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Sunday, November 23, 2014

Brewers Dangerously Give Up the Farm to Win Now with Greinke, Marcum

By now all of you know that the Royals traded Zack Greinke to the Brewers in exchange for much of their top talent. The deal sent Greinke and shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt — basically an incidental piece — and cash to Milwaukee for two Major League ready players in shortstop Alcides Escobar and center fielder Lorenzo Cain. The Royal also received two right-handed pitching prospects — Jeremy Jeffress and Jake Odirizzi — the latter widely regarded as the Brewers’ top pitching prospect.

Just a couple of weeks ago, the Brewers sent their top prospect, second baseman Brett Lawrie, to the Blue Jays in exchange for right-handed pitcher Shaun Marcum — a move thought to pave the way for Greinke’s trade to Toronto. In a two-week span, the Brewers have simultaneously strenghtend their team considerably for next season and seemingly bankrupted their farm system — not to mention the two players who had already reached the majors.

As recently as last season, Escobar was considered a top prospect — though last year, in his first full season in the majors, he hit only .235 with a .288 on-base percentage. At 24, Escobar still has plenty of room for growth. Betancourt, who will be 29 when the season starts, is hitting .272 for his career and has an on-base percentage of just .292. It appears that he has hit his ceiling, and it’s not very high. Betancourt does however offer slight upgrades defensively and in terms of power.

It’s obvious with these two trades the Brewers are focused on next season. They traded away whatever they had to in order to bring in a former Cy Young winner — at a relatively reasonable $13.5 million per year — and a pitcher who posted 13 wins last year in the gauntlet that is the AL East. Both pitchers are under contract through 2012, but what happens after that? Marcum seems the more likely of the two to be re-signed, but Greinke’s asking price could be astronomical if he performs nearly as well as he’s capable. The one thing the Brewers have in their favor is their small market size.  Greinke has a history of social anxiety, which led him to include a no-trade clause in his contract specifically to avoid large market teams — those that would be most likely to offer him the most money.

Prince Fielder will become a free agent after next year, and these moves seem to be the Brewers’ way of letting him know they will do what it takes to contend. This seems to work in sports that have a salary cap — like the NBA where players can get basically the same deal anywhere that has the cap room — but this is baseball.  Fielder is going to command top-dollar as a free agent and it’s unlikely the Brewers are going to be able to offer enough to keep him no matter how they perform next year.

The once-rising Brewers have missed the playoffs in two straight years and finished 14 games out of the NL Central last season, so I understand the sense of urgency, but the moves seem short sighted. The NL Central will be as tough as ever next year — the Reds and Cardinals aren’t going anywhere — but a rotation that includes Greinke, Marcum and Yovanni Gallardo should put them in position to make a playoff run. The question remains; what happens a year from now when Fielder leaves? And the year after that when Greinke is getting huge offers? Are the Brewers left wishing they’d just hung on to their young talent?



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