Brewers Trade Future For Present

MILWAUKEE—There are trades designed to help a team down the road and there are trades designed to provide an immediate impact.

Brewers general manager Doug Melvin had no difficulty characterizing the trade that brought Royals ace Zack Greinke to Wisconsin.

"This is what I call a 'now' trade," Melvin said shortly after the six-player swap was completed the weekend before Christmas.

"I told Zack that I felt like I acquired C.C. Sabathia again, but this time for two years and maybe longer."

Melvin referred to the July 2008 trade that brought Sabathia from Cleveland to Milwaukee for a package of prospects including 2007 first-round pick Matt LaPorta. That trade did exactly what the Brewers intended, as Sabathia practically singlehandedly led them to their first playoff appearance in 26 years.

To acquire Greinke, 27, as well as shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt, Melvin again had to surrender some of the top young players in the Brewers' system. The Royals received shortstop Alcides Escobar, coming off his rookie season in the majors; center fielder Lorenzo Cain, very impressive in a six-week debut in 2010; and righthanded pitching prospects Jeremy Jeffress and Jake Odorizzi.

At the time of the deal, Odorizzi ranked as the No. 1 prospect in the farm system and Jeffress checked in at No. 3. Cain would have been a top five player as well had he not exhausted his rookie eligibility.

"It was a costly trade," Melvin said. "We gave up a lot of good, young players. This is a credit to our scouting and player development people to have the kind of young players it takes to make a trade like this."

Two weeks earlier, the Brewers had traded second baseman Brett Lawrie, then rated their No. 1 prospect, to Toronto for righthander Shaun Marcum. Thus, while cutting a wide swath through their farm system, the Brewers acquired two established starting pitchers to address their major weakness, the primary reason they fell back for two seasons after making the playoffs in '08.

"We needed to make some big changes with our pitching and I think we've done that with Shaun Marcum and Zack Greinke," said Melvin, who added the duo to returning starters Yovani Gallardo, Randy Wolf and Chris Narveson.

"I'm excited. This is all about getting both of those pitchers. I live for young guys. I love their emotion and energy. But these guys are young, too. I think coming to Milwaukee will energize Zack a bit."

Not The First Try

Melvin had tried on two previous occasions to pry the 2009 American League Cy Young Award winner away from Kansas City. Each time, he was told his offer was not enough to get it done.

A series of events quickly came together in the days prior to the trade that put Greinke in a Brewers uniform. First, Greinke changed agents, signing with Creative Artists Agency, which represents Milwaukee all-star outfielders Ryan Braun and Corey Hart. At the same time, Greinke pressed the Royals to trade him to a team with a better chance of winning.

The next domino fell when Washington made a strong move to acquire Greinke, only to have him nix the proposed deal because the struggling Nationals were on the no-trade list in his contract. Milwaukee also was on Greinke's no-trade list, but Melvin figured he could work around that.

"I said, 'I'm going to try this one more time,' " said Melvin, who stayed in touch with Kansas City general manager Dayton Moore. "I'm glad I didn't give up on it."

As for Greinke dropping his no-trade provision without compensation, Melvin said, "It's an indication he wanted to come to Milwaukee and thinks we have a chance to compete and win the division."

The day after the trade was announced, Greinke confirmed his reasoning for agreeing to remove Milwaukee from his no-trade list. He noted a trade that was made—for Marcum—as well as one that wasn't. First baseman Prince Fielder, expected to be traded because of approaching free agency after 2011, remained on the Brewers roster.

"I think I made that decision to put them on the list too quickly. I didn't think about it long," he said. "I knew Prince only had one year left on his contract and I wasn't sure what direction they were going to go in with him. But once they signed Marcum and didn't trade Prince, I knew they were in it."

With Marcum and Greinke greatly strengthening the Brewers rotation after it ranked 15th (4.65 ERA) among the 16 NL clubs last season, Melvin confirmed the plan was to keep Fielder and make a strong 2011 push.

"You never say never," he said. "I said (prior to the trade) I didn't want to trade Lorenzo Cain. But my vision is having Prince on this ballclub and keeping our impact bats intact."

News of the trade created excitement among Brewers fans and through the organization. Sales were brisk at the Miller Park ticket windows in the days following the trade, and the first shipment of Greinke T-shirts and jerseys sold out immediately. The excitement level among Greinke's new teammates also was palpable.

"It says we're going for it," Braun said. "We're all in. I don't think anybody could ask for more. To say I'm thrilled is a significant understatement."

With Marcum and Greinke, Braun said the Brewers became serious playoff contenders.

"I don't think anybody could have expected anything like this, to get two pitchers like this in one offseason," Braun said.

"I give credit to (team owner) Mark Attanasio and Doug Melvin and the entire management team. They had a chance to go for it and they're doing it. This is not easy to do. Mark has proven he's committed to winning and this is more proof of that."

Worth The Cost

There were financial implications to the trade for the Brewers. Greinke has two years remaining on a four-year deal that pays him $13.5 million in both 2011 and 2012. He is eligible for free agency after that, but Melvin expressed hope of working out a contract extension at some point.

Betancourt has a $4 million salary in 2011, with either a club option for $6 million in 2012 or a $2 million buyout. The Royals added $2 million in the deal to help offset his salary.

"I have to give ownership credit for allowing the flexibility to make this deal," Melvin said.

Greinke went 60-67, 3.82 in seven seasons for the Royals, pitching at least 200 innings in each of the last three years. His 70 quality starts and 10 complete games since 2008 rank fourth in the majors, and he ranks seventh with 606 strikeouts and ninth with 652 innings over that span.

His breakthrough season came in 2009, when he went 16-8, 2.16 with six complete games, three shutouts and 242 strikeouts in 229 innings, earning the American League Cy Young Award. He slipped to a 10-14, 4.17 last season, when the constant losing in Kansas City appeared to have an effect on him.

Greinke missed much of the 2006 season with social anxiety disorder and depression and considered quitting baseball for a time. He has bounced back strongly, and Melvin said it no longer is a concern.

The Brewers recognize that the trades thinned their farm system, which already had graduated several players to the majors in recent years. Another blow came when 2010 first-round pick Dylan Covey decided to attend college rather than sign with the Brewers after he was diagnosed with diabetes.

Milwaukee's system still has some youthful power arms, such as righthanders Mark Rogers and Kyle Heckathorn, as well 2010 draftees Tyler Thornburg and Jimmy Nelson. But the Brewers aren't playing for the future. They're playing for now.

"We gave up a lot, but we've all seen the value of quality starting pitching," Braun said. "When you acquire one of the best pitchers in baseball, you've done all you can do.