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Five years later: Remembering the Zack Greinke trade

Spoiler alert: It worked out pretty well

Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

In the winter of 2010, Zack Greinke wanted out. He had been with the Royals since being the sixth overall selection in the 2002 draft. He was in the big leagues just two years later, but all he got to see was losing baseball. Not just losing baseball, but bad losing baseball. In the seven years Greinke was in Kansas City, the Royals won less than 40% of their games. With two years left before free agency, Zack asked General Manager Dayton Moore for a trade.

To his credit, Moore was accommodating. He wanted to use the opportunity to fill what he perceived to be the three greatest needs on the team - pitching, shortstop, and center field. There were immediate suitors for Greinke - Texas, Toronto, Washington, and Milwaukee showed the most interest. The Blue Jays were ready to make a big splash that winter, but when the Royals asked for both outfielder Travis Snider and pitcher Kyle Drabekthe Jays balked. The Rangers were loaded with one of the best farm systems in baseball. The Royals and Rangers reportedly discussed names like outfielder Engel Beltre, shortstop Jurickson Profar, and pitcher Martin Perez, but no deal was ever made.

There are no potential stars in the group. Not one. Oh, someone like Cain could emerge as a star, but it would be a surprise. -Joe Posnanski

Finally, Dayton Moore had a deal - with the Washington Nationals. In return for Greinke, the Royals were reportedly to receive infielder Danny Espinosa, and pitchers Jordan Zimmermann and Drew Storen. But there was one glitch - Zack Greinke had a limited no-trade clause in his contract and could block a deal to Washington. The Nationals were coming off a 93-loss season and the worst record in baseball in back-to-back seasons prior to that. Dayton Moore even allowed the Nationals to negotiate a long-term deal with Greinke, but ultimately he could not sell Zack on pitching for Washington.

So he set his sights for Milwaukee. Soon, a deal was done. The Royals sent Greinke and disappointing shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt to Milwaukee for shortstop Alcides Escobar, outfielder Lorenzo Cain, and pitchers Jake Odorizzi and Jeremy Jeffress. All but Jeffress had been on Baseball America's Top Ten Brewers prospects the winter before with Escobar topping the list. Cain and Escobar had seen Major League action that summer, and Odorizzi's season that year was good enough to get him named the 69th best prospect in baseball that winter by Baseball America.

"There are no perfect deals, but this is the deal that made the most sense. The bottom line is we win more games in the future. This puts us in a better position to win games beyond 2012."

-Dayton Moore

Despite these accolades, there was a lot of skepticism on the deal. The consensus seemed to be that the Royals went for quantity over quality, and hurt themselves by boxing them into requiring certain positions rather than going for the best possible player.

What Kansas City got back is bulk, and fit, but not impact. There's no single anchor prospect in this deal, a player who'd be a top-15 pick in a draft or who'd be a top-5 prospect in the Royals' stacked system. And three of the four guys the Royals got back (assuming for now that Jeremy Jeffress is the fourth piece) have some major concerns that impact their projected long-term values. When you're trading a once-in-a-decade franchise player with two years left on a reasonable contract, you have a rare opportunity to add one top-shelf, impact prospect to your system, and the Royals employed a different philosophy entirely....

What this trade reminds me of most is the botched deal the Royals made when they last had a franchise player on the block. With Carlos Beltran, the Royals decided they would prefer to fill holes on their roster rather than maximize the value of the return, insisting that they receive a catcher and a third baseman in any deal....

-Keith Law

Four major-league baseball personnel men, reached on Sunday, rated the Royals’ return on a 1-to-10 scale, with 5 being average. One said 5, one said 6 and one said 7. "If you’re comparing it literally, the Royals didn’t make out great," the fourth said. "But if you’re considering what the Royals wanted and what they have and what position they’re in, I’m impressed."

-Sam Mellinger

And so, those are the four guys — and you probably notice the same thing I do: There are no potential stars in the group. Not one. Oh, someone like Cain could emerge as a star, but it would be a surprise. The Royals got two players who figure to start in 2011, and a reliever who could have a significant role in the bullpen too. So they will get some production out of this deal. But there’s nothing exciting here. Zack Greinke is one of the most exciting pitchers in baseball. He’s one of the most exciting pitchers ever developed in Kansas City. And he’s will tell you, you’re not going to get another Cy Young Award winner, and you’re not going to get players that are going to compete for the MVP.

-Joe Posnanski

But sometimes you have to take disgusting medicine to feel better, and once it became obvious that Greinke wanted out, the Royals had to figure a way to make lemonade. This is a bad day for the Royals, an awful day for Kansas City, but this also was inevitable. Moore flunked his first test by not surrounding Greinke with enough to make him want to stay. The trade is essentially an admission of failure now to reinforce the Royals’ chances later. Do you have the patience left to see if it’ll work?

-Sam Mellinger

"This one is a big-boys trade. This one has to work out or (Dayton Moore) is going to lose his job as the general manager."

-Soren Petro

Even on this site, the reactions were mixed, although they seemed to lean towards the negative.

There were a few optimistic opinions though.

I don’t know if this board has approved or disapproved of this trade, but, as one of Dayton’s biggest haters on this forum I actually… this trade?

Escobar probably won’t ever hit with any kind of power, he already plays exceptional defense, has exceptional speed, and has hit in the minors. If he can post a .330 OBA or so, with his defense, and with the deep power alleys (triples baby!) and 30-40 steals a year (I know, steals are overrated), he can be quite valuable. And the position is secure for five seasons. Nice.

I’ve been a Cain fan for awhile. Seems like a younger David DeJesus to me. Good plate discipline, good defense, not a lot of power, but projects to have more power as he ages. Already posted a 107 OPS+ in 150 PAs last year. He could very well be our best valuable player next year not named Billy Butler.

Odorizzi is a guy I really liked the year he was drafted and he hasn’t done anything to dissuade me of that. I think his upside is probably more a #2/#3 guy, but hard to project at this point. Good to have another arm. And

Jeffress is just the kind of guy you want as a lottery ticket – great arm, some question marks, but hey, great arm!

All in all, we got three guys that were considered in the top ten of this organization’s (albeit thin system) system, and their starting shortstop with five years of service time left. Who was going to offer a better deal than that? I think Dayton played this pretty well. And by all looks of things, we will actually see a starting lineup on opening day with all the player 30 or younger:

-Max Rieper

That's right.

The rest was history. The 2011 Brewers, with Zack Greinke, won the division title, but fell in the National League Championship Series. A year later, they fell out of contention and dealt Greinke for shortstop Jean Segura and two pitchers. The Royals flipped Odorizzi as part of the James Shields/Wade Davis trade. Meanwhile, Alcides Escobar became an All-Star and Gold Glove shortstop, while Lorenzo Cain finished third in MVP balloting this year and has become one of the best defensive players in baseball. Matthew LaMar analyzed the trade last summer and found the Royals to have won out in value, with the results only getting more lopsided since then.

Five years ago yesterday, Dayton Moore made the transaction that was probably the turning point of this franchise. Without Cain, Escobar, and using Odorizzi to acquire Wade Davis, the Royals don't win two pennants and don't become champions. I don't mean to bring up quotes by Joe Posnanski and Keith Law to embarrass them or to praise myself. I have certainly been wrong about a lot of transactions (why did I believe in Jonathan Sanchez so much?)

But the Zack Greinke trade should be a reminder that analysis at the time of the trade is not set in stone. Players exceed expectations, low ceilings can be broken, high floors can bottom out. Royals fans should just be thrilled that finally, some trades seem to be going their way.