Re-evaluating the Zack Greinke trades for the Brewers and Royals

When the Milwaukee Brewers acquired Zack Greinke from the Kansas City Royals in late 2010, it was a sign that the Brewers were going “all in” for the 2011 season.

The haul they gave up appeared costly at the time, headlined by Milwaukee’s starting shortstop and defensive whiz Alcides Escobar. They also threw in outfielder Lorenzo Cain, and pitchers Jeremy Jeffress and Jake Odorizzi.

As a Brewers fan, I remember not really caring about what they had to give up to get Greinke, as it signaled a commitment to winning from the front office. And it put Milwaukee in contention for the National League Central crown.

That division title came in 2011, as the Brewers posted a franchise-best 96-66 record, and Greinke posted a 16–6 record with a 3.83 ERA and 201 strikeouts.

Milwaukee began to falter in the summer of 2012, and traded Greinke to the Angels on the heels of a seven-game losing streak that saw the Brewers fall from a salvageable 44-47 to 10 games under .500.

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The deals that brought Zack Greinke to and sent him from his three previous teams have left behind a bevy of talented players.

The haul that the Brewers brought back from Los Angeles was filled with potential, but more so with prospects that came with question marks attached.

While the two minor league pitchers acquired by Milwaukee (Ariel Pena and Johnny Hellweg) are on the 40-man roster, neither has cracked the big league club just yet. The third player in the deal, shortstop Jean Segura, has not only become the Brewers’ starting shortstop, but has become one of Milwaukee’s key players over the early part of 2013.

I don’t think you’ll find many Brewers fans that regret any part of the two Greinke trades, considering the first helped result in a division crown, the best record in club history, and the team’s first playoff series win in nearly 30 years. But what about the crop of young players that Milwaukee sent to Kansas City in comparison to what the Brewers got back from the Angels? Let’s take a look.

BREWERS TO ROYALS

Lorenzo Cain has become the every-day center fielder for the Royals this season.

Alcides Escobar, Lorenzo Cain, Jake Odorizzi, Jeremy Jeffress

Escobar has played nearly every game at shortstop over his two-plus seasons in Kansas City, hitting .293 and stealing 35 bases while occupying the No. 2 spot in the Royals’ line-up.  He’s hit for a higher clip and stolen more bases than his only full season with the Brewers, and has upped his slugging percentage to .452 in the early part of this season. He has also been the solid-if-not-spectacular defender that the Royals thought they were getting, but he did lead the American League in errors a season ago with 19.

Cain didn’t see much time in a Brewers uniform, but the rangy centerfielder has cemented himself in the No. 5 hole in Kansas City’s line-up. Increased playing time has allowed Cain to improve his slugging percentage and OPS from year to year, and it can be argued that he’s become the Royals’ best hitter in 2013.

Odorizzi was traded to the Tampa Bay in the deal that sent Wil Meyers to the Rays and brought James Shields to the Royals. He has yet to make an appearance with Tampa’s major league club, but did make two starts for Kansas City last year, giving up four runs and eight hits in just over seven innings of work.

Jeffress is also not with the Royals organization anymore, as his contract was purchased by the Toronto Blue Jays in late 2012. Despite having one of the best fastballs in all of baseball, his control issues have limited his time in the big leagues. He has appeared in two games this season for the Dunedin (Fla.) Blue Jays, Toronto’s High-A affiliate.

ANGELS TO BREWERS

Jean Segura, Johnny Hellweg, Ariel Pena

Jean Segura has been excellent at the plate, in the field and on the bases for the Brewers this season.

Segura has been nothing short of spectacular for the Brewers this season. He’s hitting .358 with nine extra-base hits, and is also leading the league in stolen bases with eight. He has been a prototypical No. 2 hitter within the Milwaukee lineup with a WAR of 1.9, good for fifth in the NL (if you’re into those kinds of stats).

He has also been nearly flawless defensively for the Brewers, committing just one error in 117 chances for a .991 fielding percentage. He’s also a bargain, costing Milwaukee just $480,000 this season.

Hellweg was promoted to Triple-A Nashville to begin the season and has not found his groove quite yet. But he is averaging better than a strikeout for every inning pitched, with 26 strikeouts in 24 innings. At 6-foot-9, Hellweg has a big frame and can reach the upper 90s (and maybe even 100?) with his fastball, which is rated the best in the Brewers’ farm system. He’s progressed nicely through the minors and could see the bigs as a September call-up if he continues to progress.

Pena, is just 23 and hasn’t moved out of Double-A with the Brewers’ organization. In 12 starts, he is 1-4 with a 6.04 ERA. With a good fastball and both a sinker and slider he can rely on to get batters out, he should be able to adjust as he gets older.

THE VERDICT

While the Royals acquired two every day players, neither is playing at the level that Segura is in the early part of this season. Neither of the two pitchers that Kansas City acquired from Milwaukee are currently with the organization, whereas both of the pitchers the Brewers got from the Angels are showing promise in the major leagues.

It’s hard to argue against Milwaukee “winning” this “deal” with the Royals. The Angels are the big losers after giving up Segura and failing to make the postseason with Greinke as a rental. Throw in the fact that Greinke did what he did for the Brewers – never losing a decision at Miller Park and helping lead Milwaukee to the NLCS – and they are certainly in a better spot than they were three years ago.



About Chris Callaway

Chris lives and works in La Crosse, Wisconsin, working primarily on-air while doing some writing as well. He is a part-owner of the Green Bay Packers, a Milwaukee Brewers die-hard, learning hockey while supporting the Minnesota Wild, and is also a fan of the Wisconsin Badgers and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Follow him on twitter @ccallaway33.

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