Saturday, December 18, 2010

Thinking through a Greinke trade, 2011-2013

(OK so this is a rambling post that I have worked on in desultory fashion for like more than a week but it needs a thorough rewrite, if not complete disassembly into 2-3 separate posts. Well, that is not going to happen as I've completely lost interest.
Since it is my blog, I'm going to post it anyways. So, avert your eyes, or dig in.)

So Cliff Lee is gone, and TX made a competitive offer, but ultimately refused to cave to a 7th year. I assume that TX came in second based on various reports, and that makes me feel very good as it means the Yankees came in third. So now we move on.

Now that Greinke has officially demanded a trade and compromised KC's ability to play two ends against the middle in an attempt to secure a return that would sit in some rarefied air, we can reasonably start talking about what it would take to get him. I have written previously about how many not only seem to overvalue the present value of Texas' prospects but also their future value in terms of completely overestimating their realistic ceiling. The gist of the issue is: KC want's major league ready pieces, those who start in the bigs in 2011, more than they want risk, risk in this case being prospects who don't bring dominant high minors #s to the table. Texas simply might not have what KC wants and what KC wants TX might not be able to give.

It should be obvious to some, but not all, that Greinke's value is terrific. He's a 10-14 WAR player over the next 2 years at a reasonable salary, underpaid at that. In addition, you'll have the opportunity to try to sign him to an extension before that or as a FA after that (at a full 2.5 years younger than Lee, though, as a result, he likely gets a 7 year deal) or you get the post-arbitration picks. With a 2 year window with the current roster (you cannot assume that any of Hamilton, Wilson or Lewis will be here past 2012), Texas has to decide just how much whatever combination of players in any trade package are going to help them win a pennant during that time: Scheppers, Holland, Borbon, Beltre, Moreland, and Perez. So, let's say that you had to give up Holland, Borbon, Perez, Beltre (and maybe someone else, say Fabio Castillo), for 2 years of Greinke, 10-14 WAR, the chance to negotiate an extension, and, failing that (even failing that, you'll get another shot to sign him as a FA), getting post-ARB draft picks, would you do it?

The question here is not "Does TX have enough prospects that KC wants?", but rather "Does Texas have the kids on their current roster that KC is willing to hang their hat on?" So What combination of kids on the current roster are you willing to put into the deal? Do you think KC has a regard for players like Holland, Moreland, Scheppers or Borbon equal to the regard they might have had for Justin Smoak? I say no, Texas does not have a player like that on their current roster that KC can dream on that is available. Isn't it just as feasible that instead of dreaming on these guys, KC sees a couple of platoon hitters in Borbon and Moreland while also questioning Holland's ability to become a solid #3 starter in addition to Scheppers projection as a starter altogehter? If that is the case, it would just take one high ceiling prospect from another club (like Smoak, or whatever top 10 prospect in the top 100) with major league experience in 2010, to trump a Texas package.

What would the immediate ramifications be for 2011 as a result of trading 4 of those players, a couple of them from the current roster? You'd likely have to replace the loss of starting position players like Borbon and Moreland through the FA market (already thin at both spots) as Texas probably wouldn't have enough depth in the high minors to trade for their replacements. Given the lack of viable free agent options at those two spots, Texas might have to settle for older free agent leftovers, trade for a fringe-average player using lower-level prospects, or acquire a player in the final year of a bad contract. Losing Holland means that you would have to rely on Hunter as your 4th starter and someone like Matt Harrison (or a RECPRO like Brandon Webb or Jeff Francis) as your fifth starter with your AAA depth consisting of Kirkman, Moscoso, Hurley, Feldman(no options), Scheppers, Omar Beltre.

Among those pitchers, the following observations could be made: Harrison likely does not have the makeup to be a starting pitcher; Hunter is likely better cast as a 5th starter; Beltre is better suited to the pen due to chronic shoulder problems; Texas doesn't seem to care for Moscoso (though I do); Scheppers wouldn't be ready for a ML rotation until mid-season (if at all); Hurley is slated for the bullpen in the second half due to innings limitations; Feldman won't be ready for the rotation until mid-May; Michael Kirkman likely needs another 3 months on AAA to work on his command vs RHH an his changeup (though he could compete for a spot as middle/long reliever next year). There is clearly a lot more doubts about the depth here than anything else.

There might also be a few long-term consequences, if you lose some combination of Holland/Scheppers/Perez. The price might have to be: signing CJ Wilson (30.4) to a 4-5 year deal or lose him after this year; extending Lewis (31.7) an extra year or two; acquiring a veteran CF with one year left on a bad contract(for 2011); having to sign or trade more prospects for a starting CF to open 2012 or sign another retread. In terms of prospects, you are assuming that Hunter, Scheppers, Kirkman, and Feldman are your 4-7 starters. Or this would give you the perfect opportunity to move Feliz into the rotation in the presence of 3 guys who could pitch 200 innings for you. You then might also want to trade for or sign a veteran setup guy to pair with Francisco (when he gets injured) or whose presence might give you confidence to go with Ogando as a closer.

However you come down on a possible Greinke trade, one shouldn't lose sight of the fact that the central issue is how the club can contend for a pennant for the next 2 years. An incoming Greinke will get the team closer to this goal than the outgoing prospect package will during that time (whatever combination of Holland, Scheppers, Perez, Borbon, Moreland, Beltre, Hunter, et al). Acquiring Greinke would allow the team to bump Feliz to the rotation. With three 200 inning pitchers on the staff, they could be patient with the kid for the whole season. Without Greinke, I just don't think you could reasonably expect to make this move. So an added element of his acquisition then would have to be the ability to move Feliz into the rotation now, rather than in 2012. The value of that move could pay off handsomely, not only now but in 2012 when Wilson could depart via FA.

It would also be a perfect time to give Ogando a shot as a closer with Francisco being the perfect backup plan should he not pull it off. So if acquiring Greinke allowed the club to make those 2 moves that they otherwise would not have made, this has to be taken into consideration as the short-term acquisition might generate a couple of substantial long-term benefits: Feliz could develop into a top rotation starter while Ogando could develop into the long-term closer. Greinke's presence makes those two moves all the more viable by allowing the team to stick with them through their struggles or switching them back to their old roles should they flop. If they wait until next year when both Wilson and Francisco could be gone, well, it might not make as much sense depending on the construction of the roster.

One final thing to consider, over the next 2 years, much of the present minor league depth is going to make it into the upper level of the minors not even considering the draft haul over that time (though TX will have to change its philosophy a bit in a couple of areas one would hope). People complaining about gutting the system by trading pieces for Greinke are losing site of this fact, in addition to failing to see the complete lack of depth at the upper levels to begin with. The system will have a lot more depth starting as soon as mid-season 2011, when there will surely be a few breakthrough players impressing in AA. Now that will be almost entirely on the pitching front while the hitters likely won't make an appearances there until the start of 2012 (unless there is a cup of coffee in the playoffs).

Of course, none of this will likely matter if another team offers up a couple of now/near-ready position players as Texas won't be able to match. In the end, I think KC gets what they want, and Texas misses out. You can judge whether Texas or some other team "overpays" in 2 years by counting up the # of world series appearances. Or you can choose to do so in terms of WAR, when that package of players doesn't sniff Greinke's 10-14 WAR cumulatively.


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