffress, the Brewers' first-round pick (No. 16 overall) in the 2006 Draft. He can crank his fastball up around the 100-mph range and routinely throws 97-98 mph. Along with a plus fastball, he's got a plus curve, a 76-mph hard-downer breaking ball. In the past, he's had a changeup, typically below-average, but now that he's made the switch to a relief role, he can focus on his two plus offerings.
Lorenzo Cain, OF
Cain is a premium athlete who plays a premium position in center field. While he was drafted back in 2004 in the 17th round and will be 25 next April, in many ways he's much younger in baseball years. That's because Cain began his baseball career later than most, playing for the first time during his sophomore year of high school.
In making the deal, the Royals addressed numerous needs, and Moore made it clear that that was his top priority. Rather than simply assembling the greatest package of talent, regardless of position, he targeted specific areas of the organization that he wanted to bolster.
"We just felt that it was best to move forward because this deal presented itself," Moore said. "If the right deal didn't present itself, the shortstop and the center fielder, we probably would have continued to ride it out and see what unfolds. But the right deal did present itself. It made sense for us. And we executed it."
Odorizzi is an exciting young arm, one of the better pitching prospects in the game, who further deepens the already impressive Royals farm system. Cain should immediately become the team's starting center fielder, shoring up one of the few areas of need in an organization loaded with offensive talent. And Escobar steps in for Betancourt, offering a younger, cheaper and more defensively skilled replacement who may yet grow into being an offensive contributor, as well.
Jeffress is a hard-throwing reliever who appeared in both the XM All-Star Futures Game and the Arizona Fall League this year. He has twice been suspended for testing positive for a "substance of abuse," but Moore expressed confidence in the former first-round Draft pick. Jeffress had a big year in 2010, posting a 2.23 ERA across three levels of the Minor Leagues, striking out 43 against 12 walks in 32 1/3 innings.
"[Jeffress is] somebody that we saw a lot in the Arizona Fall League," Moore said. "He's somebody that has had suspensions in the past due to some behaviors that he's overcome, and we're very comfortable with who he is and the track that he is on as a person. We spent a lot of time dissecting that."
Escobar has the most Major League experience of the players coming to Kansas City, and even he is only 24 years old. Neither Escobar nor Cain will be arbitration-eligible for at least two more years. The Royals will control Escobar's rights for the next five Major League seasons and Cain for six, not to mention the first six years of Odorizzi's big league career.
Yet it's as much where Escobar and Cain play, as how they play, that appealed to the Royals. Kansas City is loaded with corner infield and outfield players, but was lacking in up-the-middle talent.
Greinke, meanwhile, is signed through 2012 at $13.5 million for each of those two seasons. On Friday, FOXSports.com reported that he had formally requested a trade from Kansas City. Moore acknowledged that Greinke was looking to move on, but argued that he was not in a position where he had to move his ace.
"There's a lot of speculation about Zack and his willingness or unwillingness to be here," Moore said. "I've had several conversations with Zack since the Winter Meetings, and he made it very clear that he was looking for potential opportunities elsewhere, but at the same time, he understood our position, as well. We weren't swayed in any way to move him prior to Spring Training. It had to be the right deal, and this deal makes sense for us."
Greinke's biggest season was 2009, when he won the AL Cy Young Award in a landslide. He dominated the league with a 2.16 ERA and 242 strikeouts, and he threw a one-hitter. Greinke's 16-8 record did not stop him from becoming the third Cy Young winner in franchise history, joining Bret Saberhagen (1985 and 1989) and David Cone ('94).
That bit of history came after he'd signed a four-year, $38 million deal in January 2009. He earned $3.75 million that season, $7.25 million in 2010 and is scheduled to make $13.5 million each year in '11 and '12.
Last season, Greinke's record spun off to 10-14 with a 4.17 ERA. But he gobbled up innings, reaching 220 with three complete games and eight innings 10 times. He had 181 strikeouts against just 55 walks.
"We would love to be sitting here discussing a long-term contract with Zack Greinke," Moore said. "You want to hold on to your best players forever. That's a formula for winning championships, as well. But there has to be a winning partner to go forward with that. We actually went down that trail and discussed that trail with Zack long-term, and it was apparent that that wasn't something that he wanted to do."
Escobar, who turned 24 on Thursday, emerged as a slick-fielding rookie for the Brewers in 2009, batting .304 (though with a .333 on-base percentage and .368 slugging percentage) in 38 games. He backslid at the plate in '10, hitting .235 with a .288 OBP and .326 SLG, but still has the tools to be an extremely exciting defensive player.
Cain burst onto the scene in 2010 as a 24-year-old rookie, putting up a .306/.348/.415 line in 43 games while playing a deft center field. A former 17th-round Draft pick out of Tallahassee Community College, he was a career .291/.366/.416 hitter in six Minor League seasons.
"Mixed emotions for me," Cain said, "but I'm glad I've got the opportunity to come over here and play for the Kansas City Royals. It's been real confusing. I never thought I would be in the trade talks with my short time in the big leagues. But from what they told me, a lot of teams were asking for me. That's always a good feeling when you have teams that want you. I'm glad it's over with. They made a move and I'm ready to get started."
Then there's Odorizzi, a supplemental first-rounder in the 2008 Draft. After spending two seasons playing short-season ball, he thrived in his first full professional season in 2010. Odorizzi went 7-3 in 23 appearances (20 starts) for low Class A Wisconsin, striking out 135 against 40 walks in 120 2/3 innings. Odorizzi posted a 3.43 ERA and held opponents to 99 hits on the year.
So while it's surely difficult for the Royals to part with a signature player such as Greinke, the club is confident that it has acquired a haul of players who will make the parting easier to take.
Just the fact that Greinke is still pitching is a story in itself. He left Spring Training in 2006 to deal with what was later revealed as a social anxiety disorder. At the time, no one -- including Greinke -- knew if he'd return to baseball. Yet, after two months, he did and determinedly worked his way back through the Minor Leagues and then the Royals' bullpen.
This was a gritty comeback for a kid who, out of high school, was the Royals' top Draft choice (and sixth overall) in 2002. He became a Major League starter two years later, going 8-11 with a 3.97 ERA in 24 games. But the 2005 season was a battle and he sank to 5-17 with a 5.80 ERA. The following spring, he dispiritedly left camp.
Greinke's competitiveness is fierce despite a somewhat stoic demeanor on the mound. He's a thinker and given to refining his technique with a passion, as he did with the development of a changeup prior to his Cy Young season. That augmented his sizzling fastball and devastating slider.
During the disappointing 2010 season, Greinke created a stir by indicating he was weary of the Royals' continual rebuilding efforts and wondered if they'd ever pay off. He later confided that he lost some of his motivation at one point, and that he'd probably increase his medication because of minor problems with his anxiety disorder.
"I think Zack's going to do great," Moore said. "I think he's going to be terrific in Milwaukee. This guy, he's one of the best fielding pitchers in the game. You can't bunt on him. He holds runners. He's a studier. I think he's going to do terrific. I know he will and I wish him well."