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The Greinke Trade Revisited

Trades are best judged years down the road. Four seasons later, we have some perspective with which to judge the Greinke trade--and some insight into how the Myers trade will play out.

The best-looking Greinke
The best-looking Greinke
Jamie Squire

On December 19, 2010, the Kansas City Royals traded Zack Greinke and Yuniesky Betancourt to the Milwaukee Brewers for Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, Jeremy Jeffress, and Jake Odorizzi.

On July 27, 2012, the Milwaukee Brewers traded Zack Greinke to the Los Angeles/California/Anaheim Angels for Jean Segura, Ariel Pena, and Johnny Hellweg.

On December 9, 2012, the Kansas City Royals traded Wil Myers, Mike Montgomery, Patrick Leonard, and Jake Odorizzi for James Shields and Wade Davis.

All of these deals hinged upon Greinke's unwillingness to stay in Kansas City, where he was (understandably) unhappy with losing.  That simple statement--'I want a trade'--began an avalanche that consisted of 3 separate deals involving 13 players.  This is one of my favorite parts of baseball trades; for instance, KC traded Carlos Beltran in 2004 and echoes of that decision remained until the Royals cut ties with Chris Getz in December 2013, almost a decade later.  Likewise, the Greinke deal will continue to reverberate through baseball space-time for years.

However, we have enough data to look at the initial trade and to begin looking at the second trade.  Let's take a look at the elements of each trade and how it has worked out for each team.

Trade 1: Royals/Brewers

Royals get:

  • Alcides Escobar, 23, $500,000, pre-arb
  • Lorenzo Cain, 24, $500,000, pre-arb
  • Jake Odorizzi, 20, low A
  • Jeremy Jeffress, 22, $500,000, pre-arb

Combined fWAR for Royals:  12.9

Combined bWAR for Royals:  14.9

Brewers get:

  • Zack Greinke, 26, 2 years/$27 million
  • Yuniesky Betancourt, 28, 1 year/$4.3 million

Combined fWAR for Brewers:  7.2

Combined bWAR for Brewers:  3.2

The Brewers, seeking extra firepower for a playoff run, decided to trade for a good starter, that starter being Greinke.  It worked out for them, as they did make the playoffs that year.  The next year, however, the Brewers regressed and were bad, which led to the decision to sell on Greinke at midseason.  Curiously, the Brewers brought Yuni back in 2013 for no apparent reason.

The Royals got a quartet of players, none of which had significant upside.  At the time, Jeff Zimmerman was not pleased at this trade, criticizing it as a trade for needed parts instead of a trade for the best parts.  Going through comments of that article is pretty amusing, as some people vehemently hate it and others are more or less 'eh'.

Now, we can see more clearly.  Escobar is a league-average player, safe to put up 2 WAR on average with some slight variation.  While that's nothing crazy, league average players are valuable, and the Royals happen to be paying Omar Infante $30 million over the next four years to be just that.  Cain, on the other hand, is more valuable but will be limited by his injury-prone nature.  Despite this, Cain is about a 3 WAR player and has yet to get deep into arbitration.

Jeffress spent a couple of plagued years with the Royals, but did not pan out as minor league arms often do.  Finally, Odorizzi had a cup of coffee in 2012 with the Royals before being traded to the Rays.

Trade 2: Brewers/Angels

Brewers get:

  • Jean Segura, 22, $500,000, pre-arb rookie
  • Ariel Pena, 23, AA
  • Johnny Hellweg, 23, AAA

Combined fWAR for Brewers:  3.9

Combined bWAR for Brewers:  4.6

Angels get:

  • Zack Greinke, 28, 1/2 year/$6.75 million

Combined fWAR for Angels:  1.2

Combined bWAR for Agnels:  1.4

The Brewers, sagging in 2012, decided to trade Greinke.  They found their suitors in the Angels, who were interested in shoring up their rotation on a rent-a-pitcher to propel them to the playoffs.  Greinke was very good for them and they attempted valiantly, but they placed 3rd in the division and missed the Wild Card by 4 games.

In return for a chance at a playoff berth, the Angels gave up shortstop Jean Segura (who, interestingly, played his major league debut for the Angels and was immediately traded) and a couple of minor league arms in Hellweg and Pena.  Pena is still in the minors, and Hellweg has started 7 games for the Brewers (posting a Hocheverian 6.75 ERA), but the real prize is Segura.  Segura was an All-Star last year at the ripe age of 23, and Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs have him at 3+ WAR for 2013.  This year he's not hitting nearly as well, but he is under team control through 2018 and doesn't reach arbitration until 2016.  All that for half a season of Greinke.

Trade 3: Royals/Rays

Royals get:

  • James Shields, 30, 2 years/$24.5 million
  • Wade Davis, 26, 2 years/$7.6 million, 3 options/$25 million
  • Elliott Johnson, 28, $500,000, pre-arb

Combined fWAR for Royals:  8.7

Combined bWAR for Royals: 3.1

Rays get:

  • Wil Myers, 21, AAA
  • Mike Montgomery, 22, AAA
  • Jake Odorizzi, 22, $500,000, pre-arb rookie
  • Patrick Leonard, 19, Rookie League

Combined fWAR for Rays:  5.4

Combined bWAR for Rays:  2.3

Ah, The Trade.  Moore traded his best prospect (not necessarily best player, but unquestionably his best prospect) for James Shields and Wade Davis and Elliot Johnson.  You probably forgot about Johnson, because I did.  The cornerstone of the deal for the Rays was obviously Myers, and he won Rookie of the Year Award while hitting his way to .293/.354/.478.  This year, Myers was not nearly as good and is now out for the year with an injury.  Meanwhile, Shields, the cornerstone for the Royals, pitched 228 innings and allowed a 3.15 ERA and 4.5 fWAR.  This year, Shields is Shieldsy, though slightly less so. If the Royals went to the playoffs last year, all would be forgiven (for now), but they did not.  The Royals have one more year to go to the playoffs under Shields.  We shall see if that will happen, just as we will see quite how this trade goes.


There are no medals for winning or losing a trade, and the reality is often grey enough that there is no clear winner.  This is still true in this case.  Besides, good trades don't necessarily even have winners or losers.  However, if taking a simplistic approach, I declare the winner to be...

...The Royals!  Averaging fWAR and bWAR, the Royals have amassed 13.9 WAR, while the Brewers have amassed 9.5 WAR.

Of course, this doesn't say everything.  The reason why teams trade for specific players under limited control is to 'get them over the hump', per say, and a playoff berth cannot be quantifiable in terms of WAR of pWAZ or GR!T or Polk Points.  The Brewers made the playoffs the year they made the trade for Greinke, which was their point in acquiring him all along; you could say that they won the trade there.  In addition, quantifying partial values (like Odorizzi in the Myers/Shields trade) is very difficult--to what end is Odorizzi responsible for the trade?

Regardless, the price for the Brewers' trade for Greinke was very high.  That trade boiled down to two key players: Cain and Escobar.  Both players are under control through 2017; Cain's first year of arbitration is next year, and Escobar is under an extension that pays him only $3 million next year with team options for 2016 and 2017.  Taking the rough estimate that I talked about earlier--about 5 WAR combined per year--Escobar and Cain will be worth another 15 WAR, bringing the total WAR accrued from the Greinke trade close to 30.  Even if Escobar and Cain are merely league average, the Royals will likely gather 25+ WAR from those two players.

So how does this factor into the Shields trade?  Well, league average players are valuable.  The Royals acquired two players who, combined, grade out as a solid, above average duo.  That has been and will continue to be extremely valuable, especially at the cheap price that young talent is paid.  The Rays acquired Wil Myers who, as a 22 year old, put up 2.4 fWAR in under 100 games.  Even Myers never puts up more than 2.5 WAR in a season, he is under control through 2019, another 5 years.  If Myers is closer to the 3.5 WAR player that a top prospect might become, he'll be worth 17.5 WAR.  This is not to mention any contribution that Odorizzi, Montgomery, or Leonard will create.

At this moment, it looks like the Greinke trade is a success; the Royals have control over two valuable players for another few years.  Unfortunately, the Royals will be on the outside looking in at the Rays' continual exploitation of Royal prospects starting next year.  I don't look forward to that.