ST. PETERSBURG - SEPTEMBER 14: Pitcher Matt Garza #22 of the Tampa Bay Rays pitches against the New York Yankees during the game at Tropicana Field on September 14 2010 in St. Petersburg Florida. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
When reports began to come out detailing the pieces involved in the recent Matt Garza trade, my immediate reaction was to wonder whether the Rays did better than the Royals in dealing their star pitcher. A bit of a discussion played out on Twitter during the day of the trade, but we never really came to a clear conclusion because it's hard to gauge how much value Greinke had before being dealt to Milwaukee.
Now, I don't really want to delve into the whole question of trade value here. It's pretty clear that Greinke's the more valuable asset given his superior performance, although his unwillingness to play for certain teams along with Garza's extra year of team control even things out a good bit. Sky Kalkman did some nice leg work on comparing their values a few days ago, concluding (unscientifically) that Greinke was worth roughly $5 million more than Garza.
So realistically, one would expect the Royals to land more than the Rays. But there were a variety of reactions to Tampa Bay's return, with some being particularly complimentary. Keith Law liked the trade for Tampa and said that he preferred that package to the Greinke one while mentioning that,"their package of players is, collectively, further away than what the Royals got." Other sources similarly liked the Cubs' prospects. Chris Archer and Hak-Ju Lee are generally regarded as two of the best prospects in a good system, with BA ranking Archer No. 1 in the system, and most evaluators believe that Brandon Guyer and Robinson Chirinos can eventually play everyday, with some (such as me) being particularly optimistic about Chirinos.
But that's absolutely not to say that Milwaukee didn't give up some serious value. The Royals landed two players that they can immediately plug into the lineup in Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar, along with two pitchers that John Sickels recently ranked as B+ prospects in Jake Odorizzi and Jeremy Jeffress. For some comparison, Sickels graded Archer as a B+, Lee as a B, Guyer as a B- and Chirinos as a C+, although I personally would give Chirinos a higher grade.
Quite generally speaking, I honestly prefer what Tampa Bay got for Garza. Archer is a phenomenal pitching prospect with No. 2 upside, Lee's somewhat raw but has the tools to be an elite shortstop, Guyer is an interesting player that could emerge as a cheap regular, and I find Chirinos to be thoroughly underrated: he's generally regarded as an above-average defender at catcher and he just hit .326/.416/.583 while splitting the season between Double-A and Triple-A.
The Royals may get a tad more short-term value given that Cain and Escobar are MLB-ready and Jeffress could likely emerge as an elite reliever as soon as next season. But along with the fact that these guys are close to the majors is another reality: they're also at the point in their respective careers when it's hard to project big jumps in skill level. Both Cain and Escobar can be above-average regulars, but it's hard to see the upside beyond that, particularly when you factor in that the Royals won't benefit much from that added short-term value (i.e. they're at the bad end of the win spectrum). And while it's easy to envision Jeffress replacing Joakim Soria as the club's closer one day, he's pretty much a lock to stick in the bullpen at this point, which pretty much puts a cap on his upside.
Maybe I'm more bullish on what the Cubs gave up than some others (although clearly I'm not alone on this topic), but I really think that Tampa Bay could end up loving this deal in a few years. There's somewhat limited upside in the Greinke package outside of Odorizzi, and you certainly can't say the same about the Garza package, which is loaded with potential. A big part of this is Chirinos: I thoroughly believe that he can be a good everyday catcher, and I expect him to really be the difference-maker in the deal. The Cubs' infatuation with Koyie Hill has frustrated me for a while, but never as much as it does now, considering that the team essentially chose Hill to be the back-up catcher over Chirinos despite having absolutely no offensive value.
I have no idea if Greinke had interest in pitching in Chicago, or if the Cubs ever seriously considered making a run at the former Royal. But given what Tampa Bay managed to get from them for Garza, I'm just left wondering what the Royals might have been able to get for Greinke if they hadn't seemingly been set on getting some short-term impact in return.