Right now, the Milwaukee Brewers might look like horrible failures. Haha they just lost to the Cardinals in six games! They got blown out at home in an elimination game! This is understandable, but it is an immediate emotional response and an overreaction. They won the NL Central, won an NLDS series, and won two games in the NLCS. They were six wins from a World Series title. Their big 2011 gamble paid off. They could have gone 79-83 and gone down in flames, to be sure, but they did not.
Last night, there was an undercurrent of discussion to the effect of: the Brewers have a horrible farm system because of the Greinke-Marcum trades and Greinke-Marcum sucked in the postseason, so LOL fail. The details of the Greinke-Marcum trades are quite fascinating, but I would like to respond, primarily to the argument centered around trading away prospects. Obviously, from the Royals perspective, there are multiple layers of relevance here.
- The purpose of a farm system is to help you reach the postseason and win a championship. A good farm system, in and off itself, is completely irrelevant to a Major League team.
- Greinke & Marcum helped the Brewers reach the postseason. While the Brewers could have conceivably made the playoffs without them (and a straight WAR subtraction suggests they would) given the fact that they would have quite likely replaced Greinke & Marcum with sub-replacement level starters, which could have had a cascade effect on the bullpen, etc. at the very least we can see that the last two weeks of the season would have played out very differently for Milwaukee.
- Farm systems can contribute by producing players directly or by providing trade currency. Greinke & Marcum were, effectively, products of the Brewer farm system. If you must be a farm system fetishist, Greinke & Marcum can work for you just the same. They were generated by shiny prospects.
Look, neither trade was perfect and both Greinke and Marcum were disappointments in October. That's fair.
I love the Greinke trade for the Brewers. They got a potential 6 or 7 WAR pitcher in bulk, for a handful of prospects and bit players. It is the kind of trade people propose on message boards and blogs all the time. The worst part of the trade was that Betancourt was included, which no one has ever really understood. Was he an NBA-style inclusion, an awful player who had to be included, or did the Brewers actually think he was positive value? The weird thing is, Yuni had some huge hits in the postseason, and the same usual awful defense. He was Yuni, but over the postseason sample, he may have been a positive. Cain and Escobar are all-defense players of unclear utility. Jeffress is a live arm and Odorizzi is a lottery ticket. The only player in the trade who has a chance of being as good as Zack Greinke is Odorizzi, and that will happen, if it happens at all, in 2014. The Royals got depth and got rid of a player who (supposedly) wanted out and was a bad clubhouse guy, and that was about it.
The Marcum trade is more complicated. Last off-season, the Brewers acquired Shaun Marcum from Toronto in exchange for Brett Lawrie. Marcum had a bad postseason, while Lawrie had an absolutely insane month and a half to end 2011. Lawrie hit .293/.373/.580. Toronto is slated to enjoy six more seasons of Lawrie's services, and there are reasonable odds that he will be an extremely valuable player for them over that span. His 2011 performance was delivered in an extremely small sample, but with his top prospect pedigree and the low risk associated with position player prospects, something like, in terms of WAR, a 2-3-5-5-6-6 win progression seems plausible. Marcum was basically a 3 Win player in 2011, and that would be a decent expectation going forward. The odd thing is, the Brewers could have used a competent 3B in 2011, but they felt that the overall shape of their team needed to be refitted. They wanted to give up some offense for starting pitching.
Lastly, the Brewers got two years each of Greinke/Marcum. These were not three month rentals.
Prospects are fun to talk about, because they always have the potential. It's fun to sit here as a Royals fan and imagine how awesome Odorizzi or whomever is going to be someday. Playing in two postseason series and cashing in on the end of the Braun-Fielder era is better. The Brewers have a poor farm system. Guess what? They have a good Major League team.